How Loughborough’s researchers hope to save lives with a tilting table “Slope Simulator”

Posted by Derek Mason

7th December 2021

Photo credit: Photo by Hans Braxmeier on Pixabay

Earlier in 2021, the UK saw one of the driest months of April on record, and this is thought to have been a contributing factor in the two landslips reported in the press at the time. In Nefyn, North Wales, cliff top homes lost parts of their gardens in a slide that saw a mass of earth fall to the beach below. Luckily no one was injured, and a woman walking on the beach managed to film the slip (it’s worth finding the video online, if you’re interested).

That same month, a 4,000-tonne slip – the biggest in 60 years – was seen on the Jurassic coastline of Dorset. Luckily this one happened at night in an area away from homes, so there were no people on the cliffs or the beach below.

While landslips in the UK are generally on a small scale and only rarely result in loss of life, landslides worldwide kill thousands of people. According to the World Health Organization, more than 18,000 people were killed between 1998 and 2017. On top of this, landslides damage vital infrastructure and can cut off water supplies and transport links, stopping help getting through.

So it makes sense that we should look to understand more about when and why landslides are likely to occur. A large-scale National Engineered Slope Simulator at Loughborough University is going to help geotechnical engineers to model what happens in earthworks slope failures.

The researchers leading the simulator project, Professor Neil Dixon and Dr Alister Smith from Loughborough’s School of Architecture, Building and Civil Engineering will simulate a range of climate conditions, test soil mechanics on slopes and replicate landslides.

A tilting table which can be subjected to cycles of wetting and drying, to mimic seasonal weather conditions, will allow the research team a greater understanding of how different weather patterns and extremes can impact slope deterioration.

The hope is that this research will make it easier to detect the early signs ahead of a landslide and help to prevent destruction and loss of life.

The tilting table will also enable researchers to look at the performance of different interventions in slope design and repair, so these can be optimised.

Acquiring more knowledge in this area means engineers will have a greater ability to design and maintain safe infrastructure that holds up in the face of changing conditions.

It’s quite surprising that no such facility already exists, and it will be fascinating to see what the researchers discover while they are simulating landslides. Better understanding of the causes of slips, and the best ways to prevent them, will hopefully save many lives around the world.

Meanwhile, if you need assistance with the structural elements of an upcoming project, please do get in touch.

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