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Ground crack induced by fault reactivation during the 2010 earthquake near Santiago. © Sergio Sepulveda

Dr Sergio Sepulveda from the University of Chile is visiting Durham University as a Cofund Senior Research Fellow through the Institute of Advanced Study, to work with the International Landslide Centre at IHRR that is led by Professor Dave Petley and Dr Nick Rosser from the Department of Geography. Sepulveda is from Chile, one of the most seismically active parts of the world that regularly experiences earthquakes, landslides, debris flows, volcanic eruptions and other geohazards.

Sepulveda is a leading researcher on landslides in South America and is well-known in the field. Most of the fatalities caused by natural hazards in South America are from earthquakes, floods and landslides that affect both urban and rural communities. Sepulveda is working closely with colleagues in IHRR to identify the vulnerability of populations in Latin America and the Caribbean to landslides, in order to acquire a better understanding that would lead to developing measures to help reduce fatalities, and is testing a number of volcanic soils from Chile to understand the role they play in landslides and other hazards.

Research at Durham

Working with Prof Dave Petley, Sepulveda is studying records of fatal landslides that have occurred in Latin America and the Caribbean using the Durham Fatal Landslide Database, a global record of landslide- induced fatalities from the past 10 years. The database is a useful tool for identifying vulnerability to landslide hazards, ‘…there is a very strong correlation between population density and fatal landslides, and most of them are induced by heavy rainfall’, said Sepulveda. Along with this research Sepulveda is also studying the geomechanics of landslides themselves with Prof Dave Petley and Dr Matthew Brain. Read the rest of this entry »

Reflections from the interface between seismological research and disaster risk reduction


Dr Susanne Sargeant, British Geological Survey


Monday 10th February 2014, 1 – 2 pm

W010, Geography, Durham University

A few interesting press conferences on hazards worth checking out from the 2013 American Geophysical Union Meeting. Topics include tornadoes, improved warnings for earthquakes and lightning phenomena during volcanic eruptions.

Read the rest of this entry »

Governance struggles and policy processes: A comparison of earthquake risk
reduction in Nepal and Bihar, India

9 December, Monday 1pm-2pm

Institute of Hazard, Risk and Resilience, Durham University

Dr Katie Oven and Dr Samantha Jones (Northumbria University)

In this presentation we share some preliminary findings on the national level governance landscape of earthquake risk reduction in Nepal and Bihar State in India. Located along the Himalayan Arc, Nepal and Bihar are both highly susceptible to earthquake hazard and were both affected by the 1934 earthquake. Despite the shared earthquake hazard, and some similarities in terms of ethnic and caste based inequalities and conflict, they have very different political and economic histories. Nepal is emerging from a recent conflict and receives relatively high levels of development aid while Bihar has a strong state system and is now making rapid economic progress after decades of stalled development due to weak governance. They therefore make for an interesting comparison in earthquake risk governance. In-depth interviews with over 40 stakeholders were conducted and focus groups were held to map out stakeholder relationships, interests and challenges of earthquake risk governance. Read the rest of this entry »


Hanna Ruszczyk in Nepal.

Durham postgraduate researcher Hanna Ruszczyk has been awarded a PhD fellowship for her research on community resilience and earthquakes.

Hanna’s postgraduate award has been made possible thanks to a generous gift from a Durham alumnus. Hanna’s research, will investigate the role of resilience in disaster risk reduction. She will study how resilience strategies can be operationalised within urban communities vulnerable to seismic hazards in Nepal and Bihar, India. Her PhD programme is based in the Department of Geography, linked to IHRR and is supervised by Dr Katie Oven and Dr Colin MacFarlane.

For her PhD, Ruszczyk is making a comparative analysis between Nepal and Bihar, which will investigate how to build individual and community level capacity for resilience. Both have their own particular strengths and weaknesses when it comes to adapting and building resilience to natural hazards. ‘I’m looking at how they can learn from each other’, said Ruszczyk. ‘There is a clear social element of resilience, but what are the most important components of resilience to be aware of?’, she asks. Read the rest of this entry »

Dr Giulio Selvaggi is former Director of the National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology (INGV). He gave the first IHRR seminar of the term on the L’Aquila earthquake and its aftermath. He is one of six scientists in Italy found guilty of manslaughter for downplaying the risk of earthquakes in the region. They are appealing the verdict. The aftermath of the L’Aquila earthquake is possibly one of the most politicised and publicised affairs of recent times involving scientists.

The L’Aquila earthquake led to the deaths of 309 people. The 2009 earthquake in L’Aquila not only revealed the unpreparedness of the city in dealing with the 6.3 magnitude earthquake, but the vulnerability of the buildings that collapsed. The fact that the earthquake took place is nothing unusual. It’s well known that L’Aquila is in a region of Italy with high risk of earthquakes. Unfortunately, the message conveyed to the general public of L’Aquila by government misinformed them about the actual risk of an earthquake occurring.

Selvaggi explained how one week prior to the earthquake he attended a meeting between The High Risk Commission (HRC) and National Service of Civil Protection (NCP) of Italy. The High Risk Commission is assigned with forecasting and mitigating large-scale risks, which includes serving as an interface between the scientific community and government. The NCP are responsible for taking action to protect the public from potential risks. The advice, however, given by scientists to the High Risk Commission, does not seem to match the message the NCP disseminated to the public. Read the rest of this entry »

The M=6.6 earthquake in Gansu province this week killed about 100 people in a poor area of China.  Gansu is earthquake-triggered landslide country – the great M=8.5 earthquake of 1920 killed between 70,000 and 200,000 people, many of them in huge seismically triggered flowslides that buried whole towns.  So, even though the event this week was by comparison a small earthquake, it is unsurprising to find that landslides have been a significant issue.  News from the earthquake-affected area is scarce, but the Big Picture, the photo section of, has a wonderful gallery of images from the area.  The best of these shows two spectacular flowslide failures:


Courtesy of the Big Picture.

Other images show the aftermath of the landslides; this one for example has blocked a road: Read the rest of this entry »

Rob Parker (University of Cardiff) and Dave Petley

The Mw = 7.8 earthquake on Tuesday in Iran was the largest event in that country for about 50 years. Fortunately, the depth of the earthquake (82 km) and the low population density in the affected areas meant that loss of life was low for an event of this size.  Indeed, reports suggest that only one person died in Iran, although there are reports of 40 deaths in Pakistan.  This single fatality in Iran was the result of a landslide, and one of the images on the BBC reports about the earthquake also seems to show landslides:

Over the last three years or so, we have been working with our colleagues Alex Densmore and Nick Rosser, funded by the Willis Research Network, to develop a model that will allow us to make an initial assessment of landslide impacts in earthquakes.  Rob recently submitted his PhD, and has now moved to a post-doctoral position at Cardiff.  However, we thought that this event would be an interesting first application of the model, which has been produced through a statistical (logistic regression) analysis of spatial patterns of landslides (with areas larger than 11,000 square metres) triggered by four large earthquakes in the USA, New Zealand, Taiwan and China. The model provides a first-order prediction of the probability of hillslope failure across the region affected by seismic shaking, based on the strength of ground motions and the gradient of hillslopes. Areas likely to have experienced high levels of landslide activity are shown in red, and while areas we expect to be less affected by landslides are shown in green and then blue. Here, landslide probability has been estimated using preliminary ground motion data published by the USGS and hillslope gradients derived from the ASTER global elevation model. Read more

christchurch eq

Yesterday I was deeply honoured to present the AQA Annual Lecture at the Geographical Association annual conference in Derby.  I talked on the topic of Future Trends in Natural Hazard Losses -  essentially a review of what we expect to see in the next few decades on a global basis.  I started the talk by looking at recent trends, and then looked forward to what we might expect.  I finished with an example of one of the mega-quakes that we fear – in this case a large earthquake in Western Nepal.

The slides are on Authorstream – you can download the Powerpoint file there – and should also appear below:

Rockfall at Port Hills, Christchurch. Credit: Rob Becker

One of the legacies of the Christchurch earthquake sequence in New Zealand has been both increased levels of rockfall hazard and increased awareness of the level of hazard that predated the seismic events.  The most seriously affected area is the Port Hills area to the southeast of the city, where large numbers of houses were affected by rockfalls during the earthquakes, and may more were left at risk in the aftermath.  To assess the level of hazard properly, Christchurch City Council commissioned GNS Science to undertake a quantitative life risk assessment for the affected areas.  This has been a huge piece of work, undertaken in the public spotlight on a very short timescale.  The aim has been to generate the best possible assessment of the risk to life; this assessment can then be used as the basis for decisions on the viability of individual properties. Read more

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