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State-of-the-art solutions help decision makers manage built and natural environments

The effective management and development of built and natural environments has always been a challenge for decision makers, but modern societal and environmental pressures are placing even more demands on infrastructure, services and assets. Associate Professor Mike Lim and colleagues from Northumbria University’s Civil and Construction research group are collaborating with national agencies, local authorities and industry to provide tailored, state-of-the-art solutions to urban and environmental problems that affect us all. 

Societal resilience to geohazards, such as landslides and cliff erosion, is an area of expertise for this research group. The team has been developing early warning and monitoring systems as well as modelling and management strategies to deal with risks to infrastructure. Their work with Transport Scotland (TS) and local authorities – South Tyneside Borough Council, among them – has enabled potentially hazardous slopes to be remotely monitored, aiding the understanding and prediction of failure events – essential to deciding whether certain roads should be closed to avoid endangering life. Moreover, the slope visualisation and change detection data they are collecting are informing management decisions. The team’s recommendations have led the Environment Agency and South Tyneside Borough Council to revise work planned to manage cliff erosion threats to the A183 road, by indicating erosion rates are up to 70% lower than previously thought.  

Internationally, the group are working with the agency responsible for managing Canadian natural resources, Natural Resources Canada (NRCan), to help quantify, understand and address the key threats to infrastructure and communities posed by permafrost cliff erosion. Since 2017, NRCan have used a helicopter-based surveillance technique developed by Dr Lim and colleagues to conduct coastal monitoring surveys, an approach which is vastly cheaper and more efficient than the previous monitoring method. The ease of this technique also meant that surveillance could continue throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, something that would not have been possible using the old approach.  

The group’s research is also having a significant impact on the lives and future of a community of 900 Inuvialuit people living in the Tuktoyaktuk settlement in Northwest Territories, Canada, whose ancestral settlement is under threat from coastal erosion and thaw-related subsidence. Using a new subsurface imaging technique, the group have been able to create the first detailed maps showing hazardous ground ice. NRCan have used these maps to rule out potential relocation sites for the settlement and refine plans for its movement and redevelopment, anticipated to cost in excess of 100,000,000 Canadian dollars.  

Beyond this, low-cost monitoring techniques developed by the research group mean the Tuktoyatuk people are now able to monitor geotechnical conditions, such as melting ground ice, independently. This activity has supported the expansion of a local climate change adaptation programme and has empowered residents to become involved in, and feel a sense of ownership over, the monitoring process. Renowned Canadian news publications, including Broadview and The Narwhal, have reported on the positive impact that this programme is having on the attitudes of local people, particularly the younger generation who are keen to halt further degradation of their homeland.    


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