In the Bailong region of Southern Gansu (China) sustainable community development and the resilience of the infrastructures that connect them is severely compromised by the dynamic nature of the natural environment (Fig. 1). Communities are exposed to severe hazards that include seasonal events such as landslides, extreme rainfall and flooding, and recurring hazards such as earthquakes. The disaster risk picture of this region is further complicated by added pressures resulting from rapid societal change (expanding urban footprints and increasing transport links). We need to get a better understanding of the human-landscape interactions and characterise the complex hierarchies of relevant process-response systems. At the same time, it is imperative that perceptions of hazard impact and drivers of community resilience are better understood so that we can better design appropriate preparedness and management strategies, early warning systems and resource allocations.

This exciting studentship addresses three main research questions; (i) how do communities develop their perceptions of geohazard and risk, (ii) what are the priorities in terms of sustainable development and resilience building in this landscape and (iii) how can we mobilise indigenous and scientific knowledge to develop effective community-based response schemes in a truly multi-hazard framework to fully address disaster risk, develop appropriate early warning systems and achieve more resilient societies.

This research will build on a strong platform of understanding geohazard processes, including, for example, the experimental early warning systems for rainfall triggered landslides (Wudu) and the landslide susceptibility and geohazard assessments developed with Lanzhou University. It will further develop community-based research initiated in this region by Lanzhou University. The aim of this study is to develop pathways and tools to achieve fully integrated, community-centred schemes that enhance early warning and reduce geohazard impact in this region.

The town of Zhouqu (Gansu, China) was devastated by a debris flow in 2010 (top). Major physical changes were implemented (bottom).


A literature review will familiarise the student with the research and will lead to scheduling a first fieldwork phase with a dual focus on capturing geohazard processes and conducting community surveys. Local fieldwork/research support is provided by Lanzhou University. This will enable the student to establish key contacts, selection of communities, capture sustainable development drivers, conduct initial surveys and install sensors. Practical research actions will be co-developed with key stakeholders (Lanzhou/Wudu).

The research will then assess how to combine community-focused information needs with observational data from appropriate sensor technologies (slope displacement, weather stations, flood levels, etc.) and will develop information pathways and communication technologies connecting communities and centralised Geohazards Emergency Response Centre (Wudu, Gansu, China). The project will then address how community-based training (to install and manage sensors) can be used to achieve enhanced understanding of human-landscape interactions and provide greater ownership of safer slopes management approaches.


Training and Skills

CENTA students are required to complete 45 days training throughout their PhD including a 10-day placement. In the first year, students will be trained as a single cohort on environmental science, research methods and core skills. Throughout the PhD, training will progress from core skills sets to master classes specific to CENTA research themes.

Specific training on research methods (based on a transdisciplinary approach) and core data collection and data analysis as well as ethics skills will be provided in the UK and in Lanzhou with specific foci on community surveys and culturally-sensitive approaches, human-landscape interactions, geohazard and risk assessment, landslide sensor deployment, early warning systems and appropriate communication techniques. This project requires a diverse set of skills and we are looking for students with a background in Geography, Environmental Sciences, Engineering or Disaster Management who can combine an understanding of natural hazards with an ability to carry out community-based research.


Year 1: literature reviews, fieldwork 1. selection of communities; identify indigenous knowledge and hazard perceptions; select unstable sites, install sensors to maximise data collection period; start an inventory of communication pathways).

Year 2: Fieldwork 2; study period at Lanzhou: in-depth community surveys to identify information and skills needs, co-development of community training, review of sensor installation, increase density of sensor network, review early warning mechanisms, develop community tools and protocols.

Year 3: Fieldwork 3: data analysis (sensors, community surveys); development of pathways and tools to achieve fully integrated, community-centred schemes that enhance early warning and reduce geohazard impact.

Partners and collaboration (including CASE)

This research will involve close collaboration with Lanzhou University and the Geohazards Emergency Response Centre in Wudu (Gansu, China). The external supervisor Prof Meng Xingmin has guaranteed support for local fieldwork and research activities. The student is expected to spend substantial time the field study region (Bailong Corridor between Zhouqu and Wudu) and at Lanzhou University. Fieldwork scheduling for this project is flexible and will be arranged to fit around the CENTA training requirements. Implementation of suitable sensors for community-sensitive landslide monitoring and early warning in this region may lead to opportunities for CASE support.

Further Details

For further information, please contact Dr Tom Dijkstra (t.a.dijkstra@lboro.ac.uk) or Dr Ksenia Chmutina (k.chmutina@lboro.ac.uk). For enquiries about the application process, please contact Berkeley Young b.k.d.young@lboro.ac.uk, School of Civil and Building Engineering, Loughborough University. Please quote CENTA when completing the application form: http://www.lboro.ac.uk/study/apply/research/