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Field and numerical investigations of landslide hazards

Giant landslides in the order of tens of millions of cubic meters have posed significant hazards to the populated areas in Southwest China. To date, the public awareness of landslide hazards is high, but a fundamental understanding of its failure mechanism and countermeasures are still limited.

The proposed research aims at assessing the failure mechanism and impacts of giant landslides by field investigations and numerical modelling. The focus is to investigate the influence of slope fragmentation and pore water on landslide dynamics and impacts on infrastructures. The field investigations will explore the earthquake-induced landslides in the Wenchuan seismic zone. The datasets from field investigation will be employed in the novel coupled random field theory (RFT) and discrete element method (DEM) model to analyse the landslide dynamics and the potential impacts on infrastructures.

Based on this research, the decision-makers (e.g. private, industrial and government stakeholders) would have greater confidence in landslide risk assessments on which they are basing their infrastructure investment considerations. Consequently, landslide hazard warning systems, reliable protections and land utilization regulations can be implemented, so that the loss of lives and properties can be minimized without investing in long-term, costly projects of ground stabilization.


  1. Zhao, T., Liu, Y. A novel random discrete element analysis of rock fragmentation. International Journal for Numerical and Analytical Methods in Geomechanics, 2020, 44: 1386-1395. (DOI: 10.1002/nag.3067)

  2. Zhao T. *, Crosta G. B.. On the dynamic fragmentation and lubrication of coseismic landslides. Journal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth, 2018, 123, 11, 9914-9932.

  3. Zhao, T.*, Crosta, G. B., Utili, S. & Dattola, G. Dynamic fragmentation of jointed rock blocks during rockslide-avalanches: insights from discrete element analyses. Journal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth, 2018,123, 4, 3250–3269 (doi: 10.1002/2017JB015210) 

  4. Zhao, T.*, Crosta, G. B., Utili, S. & De Blasio, F. V. Investigation of rock fragmentation during rockfalls and rock avalanches via 3-D discrete element analyses. Journal of Geophysical Research: Earth Surface, 2017, 122(3), 678-695.

  5. Zhao, T., F. Dai, N.W. Xu. Coupled DEM-CFD investigation of the formation of landslide dams in narrow rivers. Landslides, 2017, 14(1), 189-201 (doi: 10.1007/s10346-015-0675-1)

Landslide China

Meet the Principal Investigator(s) for the project

Dr Tao Zhao - Dr. Tao Zhao is a senior Lecturer in Geotechnical Engineering in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Brunel University London. Prior to joining Brunel University, he was an Assistant Professor in Geotechnical Engineering at Sichuan University, China during 2015-2018. Tao was a visiting scholar in The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology in 2016. Dr Zhao is a Chartered Civil Engineer (CEng) and a Member of the Institution of Civil Engineers (MICE).  Tao received his DPhil (PhD) degree in Engineering Science from University of Oxford in 2014. His DPhil research project was “Investigation of Landslide-Induced Debris Flows by the DEM and CFD”, supervised by Prof. Guy Houlsby and Prof. Stefano Utili. Tao holds a BEng degree in Civil Engineering awarded in 2010 by Tongji University, China. Tao’s research interest spans a broad range of computational analysis of geotechnics and geohazards. Over the past 10 years, he has been working on the computer modelling of landslides, debris flows, and rock avalanches using the discrete element method (DEM) and computational fluid dynamics (CFD). His research focuses on progressive slope failure, coastal erosion and submarine landlsides. Tao has been dedicated to understanding the underlying physics of these geohazards and establish predictive models. Tao has published more than 60 high-quality peer-reviewed scientific papers on leading research journals with an H-index of 28 from the Google Scholar Dr Zhao is a scientific editorial board member of the journals: Deep Underground Science and Engineering ( (Associate Director of the Early Career Editorial Board) Landslides ( Journal of Rock Mechanics and Geotechnical Engineering (

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Geotechnical and Environmental Engineering - Delivering a new understanding of our geo-environment and critical infrastructure in diverse ecosystems, for predicting and preventing catastrophic failure and responding to the need for decarbonisation and energy security.

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Project last modified 17/12/2020