Monitoring of landslide hazards with wireless sensor networks and machine learning, Geography and Computer Science

at University of Exeter
Published December 13, 2022
Location Exeter, United Kingdom
Category Machine Learning  
Job Type Scholarship  



Stream Campus, Exeter

The University of Exeter’s Department of Geography is inviting applications for a 3.5 year PhD studentship fully-funded by the Faculty of Environment, Science and Economy and Copernicus Technologies to commence on 01 March 2023 or as soon as possible thereafter. For eligible students the studentship will cover Home tuition fees plus an annual tax-free stipend of at least £17,668 for 3.5 years full-time, or pro rata for part-time study. The student would be based in Geography in the Faculty of Environment, Science and Economy at the Streatham Campus in Exeter.

Project Description:

Landslides are a major hazard along coasts and in mountain regions in the UK and globally, causing disruption, fatalities and severe economic loss. Landslides can also propagate downslope in the form of debris flows and even interact with floods to cause a cascade of hazards. Landslides and related hazard cascades are increasing under climate change and increasing population pressure (Froude and Petley, 2018). This makes monitoring and early warning of slope instability and landslides increasingly vital to mitigate their impacts.

A range of smart sensors are being developed that can track debris movement through the landslide hazard cascade as part of a Wireless Sensor Network (WSN) (Dini et al., 2021). In the same way that smart watches can characterise different movements we make based on algorithms developed using machine learning, similar techniques can be used characterise different sensor movements and develop warnings of hazardous slope movement. This is a major objective of the SENSUM project: Smart SENSing of landscapes Undergoing hazardous hydrogeomorphic Movement, on which this PhD project will build.

The overarching aim of this PhD is to help develop effective real time monitoring of a range of landslide hazards in coastal and mountainous environments of the UK and France. It will utilise existing data collected by sensors for a range of sites, including Lyme Regis and Isle of White in the UK and Harmalière landslide in France. Drone and video camera footage will be collected to validate sensor movements. Machine learning methods will be used to characterise boulder movements and train sensors to detect hazardous movement using the collected sensing data and drone images, thereby working towards developing effective early warning of hazards.

The student will join a vibrant geomorphology community at the University of Exeter, joining Dr Bennett’s research group as well as the wider CCoRD research group. The student will gain valuable skills in sensor technology through Dr Kyle Roskilly and industry sponsor Copernicus Technologies and machine learning through Dr Luo.

The student will receive adequate training in various sensor technologies used in the project. The student will be encouraged to attend relevant training workshops and opportunities as they arise and will be able to attend at least one international conference and a number of national conferences over the course of the project.

This award provides annual funding to cover Home tuition fees and a tax-free stipend. For students who pay Home tuition fees the award will cover the tuition fees in full, plus at least £17,668 per year tax-free stipend. Students who pay international tuition fees are eligible to apply, but should note that the award will only provide payment for part of the international tuition fee and no stipend.

The studentship will be awarded on the basis of merit for 3.5 years of full-time study to commence on 1st March 2023.

International applicants need to be aware that you will have to cover the cost of your student visa, healthcare surcharge and other costs of moving to the UK to do a PhD.

The conditions for eligibility of home fees status are complex and you will need to seek advice if you have moved to or from the UK (or Republic of Ireland) within the past 3 years or have applied for settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme.

Further reading

Dini, B., Bennett, G.L., Franco, A.M.A., Whitworth, M.R.Z, Cook, K.L., Senn, A., Reynolds, J.M. (2021) Development of smart boulders to monitor mass movements via the Internet of Things: A pilot study in Nepal. Earth Surf. Dynam., 9, 295-315, 2021

Froude, M.J., and Petley, D.N., (2018) Global fatal landslide occurrence from 2004 to 2016, Nat Hazards Earth Syst Sci, 28, 2161-2181.

Entry requirements

Applicants for this studentship must have obtained, or be about to obtain, a First or Upper Second Class UK Honours degree, or the equivalent qualifications gained outside the UK, in an appropriate area of science or technology.  Knowledge of landslide processes and coastal erosion will be valuable. Any experience in data analysis, coding, GIS, remote sensing and fieldwork would also be helpful. The candidate should be willing to conduct occasional fieldwork in the UK and France.

If English is not your first language you will need to meet the required level (Profile A/B/C) as per our guidance at

How to apply

In the application process you will be asked to upload several documents.

• CV

• Letter of application (outlining your academic interests, prior research experience and reasons for wishing to undertake the project).

• Transcript(s) giving full details of subjects studied and grades/marks obtained (this should be an interim transcript if you are still studying)

• Two references from referees familiar with your academic work. If your referees prefer, they can email the reference direct to quoting the studentship reference number.

• If you are not a national of a majority English-speaking country you will need to submit evidence of your proficiency in English.

The closing date for applications is midnight on Friday 20th January 2023. 

Interviews will be held virtually or on the University of Exeter Streatham Campus in the week commencing 6th February 2023.

If you have any general enquiries about the application process please email or phone 0300 555 60 60 (UK callers) +44 (0) 1392 723044 (International callers)

Project-specific queries should be directed to the main supervisor Dr Georgie Bennett (