I am an assistant in the Engineering Geology group at the ETH Zurich. I have a background in both geomorphology and engineering geology, and am interested in the effect of landscape evolution on the interaction of people and the natural environment.
Landscapes in which we live are underlain by soil and rock produced through tens, to tens of millions of years of erosion, sediment transport, and deposition. The strength and stability of soil and rock in these landscapes carries a memory of processes during their formation, and as physical strength slowly decreases, or the intensity of loading increases, the Earth’s surface responds in consistent though sometimes spectacular ways.
By better understanding the history and physics of landscape development we can learn to better predict the response our environment to changes in climate, vegetation, and land use. As well as teaching us how mountains are formed, why rivers look the way they do, and what changes a warmer climate or far-off ice age may bring, this can also provide insights into the cause of spectacular environmental events – and thereby help predict likely outcomes, and prepare to avoid disasters.
Of course education and distribution of information is essential to make all this worthwhile. As well as scientific publications and teaching courses at ETH, I use this site to provide insight into current geohazards, and new or open-source GIS tools for Earth scientists (e.g. QGIS & Google Earth).
I aim to illustrate the benefits of increased synergy between the fields of structural geology, geomorphology, and engineering geology. These fields are extremely complimentary, though rarely integrated aspects of Earth science – there are few literature examples of truly integrated structural / geomorphological / engineering geological investigations.
This reflects a disconnect between the disciplines; as structural geology primarily deals with ductile rock deformation and rock formation up to the base of the brittle crust, while the other two deal with the upper brittle crust either in terms of landforms and processes, or stresses and materials.
I address this disconnect by clarifying an existing, although poorly utilized, framework considering the effects of exogenic and endogenic processes on the landscape; describing their interaction in terms of stresses imposed on bedrock. Specifically:
- Endogenic processes exert stress on bedrock as a result of the Earth’s geodynamic system (e.g. tectonics, isostacy, volcanism).
- Exogenic processes operate within the hydrosphere, and exert stress on bedrock as a result of gravitational or climatic forcing (e.g. physical and chemical weathering, mass wasting, fluvial incision, etc.).
- Mechanical properties of bedrock regulate the interaction of these processes.
This provides a common ground for practitioners in all three fields to describe the effects of what are essentially climatic and tectonic processes, rock mechanics, and anthropogenic activities on the local environment. The framework provides quantitative terms that encourage an improved transfer of knowledge between these disciplines.
Building from this, I expect researchers can gain greater insight into the operation of geomorphic processes, bedrock stress and strength conditions, and the response of the landscape to environmental changes at resolutions relevant to both assess the past, and help plan for future development within geomorphologically active regions.
- Ph.D: ETH Zurich, Engineering Geology, 2012
- M.Sc: University of Canterbury, Engineering Geology, 2004
- B.Sc: University of Canterbury, Geology, 2001
- 2013 – present: Post-doctoral researcher, Chair of Landslide Research, Technische Universität München, Germany
- 2007 – 2008: Assistant, Engineering Geology Group, ETH Zurich, Switzerland
- early 2007: Engineering geologist, Jacobs UK Ltd, Glasgow, Scotland
- 2004 – 2006: Engineering geologist, Tonkin & Taylor Ltd, Wellington, New Zealand