Professor Giuseppe Buscarnera Awarded $1.4m through NSF PREEVENTS Program

Giuseppe Buscarnera, an Associate Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering — in conjunction with researchers at North Carolina State University, Middlebury College, NASA and Argonne Laboratory — has been awarded $1.4M for the research project entitled, "Defining precursors of ground failure: a multiscale framework for early landslide prediction through geomechanics and remote sensing,” as part of the NSF PREEEVENTS program.  The central purpose of the PREEVENTS (Prediction of and Resilient against Extreme Events) program is to mitigate the risks and harm posed to the US by natural hazards and extreme events.

The new PREEVENTS project aims to define precursors of ground failure through physics-based model simulations and remote sensing. The project is motivated by the idea that the dynamics of near-surface processes bears similarities to the fine-scale failure mechanisms involving interactions among multiple units. As a consequence, it will combine geomechanics, geomorphology, atmospheric sciences and physics of complex systems to provide a comprehensive picture of the landslide dynamics that can improve our ability to forecast and mitigate hazards at the landscape scale.

Connection between ground failure processes spanning multiple length scales: (a) particle interactions, (b) earth material, (c) individual hillslope, (d) and catchment.

The project activities will involve four main tasks:

  • explain how environmental conditions affect changes in landslide velocity
  • provide a multiscale weather-hydrology simulation platform to quantify rainfall inputs and soil moisture at the scale of mountain ranges
  • formulate numerical models reproducing the spatiotemporal growth of ground failure zones
  • propose a multi-layer network theory to identify precursors of runaway instability

By leveraging on recent technological advances in remote sensing, the project aims to demonstrate that analyzing the deformation signature of the ground is the key to explain why hillslopes fail in different ways when subjected to variable weather patterns. In addition, by studying the landslide dynamics across disciplinary boundaries, the team led by Buscarnera hopes to understand and recognize the slow deformation mechanisms which precede dramatic failures, thus anticipating when, where, and why ground failure occurs, and potentially inspiring the design of physics-based early warning systems able to better protect human life and infrastructure.  

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