GCU research team tackles Mediterranean landslides, erosion and floods

05 May 2017

Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU) researchers are establishing new ways of using vegetation in Mediterranean countries to help prevent landslides, erosion and floods.

Ecological engineering is an emerging field of research concerned with the application of soils, plants, and water bodies in engineering design in order to prevent and mitigate against natural disasters. 

This holistic approach to solving engineering problems is seen as more sustainable than ’hard’ engineered solutions, which are dominant in the industry today. 

This project funded by the European Commission’s Erasmus + research programme aims to research the skills gap within the industry for the first time in the history of the discipline, and will develop solutions, training and educational programmes aimed at academia and professionals alike.

The GCU team of researchers (Dr Slobodan Mickovski, Reader in Civil and Geotechnical Engineering; Dr Craig Thomson, Senior Lecturer in Sustainability Management; and Dr Caroline Gallagher, Senior Lecturer in Geographical Information Systems) are working with researchers in Spain, Portugal, Greece, Turkey, France, Italy, and Macedonia to integrate ecology and engineering practices in a novel way in order to combat the effects of climate change in various Mediterranean regions.

Mediterranean coastal regions contain large high-density urban populations and support diverse ecosystems. However, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the leading international body for the assessment of climate change, many of these countries are being negatively affected by climate change. This includes increased flooding and erosion as the coasts fall below normal high-tide levels, as well as an increase in the number and occurrence of landslides due to changing rainfall patterns.

In response,  eco-engineers across the Mediterranean will use soil, plants and water bodies as sustainable tools to improve resilience against soil loss and coastal or river-bank degradation, with vegetation helping – over the long-term – to stabilise the land and enhance the biodiversity. Ecologically based approaches currently represent a very small percentage of the stabilisation works undertaken due largely to a gap in awareness and skills among practitioners.

Over the next two years, the research team will select and analyse problematic sites in the Mediterranean, collect data to develop bioengineering design routines and protocols, construction techniques and planning and monitoring schemes which do not exist at the moment, and generate new guidelines for use between higher education institutions and industry to achieve a higher level of specialisation and knowledge in the eco-engineering sector.

Dr Mickovski said: “Many of the direct causes of the natural phenomena of landslides, erosion, and floods are region-specific. Therefore, a solid study of the Mediterranean climate demands a highly specialised knowledge triangle of new processes, methods, and services within the sector.

“Typically, plants and parts of plants are used as living building materials, in such a way that, through their development in combination with inert materials such as soil, rock, and timber, they can ensure a significant contribution to the long-term protection and mitigation against all forms of soil loss and erosion. The use of these living materials in Mediterranean environments involves many difficulties, notwithstanding the climate, that are not present in Atlantic and continental regions from where related research and publications are mainly originating."