Landslides and floods are Norway’s two main geohazards. Internationally, earthquakes pose the number one danger, with floods as the second most dangerous event with catastrophic ramifications for human life and health.
More surprising, however, is that high winds also take many lives.
The tsunamis of recent years were highly destructive disasters. But since they strike seldom, fortunately, tsunamis represent a smaller danger than earthquakes, for example.
Saving human lives and limiting material losses in natural catastrophes have been the main objectives of The International Centre for Geohazards (ICG), hosted by the Norwegian Geotechnical Institute (NGI) in Oslo.
New knowledge can mitigate the destructiveness of geohazards, and this knowledge must be shared as widely as possible to reduce damage to infrastructure and the environment while saving human lives the next time a natural disaster strikes.
Experience has shown that the poorest people are most at risk from natural disasters. The 2010 earthquake in Haiti is an example. But wealthy countries such as Norway are by no means immune from the forces of nature. Landslides and avalanches have taken more than 2000 lives in Norway over the past 150 years.
In Offshore Geohazards, a set of projects in which ICG researchers studied landslide risks on the seabed of the North Sea.
Objectives: To identify and assess geohazards and recommend prevention and mitigation measures. Landslides, earthquakes and tsunamis are of highest priority. New knowledge should be utilised to save lives and reduce material losses.
Participants: Norwegian Geotechnical Institute (NGI), University of Oslo, Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), Norwegian Seismic Array (NORSAR), and Geological Survey of Norway (NGU).
Annual allocation from the Research Council: Euro 1,6 million.
Total annual budget: roughly Euro 3,25 million.
Total man-years: 22–25.
“Several enormous landslides have occurred on the North Sea seabed,” says ICG Director Farrokh Nadim. “Underwater slides threaten oil platforms and other structures, especially now that these are being placed in deeper waters. Underwater landslides can also damage pipelines.”
“There is no question that Norwegian expertise in this field has advanced substantially because of ICG’s work.”
The geohazard experts based in Oslo also emphasise a third research area: ICG’s interdisciplinary tsunami project.
“With this project,” continues Nadim, “we had the opportunity to combine expertise in both underwater earthquakes and on the behaviour of waves approaching land."
"We also tied in expertise on buildings and infrastructure on this project. In this way we’ve developed a continuous knowledge chain for risk posed by tsunamis to humans.”
When asked what is the greatest challenge this research field faces in years to come, the director singles out risk management.
“How are decisions taken? What is being done wrong? Dealing with natural disasters involves more than purely technical matters. The societal perspective is just as important. So we definitely need to learn to manage the societal risks of natural catastrophes better.”
The International Centre for Geohazards is a Centre of Excellence (SFF) and was established ten years ago, but now its activities as an SFF centre are now drawing to a close.
ICG Director Farrokh Nadim and Deputy Director Bjørn Kalsnes leave it to others to decide whether their centre has achieved its vision of becoming the world’s leading centre for geohazards research. But there is no doubt that this SFF centre has attained high international status; the makeup of personnel can attest to that. Among ICG researchers, Nadim and Kalsnes are practically the only ones who speak Norwegian.
Nadim and Kalsnes are proud of their centre’s role in SafeLand, a large-scale integrating collaborative research project which will be concluding in 2012.
Coordinated by ICG, 27 partner institutions across 12 European countries assumed a significant role in the EU Seventh Framework Programme for Research and Technological Development (FP7).
A total of EUR 9 million was allocated to SafeLand participants for projecting the risk of landslides throughout Europe in light of climate change, population growth and human settlement patterns in the coming 100 years.
Researchers from a number of countries have come to ICG to participate in the various projects. Many have chosen to come even though they have to finance their stay with funding from other sources than the centre itself. This strong influx has created a wide-ranging international geohazard community of expertise with ICG at its core, which has in turn enabled Norwegian geohazard researchers to establish a large international network.
“We have achieved all the objectives we set down ten years ago,” says Dr Nadim, “and certain objectives, for instance educating students, we have fulfilled two or three times over.”
In the past decade, experts at the ICG have published over 400 scientific papers. Instead of targeting journals with the highest academic prestige factor, ICG project participants have intentionally focused on journals with the broadest possible reach for their research results.
“What we have been carrying out these ten years has primarily been applied research,” explains Nadim, “so all along we have tried to get the results of our work into the hands of potential users.”