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22-18. Application of engineering geology principles to support the advancement of landslide science and hazard assessment in Alaska

Due to its complex geology and dynamic landscape, the State of Alaska is particularly susceptible to extremely large landslides. This research opportunity seeks to advance the fundamental science of landslide hazard assessment in Alaska, applying principles of engineering geology and related disciplines through use of laboratory, field, numerical, and/or empirical approaches. 

Description of the Research Opportunity

Landslides and landslide-generated hazards cause deaths, injuries, and homelessness every year, and they damage or destroy settlements, roads, and other critical infrastructure. Alaska’s complex terrain, complicated geology, glacierized landscape, seismicity, and dynamic climate system make the state particularly susceptible to unstable slopes and has led to some of the world’s largest landslides in recent time.  Well-known examples of impactful landslide and related hazards include the earthquake-induced landslide-generated tsunami in Lituya Bay (Miller, 1960) and the devastation of communities along the shoreline of Prince William Sound brought about by submarine landslides triggered during the Great Alaskan Earthquake of 1964 (Haeussler et al., 2016; Plafker, 1965). Even within the last decade, landslides in Alaska have been generated by prolonged rainfall (Darrow et al., 2022; Patton et al., 2022), a regional earthquake (Jibson et al., 2019), and glacial recession and permafrost degradation (Bessette-Kirton and Coe, 2020; Coe et al., 2016; Dai et al., 2020; Dufresne et al., 2019; Higman et al., 2018).  

Engineering geologists approach challenges related to hazard assessment with an established, fundamentally sound, and consistent suite of skills, tools, methods, and background knowledge required to address the diversity of landslide types and causal mechanisms found within the state of Alaska. Specifically, the ability to bridge insights into geologic material behavior and evolution under different hydrologic and mechanical conditions, together with precise measurements of geologic structure, topographic configuration, and past deformation rates and timing, are fundamental skills applied by engineering geologists (Terzaghi and Paige, 1950). These principles, grounded in traditional engineering geology studies and when combined with emerging monitoring technologies and analytical methods, provide a robust system for evaluating the potential hazard of an existing landslide, understanding how past landslides have failed, and assessing the susceptibility of hillslopes, watersheds, or regions to generate landslides in evolving hydrometeorological, seismic, or climatic conditions. 

To that end, we solicit proposals from candidates that will advance landslide science and the assessment of landslide hazards in Alaska. Proposals should focus on applying the principles of engineering geology using field, laboratory, numerical, and/or empirical approaches to address one or more of the following:  

  1. Evaluating the current and future stability and potential failure mechanism of large, deep-seated bedrock landslides that, at present, have only exhibited slow moving deformation. 

  1. Evaluating the linkages between dynamic hydrometeorological and cryospheric conditions, slope stability, and potential for catastrophic failure. 

  1. Evaluating the failure potential for subaerial, submarine, or partly submerged landslides during ground motion associated with regional earthquakes. 

  1. Developing a robust and conceptually sound framework for the rapid assessment of ongoing local hazard for recent landslide events, including those where strong ground motion, prolonged precipitation, or anthropogenic activity have contributed to initiation. 

  1. Defining material evolution in dynamic systems and implications for landslide hazards at various spatial and temporal scales.   

The scale of these objectives is broad and no single proposal can, nor should, attempt to address all of these topics. Instead, we encourage applicants to craft well-considered proposals that apply their unique background to address tractable portions of these challenges while considering how the methods, tools, and insights gained through this research can be used in applied studies and operational activities at the U.S. Geological Survey and the Alaska Division of Geological & Geophysical Surveys. Applicants should leverage existing monitoring data, inventories, geologic and structural maps, and ongoing projects of the Research Advisors. Proposals that also address landslide hazards that affect underrepresented communities are strongly encouraged. 

As there are many possible research topics and direction, we very strongly encourage interested applicants to reach out to the research advisors to identify a topic or theme that is tractable within the two-year timeframe, leverages existing datasets, and is within the interest and skillsets of the applicant, and aligned with program priorities at the U.S. Geological Survey and the Alaska Division of Geological & Geophysical Surveys.  

Interested applicants are strongly encouraged to contact the Research Advisor(s) early in the application process to discuss project ideas. 



Bessette-Kirton, E. K., and Coe, J. A., 2020, A 36-Year Record of Rock Avalanches in the Saint Elias Mountains of Alaska, With Implications for Future Hazards: Frontiers in Earth Science, v. 8, no. 293. 

Coe, J. A., Baum, R. L., Allstadt, K. E., Kochevar, B. F., Jr., Schmitt, R. G., Morgan, M. L., White, J. L., Stratton, B. T., Hayashi, T. A., and Kean, J. W., 2016, Rock-avalanche dynamics revealed by large-scale field mapping and seismic signals at a highly mobile avalanche in the West Salt Creek valley, western Colorado: Geosphere, v. 12, no. 2, p. 607-631. 

Dai, C., Higman, B., Lynett, P. J., Jacquemart, M., Howat, I. M., Liljedahl, A. K., Dufresne, A., Freymueller, J. T., Geertsema, M., Ward Jones, M., and Haeussler, P. J., 2020, Detection and Assessment of a Large and Potentially Tsunamigenic Periglacial Landslide in Barry Arm, Alaska: Geophysical Research Letters, v. 47, no. 22, p. e2020GL089800. 

Darrow, M. M., Nelson, V. A., Grilliot, M., Wartman, J., Jacobs, A., Baichtal, J. F., and Buxton, C., 2022, Geomorphology and initiation mechanisms of the 2020 Haines, Alaska landslide: Landslides, v. 19, no. 9, p. 2177-2188. 

Dufresne, A., Wolken, G. J., Hibert, C., Bessette-Kirton, E. K., Coe, J. A., Geertsema, M., and Ekström, G., 2019, The 2016 Lamplugh rock avalanche, Alaska: deposit structures and emplacement dynamics: Landslides, v. 16, no. 12, p. 2301-2319. 

Haeussler, P. J., Parsons, T., Finlayson, D. P., Hart, P., Chaytor, J. D., Ryan, H., Lee, H., Labay, K., Peterson, A., and Liberty, L., New imaging of submarine landslides from the 1964 Earthquake Near Whittier, Alaska, and a comparison to failures in other Alaskan fjords, in Proceedings Submarine Mass Movements and Their Consequences, 6th International Symposium2016, p. 361-370. 

Higman, B., Shugar, D. H., Stark, C. P., Ekström, G., Koppes, M. N., Lynett, P., Dufresne, A., Haeussler, P. J., Geertsema, M., Gulick, S., Mattox, A., Venditti, J. G., Walton, M. A. L., McCall, N., McKittrick, E., MacInnes, B., Bilderback, E. L., Tang, H., Willis, M. J., Richmond, B., Reece, R. S., Larsen, C., Olson, B., Capra, J., Ayca, A., Bloom, C., Williams, H., Bonno, D., Weiss, R., Keen, A., Skanavis, V., and Loso, M., 2018, The 2015 landslide and tsunami in Taan Fiord, Alaska: Scientific Reports, v. 8, no. 1, p. 12993. 

Jibson, R. W., R. Grant, A. R., Witter, R. C., Allstadt, K. E., Thompson, E. M., and Bender, A. M., 2019, Ground Failure from the Anchorage, Alaska, Earthquake of 30 November 2018: Seismological Research Letters, v. 91, no. 1, p. 19-32. 

Miller, D. J., 1960, The Alaska earthquake of July 10, 1958: Giant wave in Lituya Bay: Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America, v. 50, no. 2, p. 253-266. 

Patton, A. I., Roering, J. J., and Orland, E., 2022, Debris flow initiation in postglacial terrain: Insights from shallow landslide initiation models and geomorphic mapping in Southeast Alaska: Earth Surface Processes and Landforms, v. 47, no. 6, p. 1583-1598. 

Plafker, G., 1965, Tectonic Deformation Associated with the 1964 Alaska Earthquake: Science, v. 148, no. 3678, p. 1675-1687. 

Terzaghi, K., 1950, Mechanism of Landslides, in: S. Paige (Ed.), Application of Geology to Engineering Practice (Berkey Volume), Geological Society of America, Washington, D.C. (1950), pp. 83-123. 


Proposed Duty Location(s)

Anchorage, Alaska        


Areas of PhD

Geology, civil engineering, Earth sciences, hydrology, physical geography, or related fields (candidates holding a Ph.D. in other disciplines, but with extensive knowledge and skills relevant to the Research Opportunity may be considered). 



Applicants must meet one of the following qualifications: Research Geologist, Research Civil Engineer, Research Hydrologist, Research Physical Scientist 

(This type of research is performed by those who have backgrounds for the occupations stated above. However, other titles may be applicable depending on the applicant's background, education, and research proposal. The final classification of the position will be made by the Human Resources specialist.)