Evidence for the weather-driven deterioration of ageing transportation earthworks in the UK

Kevin M. Briggs, Peter R. Helm, Joel A. Smethurst, Alister Smith, Ross Stirling, Aleksandra Svalova, Yuderka Trinidad Gonzalez, Fleur A. Loveridge, Stephanie Glendinning

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (SciVal)


Seasonal, weather-driven pore pressure cycles alter and degrade the hydro-mechanical engineering properties of earthworks as they age. The accumulating effects of deterioration over many years can lead to the excessive deformation or failure of earthworks; requiring interventions to ensure their reliable performance. This paper reviews the evidence for the weather-driven deterioration of ageing transportation earthworks, with a focus on clay earthworks in the UK. These include earthworks of various ages (up to ~200 years old), formed from a range of clay-rich strata and at various stages of deterioration. Evidence is considered for both past behaviour and projected behaviour in response to continued ageing and a changing climate. There is clear evidence that some clay earthworks are influenced by the cumulative effect of seasonal weather cycles over many decades. Simulations show that seasonal slope ratcheting will become an increasingly dominant driver of shallow failures in high-plasticity cut slopes as they age and in response to projected climate change. The evidence can inform performance curves describing the deterioration of individual earthworks in response weather-driven ageing. This can help identify earthworks with the highest likelihood of failure and inform decisions made by earthwork asset managers.
Original languageEnglish
Article number101130
JournalTransportation Geotechnics
Early online date9 Oct 2023
Publication statusPublished - 30 Nov 2023

Bibliographical note

This paper is an output from the UKRI-funded ACHILLES Programme (EP/R034575/1), a collaboration between Newcastle University (lead), Durham University, the University of Strathclyde, the University of Leeds, the British Geological Survey, Loughborough University, the University of Bath and the University of Southampton. The authors gratefully acknowledge the support and guidance provided by the ACHILLES Expert Advisory Board (Chaired by M. Davies), the Impact Advisory Group (Chaired by C. Power & S. Abbott) and the Stakeholder User Group. Thank you to Geotechnical Observations Limited for providing inclinometer data. Briggs is supported by the Royal Academy of Engineering and HS2 Ltd under the Senior Research Fellowship scheme (RCSRF1920\10\65).

Data availability:
The data in the paper is drawn from other sources. These have been cited.

Data Availability Statement

The data in the paper is drawn from other sources. These have been cited.


  • Ageing
  • Climate change
  • Deterioration
  • Earthworks
  • Infrastructure
  • Transportation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geotechnical Engineering and Engineering Geology
  • Transportation
  • Civil and Structural Engineering


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