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Site Visit 4: BIONICS embankment, Newcastle upon Tyne

by Claire Walsh last modified 2007-10-25 14:59

On Wednesday 12th September researchers and stakeholders gathered in the Devonshire Building of the University of Newcastle for the fourth SKCC Study Day. The focus of the day was the research being conducted by the Biological and Engineering Impacts of Climate Change on Slopes (BIONICS) project.

The Devonshire Building was an apt place to meet as it won the sustainability category of the RICS North East Renaissance Awards. Opened in 2004, it demonstrates very high sustainable design targets. Photovoltaic panels on the roof generate 30kW of power. The climatic responsive façade optimises the levels of daylight and solar penetration received by the building.

Visitors were introduced to the work of the BIONICS project by Dr Stephanie stephanieGlendinning, Principal Investigator for the project. Earthworks constitute a major infrastructure asset, being valued at £20 billion. Climate change with hotter, drier summers and more intense rainfall will have a serious effect on huge parts of our transport infrastructure. Effective maintenance will be a fraction of the cost of repairing our highway and railway embankment. BIONICS will enable the effects of climate change on infrastructure slopes to be deduced. This will be done from the data produced from a full scale climate-controlled embankment. The database of embankment performance will included the effects of plants, rainfall, heating and compaction levels.

mikeVisitors also heard from Dr Michael Lim on the work of Remote Asset Inspection for Transport Networks.  This project is developing methods in which remotely sensed data can be used to perform intelligent analysis on transport corridors through the integration of airborne light detection and ranging (LiDAR) and terrestrial laser scanning (TLS). The research will allow an assessment of the parameters of earthwork condition, such as slope characteristics, context and vegetation cover, in greater detail than ever before. This project uses the BIONICS embankment to validate the methods developed against the instrumented full-scale test embankment.

The final presentation of the morning session was given by Dr Paul Quinn of the Earth paulSystems Laboratory. He spoke on the Proactive project, an Integrated Runoff Management Plan for Farms. At Nafferton Farm a series of proactive measure are taken to control runoff flow paths and the physical and chemical properties of the water, with the aims of reducing flow peaks and diffusing waste level. The intention is to use full scale case studies to monitor flow and waste levels to develop methods that will allow farmers to comply with the objectives laid down in the Water Framework Directive; namely to prevent deterioration of and enhance bodies of surface water, achieve and maintain good ecological status and maintain protected areas.


The afternoon session took place at Nafferton Farm, a working farm run by Newcastle University. However, it is also home to the Integrated Runoff Management project and the BIONICS embankment.ochre

Dr Quinn led the visitors along the 400m stretch of the stream where the remediation is taking place. These included bioreactor ponds, positioned to take overland flow from the fields. Visitors were able to observe 3 remediation zones for farm runoff water. The first were a series of sediment traps; next was zone where ochre stripped phosphates from the water. Finally were the wetlands. Initial results from the project are most encouraging, with flow controlled and a 30% reduction in phosphates entering the main stream at all levels of flow. Visitors also saw the wind turbine, introduced to show the possibilities for small scale energy production on farms. 

climbing-embankmentNext Dr Paul Hughes of the BIONICS team led the visitors to the BIONICS embankment, 90m long, 6m high embankment made from glacial till. It is divided into 4 18m zones to replicate the compaction of modern highways embankments, as well as less well compacted historic railway embankments. Visitors were able to see the instruments used to record movement in the embankment and the degree of suction of water. Unfortunately the sprinkler system will not be put in until the week following the visit. However, when working, this will give results on the flow of water through the embankment.


Our thanks for a most enjoyable and stimulating day must go to Drs Stephanie Glendinning, Paul Hughes, Michael Lim and Paul Quinn.

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