Engineering Geology

Volume 307, 20 September 2022, 106790
Engineering Geology

4D electrical resistivity tomography for assessing the influence of vegetation and subsurface moisture on railway cutting condition

https://doi.org/10.1016/j.enggeo.2022.106790Get rights and content
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Conversion of ERT images using petrophysical relationships reveal complex changes in moisture content through space and time.

4-D ERT provides insight into the influence of vegetation on slope stability.

Shrink-swell behaviour is exacerbated in wooded areas compared with grassed areas.


Instability of slopes, embankments, and cuttings on the railway network is increasingly prevalent globally. Monitoring vulnerable infrastructure aids in geotechnical asset management, and improvements to transport safety and efficiency. Here, we examine the use of a novel, near-real-time Electrical Resistivity Tomography (ERT) monitoring system for assessing the stability of a railway cutting in Leicestershire, United Kingdom. In 2015, an ERT monitoring system was installed across a relict landslide (grassed) and an area of more stable ground on either side (wooded), to monitor changes in electrical resistivity through time and space, and to assess the influence of different types of vegetation on the stability of transportation infrastructure. Two years of 4-Dimensional ERT monitoring results are presented here, and petrophysical relationships developed in the laboratory are applied to calibrate the resistivity models in order to provide an insight into hydrogeological pathways within a railway cutting. The influence of vegetation type on subsurface moisture pathways and on slope stability is also assessed – here we find that seasonal subsurface changes in moisture content and soil suction are exacerbated by the presence of trees (wooded area). This results in shrink-swell behaviour of the clays comprising the railway cutting, resulting in fissuring and a reduction in shear strength, leading to instability. As such, it is proposed that on slopes comprised of expansive soils, grassed slopes are beneficial for stability. Insights into the use of 4-D ERT for monitoring railway infrastructure gained from this study may be applied to the monitoring of critical geotechnical assets elsewhere.


Slope stability
Electrical resistivity tomography
Geophysical monitoring

Data availability

Data will be made available on request.

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Previously Queen's University Belfast, Belfast, United Kingdom