Climate & Environment

    Natural Catastrophes

Post-Doctoral Fellowships

United Kingdom

Assessment of flood embankments integrity using Geophysics and thermographic techniques combined with tracers

If you are lucky enough to own a house by the riverside, you may still be worried about the solidity of flood-defence embankments. Ask Dr Marcin Zielinski what he thinks about it! Dr. Zielinski developed novel methods allowing high-resolution imaging of fissure networks in earth embankments and dams. The stakes are high: for example, the 1959 Malpasset dam break caused 423 fatalities and devastated thousands of hectares of agricultural lands.
For his study, Dr. Zielinski used a multidisciplinary approach including laboratory experiments, field work and technical developments of imaging methods. He focused on British embankments, but his results could be used anywhere. His work might help local authorities in charge of flood defences to design more efficient maintenance strategies, which could significantly reduce the risk of embankment failure.
Dr Zielinski is AXA Post-doc Fellow in Geotechnical Engineering working in the Infrastructure Group at Strathclyde University. He graduated with Master’s of Science - Engineer degree from Gdansk University of Technology, Poland in 2005. He did his master’s dissertation project in Grenoble at Université Joseph Fourier, France. Dr Zielinski worked in industry before starting PhD in 2006 at Strathclyde University and from where he was graduated in 2009. His exceptional research during his PhD was highly appreciated and in 2008 he was invited as a geotechnical expert to work in the Large Wave Flume
(Großer Wellenkanal) in Hannover, Germany on the EroGRASS project led by Danish Coastal Authority. He has also been working as a Research Assistant within Flood Risk Management Research Consortium. Dr Zielinski is actively collaborating with various research institutions and Universities, such as: Universitat Politecnica de Catalunya (Spain), Université Joseph Fourier (France), Texas A&M University (USA), Gdansk University of Technology (Poland) and Pure and Applied Chemistry Department form his own University.
In 2009 Dr Zielinski was awarded two prestigious Post-doctoral fellowships, one funded by AXA Research Fund and the second EC/Marie Curie Fellowship which will commence in July 2011. In addition to that, in June 2010 he was awarded Dragons’ Den Style Prize for the best multidisciplinary project presented at the University of Strathclyde.
Dr Zielinski's main research interests are flood embankments. In particular, he has been working on development and investigation of non-invasive and invasive tools for the assessment of embankments integrity and detection of desiccation cracking. The approaches used involve geophysics and advanced embankments monitoring using geotechnical sensors. His research also focuses on the implementation of detection tracers and improvement of the electrical resistivity scanning using Electrical Resistivity Tomography. Recently, he has become interested in applications of the new remedial solutions, such as polymers that can be used for the improvement of embankments integrity.

An unfailing work

What has your AXA fellowship brought you?
AXA fellowship it is something that cannot be described in a simple words. Before I started my fellowship, I knew that there will be a lot of challenges ahead of me, with which I will have to deal during every single day. Thus, I think that AXA fellowship helped me to learn not only how to solve them but also how to manage them. Having AXA fellowship, I could work on the things that I always dreamt about and something that I probably could have never been able to do without AXA. AXA fellowship has also helped me to publish high quality papers and attend many workshops and conferences, with which you can’t achieve a lot in the scientific world. All of this, without any doubts will leave a valuable sign on my future career. I would like to say many thanks to AXA Research Fund for giving me the opportunity to work on something that was remarkable.

Could you describe your experiences with the AXA Research Fund community?
AXA Research Fund community is a group of enthusiastic people that when asked; they are always willing to help. It is very exceptional, that this group of young people understands our needs, as researchers. Personally, I would like to stay in touch with all of those fantastic AXA Research Fund community people I met during my post-doc.

Can you briefly describe what your research project is about?

My research focuses on the investigation of non-invasive techniques for the detection of desiccation cracking in flood embankments. In particular, the use of Electrical Resistivity Tomography with both standard and miniaturised resistivity arrays in order to monitor the state of flood embankments integrity and also to localize and assess the places highly affected by desiccation cracking. In addition to that, I’m also investigating detection tracers that improve the accuracy of sub-surface scanning and could also be used as a remedial solution for cracked soils.

Keeping an eye on flood defences

Marcin Zielinski, AXA POST-DOC FELLOW
University of Strathclyde, United-Kingdom

Most of England and Wales are constantly under the risk of floods. In November 2009, Cumbria thus faced flash and heavy rains which caused enormous damages. But how can such water disasters be limited? Marcin Zielinski, a Polish post-doctoral researcher and geotechnical engineer at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, Scotland, believes that making flood embankments stronger is part of the solution. Since 2006, Marcin Zielinski investigates embankment cracking due to soil dessication in Thorngumbald (Paull Home Strays, Humber estuary, Kingston upon Hull), about 430 kilometers south of his laboratory. “For centuries, flood defences have protected the lowlands. But they deteriorate over time and most countries don’t assess and maintain them properly”, Marcin Zielinski says. In order to be effective, embankments have to be homogeneous and impermeable. During dry periods, however, they tend to crack. That “wound” usually appears superficial to the human eye. “But fissuring can penetrate as far down as one meter, creating a network of interconnected cracks and threatening the integrity of the structure”. So far, there was only one option to investigate the extent of the damage : digging a trial pit, which can weaken the structure. So Marcin Zielinski decided to focus on developing new, very precise and non-invasive techniques. The method, which received AXA funding, combines monitoring and improved scanning based on geotechnical sensors and detection tracers.

“The high tech tools we use are well known. But nobody had miniaturized them before”. Detection, however, is not enough. Since completing his PhD, in 2009, Marcin Zielinski also collaborates with chemists and other scientists to find a remedial material to fill the cracks. He has started to test polymers and polyurethane foams and was granted a prestigious Marie Curie fellowship for that project. “We need fast, cheap, robust and easily available procedures to confront sea level rise”, he adds.

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University of Strathclyde


United Kingdom



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