UKCP09-derived probabilistic soil moisture for assessment of UK clay-related subsidence vulnerability

Oliver Pritchard

This paper was shortlisted (top 5) for the Lloyds Science of Risk Prize.


Clay-related subsidence is Great Britain’s (GB) most damaging soil-related geohazard, costing the economy up to £500 million per annum. Soil-related geohazard models based on mineralogy and potential soil moisture deficit (PSMD) derived from historic weather data have been used in risk management since the 1990s. United Kingdom Climate Projections (UKCP09) suggest that regions of GB will experience hotter, drier summers and warmer, wetter winters through to 2050. As a result, PSMD fluctuations are expected to increase, exacerbating the shrinkage and swelling of clay soils. A forward-looking approach is now required to mitigate the impacts of future climate on GB’s built environment. We present a framework for incorporating probabilistic projections of PSMD, derived from a version of the UKCP09 stochastic weather generator, into a clay subsidence model. This provides a novel, national-scale thematic model of the likelihood of clay-related subsidence, related to the top 1–1.5 m soil layer, for three time periods; baseline (1961–1990), 2030 (2020–2049) and 2050 (2040–2069). Results indicate that much of GB, with the exception of upland areas, will witness significantly higher PSMDs through to the 2050s. As a result, some areas with swelling clay soils will be subject to proportionately increased subsidence hazard. South-east England will likely incur the highest hazard exposure to clay-related subsidence through to 2050. Potential impacts include increased incidence of property foundation subsidence, alongside deterioration and increased failure rates of GB’s infrastructure networks. Future clay-subsidence hazard scenarios are beneficial to many sectors, including: finance, central and local government, residential property markets, utilities and infrastructure operators.

UKCP09-derived probabilistic soil moisture for assessment of UK clay-related subsidence vulnerability. Climatic Change. DOI: 10.1007/s10584-015-1486-z


Pritchard, O.G., Hallett, S.H. and Farewell, T.S.