33 doctors from 11 countries gather in Beichuan

Outside the mountains of Beichuan, there are higher mountains. After the 2008 Wenchuan Earthquake, the geohazards there did not stop completely.

In the view of geologists, earthquakes made there a precious geo-museum and natural laboratory for its complex geo-environment and plentiful phenomena. Certainly, there are more problems to be solved urgently.

For these reasons, since 2016, professors and doctoral students of the International Research Association on Large Landslides (hereinafter referred to as iRALL School) come here in October every year.

v Receiving lectures from top international geologists in the classroom

v Exploring the causes of primary geohazards in the field

iRALL School is conveying "wisdom of SKLGP" to the world and nurturing international friendship here.

On October 14th,2018 iRALL School began as scheduled with the attendance of 33 doctors and professors at home and abroad. They brought geophysical prospecting instruments,unmanned aerial vehicles, as well as the most cutting-edge academic achievements and professional experience. They were ready to take a geo-exploration journey in Beichuan.

▲Discussing the cause of barrier lake bursting into ditch

During this journey,this big group not only visited primitive disaster scene,but also visited the most advanced experimental base. Going through hard mountain road, they saw amazing scenery.

The two-week iRALL School was not only a high-end academic dialogue, but also a cultural collision and an academic exchange. The "Cloud Cube" Student Media Center had recorded the three-day field trip, presenting the frontier and profound research there.

IRALL School's double-faced story opens a chapter in drizzling Beichuan.

The most "primitive" disaster site & the most advanced experimental base

Situated at the bottom of the silent canyon, old Beichuan County was the first stop of the iRALL School trip. Rain and fog drifting, nobody held an umbrella. A ruined county was presenting before this group.


▲Visiting the old Beichuan County

As the unique protected large earthquake site in the world, the old Beichuan County is an important specimen for studying earthquake structure, earthquake damage and secondary disasters. "Most of the houses in the county were destroyed by the earthquake. At the same time, the earthquake triggered two large landslides, which almost completely changed the geomorphic features of the surrounding area.” said our Prof. Wang Yunsheng. On September 24th, after the earthquake, the old Beichuan County was buried by a debris flow nearly 10 meters.



▲Prof. Wang explains the topography of the old Beichuan county.

Prof. Wang also led the group to the Science Popularization Spot of Zhujiaduan Fault, which is a large pit about 11 meters deep dug on the hillside opposite the site. Seismologic fault happened to pass through there. Ground was uprooted and Loess became black because of high temperature. Yellow and black are clearly separated by the fault.



▲Heading to the Science Popularization Spot of Zhujiaduan Fault

In Beichuan, besides earthquake sites and Zhujiaduan Fault there are many other primitive disaster sites such as Tangjiashan Barrier Lake, Wangjiayan Landslide, and New Beichuan Middle School Landslide, etc. Our researcher Fan Xuanmei, one of the initiators of iRALL School, said that the reason why Beichuan was chosen as the teaching base of iRALL School is that the geological phenomena there can provide abundant teaching samples.




However, besides these primary geological phenomena there are some other things that attract geologists all over the world. At present, the local government is cooperating with SKLGP to establish the largest multifunctional debris flow experimental site in Beichuan, which is designed to research formation mechanisms, motion and resistance law, as well as vertical and lateral accumulation of different types of debris flows on different slopes.

A excavator was working tensely between two huge rocks in Yangjiagou. Prof. Hu Wei, principal of iRALL School, said the length of the main flume was 245 meters, which was much longer than the similar project in the US. “Near the experimental site is a super large landslide and barrier lake triggered by Wenchuan Earthquake. It can not only take local materials to ensure sufficient experimental materials and water, but also use Yangjiagou to carry out field simulation. After completion, it will support iRALL School's teaching, and share with experts and scholars all over the world.”

Along the roughest road is the most beautiful scenery

After arriving at Beichuan, the big iRALL School group was divided into three small groups to conduct field trips at different places.

l Group 1 was led by Mauri and Hu Wei

l Group 2 was led by Fan Xuanmei

l Group 2 was led by Camil and Luo Yonghong

They came to the mountain which had been smoking since Wenchuan Earthquake to unlock the secret of pyrite reactionthey stuck to the cliff to take samples for intact calcite left by landslides; they laid cables along the hillside to measure soil moisture content and carried heavy instruments across the mountains in order to unveil underground secret...


▲"Smoking" mountain at Yangjiagou Section

On the October 19th, at the Yangjiagou section of Line 1, the whole group was shocked by the sight. The landslides and debris flows caused by the large earthquake have threatened the production, livelihood and even lives of the residents here for ten years. Black debris and gravel raised the river for more than 20 meters, and the houses by the river had been "filled with gravel". More than ten dams in Yangjiagou for preventing debris flow were now completely destroyed.

People didn't give up. Prof. Hu told the reporter that, at present, experts put forward a new measure to prevent disasters -- “stone cage” method. The large multi-functional debris flow experimental site being constructed here would also fight to the end with geohazards. Last year, some dams were stand there, but now they were also destroyed.

Hu Wei is not alone in discovering geological changes. Meanwhile, Fan Xuanmei was leading Group 2 to go forward. In the past three years, she had visited this landslide site more than six times: "Before bringing students here, teachers always visited here in advance. Every time there are new changes.”

Landslides will "reoccur" at any time, Fan said it was a good example of landslide evolution. “Normally, occurred landslide may remain stable for several years, but this landslide is constantly reoccurring. Its reasons are worthy of study.” However, Fan worried that, “Sometimes you want to see some changes here for research, but you don't want it for people’s safety.”




The new vegetation covers the old road. Teachers and students identify the location through their maps. Sometimes, they may take a wrong path for the terrain is very complex.


Therefore, Fan has four kinds of caravan shoes with different soles. Some are for gravel roads, some are for muddy roads, and some are for rock roads... Doctors wore red safety helmets, because there may be some stones falling from the high mountain.


From the top of the mountain, the group can overlook the barrier lake. The lake water was a jade-like color, reflecting the reflection of the mountains. Mists winded mountains, and white smoke curled up from the top of the mountain.


As usual, Fan selected a stone and took it home. “I usually select some interesting stones. For example, this stone is obviously different from surrounding stones, and such a stone should not have appeared here. So, it shows that geological changes have taken place here.” Fan explained. It had become her habit to collect stones when taking field trips. They can be used as research samples as well as a memorial for herself.

Strong joint teaching, warm international friendship

Although similar courses in Italy and Croatia were earlier than iRALL School, iRALL School undoubtedly gained the advantages of both. At the beginning, Prof. Huang Runqiu and Prof. Xu Qiang discussed with experts indoors and then explored outdoors. Finally, the teaching mode of one day indoors plus one day outdoors was determined. In the view of curriculum setters, it was a combination of theory and practice, as well as a combination of work and leisure.

In Beichuan, there are not only unique earthquake sites, but also rich real disaster scenes. Hu Hongqiang, a doctoral student majoring in geological engineering, from Tongji University, wanted to have a nearest observation and experience of the geohazard scene through iRALL School: “Due to the limitation of conditions, it is very difficult for us to see these phenomena in other sites. It is difficult to clearly know the process and severity of disasters by pictures and indoor numerical simulation, and many phenomena and mechanisms cannot be studied through indoor experiments.”


Professional landslide gauges, UAVs equipped with photographic equipment, geophysical prospectors brought from Belgium... These sophisticated equipments used by iRALL School had broaden Feng Liang’s horizon. Feng is a doctoral student from the University of Florence. “In the past, we had to rely on remote sensing satellites to collect images, but iRALL School has already used UAVs to collect images. These are international frontier technologies.”

The excellent professor team for iRALL School was highly praised by Chang Chengrui, a doctoral student from Kyoto University. “IRALL School actually invited a senior figure like Mauri McSaveney to teach us." Speaking of this, Chang felt very excited.


▲Prof. Nike gives a lecture.

Mauri, from the New Zealand Geological Survey, is known as a pioneer in studying landslide and geohazards, who has participated in iRALL School for three years. IRALL School brings together well-known experts from the United States, Italy, New Zealand, the Netherlands, Japan, Belgium and China, such as Niek Renger (former Chairman of the International Association of Engineering Geology and Environment), Theo Van Asch(famous geomorphologist), Janusz Wasowski (chief editor of Geological Engineering), as well as our professors (Wang Yunsheng, Hu Wei, Fan Xuanmei).These outstanding scholars jointly provide high-quality courses for students.


▲Prof. Mauri gives field guidance.

Face to face with these academic giants, Chang Chengrui lamented that he has gained a lot: “Prof. Huang Jian settled my research puzzle. He proposed the method of pore water pressure which I never thought of.”

For these professors, they also get something when communicate with students during iRALL School. Senior Mauri said he was often "cornered" by students' questions. And Fan Xuanmei said: "If students' research directions intersect with mine, we will discuss further. If not, it is likely to collide with new inspiration."


When the day's work was over, the warm evening talks began in the lobby. After dinner, students and teachers sat around, with a glass of red wine, some snacks. Cheerful chatting and laughing add warmth to the cold night in Beichuan. They may debate intensely on academic issues and surprise the birthday persons with cakes. What's more, many foreign students had learned to use WeChat and contact friends in WeChat group.


▲Evening party

From history to custom, from work to life, a small place is the best place to make new friends, or talk with old friends to remember the old days. “I remember when we cooked Western food together, Mauri liked my steak. And when we had lunch at a farmhouse on a field trip, Janusz drank the wolfberry wine brewed by the master, which he still remembers and wants to drink again." said Hu Wei happily.

Sichuan resonates with the globe & SKLGP develops with the world

During the flood period of July and August this year, many mountain collapses occurred again in Beichuan, and a large number of geohazard control projects were destroyed. Geohazard occurs frequently in mountainous areas of Sichuan Province. On the one hand, geological investigation in this area has scientific research value, on the other hand it can ensure the safety of local residents. One person in charge said that every year in iRALL School's geological survey routes, there will be some landslides that need to be monitored and evaluated. This year, Group 3 led by Luo Yonghong took this task. They went up into the mountain to collect geophysical data of large landslides. “Through analyzing the obtained data, we can assess landslide stability, the risk of landslide initiation, and its threat to the residents. ”Luo introduced.



Looking at the whole world, such risk predicting is of great significance. Geohazards such as earthquakes and landslides are major problems in Nepal. Since the great earthquake in 2015, post-disaster reconstruction in Nepal has been very difficult. Upendra Baral, a student from Nepal, hoped to apply his knowledge to the landslide control in his motherland. “Beichuan's terrain is very similar to Nepal's. Both of them are in the geohazard-prone areas. I came to iRALL School to learn new things and apply them to Nepal's geological research."

Fan Xuanmei also maintained contact with the students of the previous two sessions: “Some students will email me when they encounter academic puzzles, and they will tell me if they recommend the junior to participate in iRALL School, through which we have established a platform for academic exchanges.” Fan believes that iRALL School not only trains excellent geologists, but also expands academic links further: “In the future these students may become well-known experts in this field, and if they keep in touch with us, we will be able to expand this connection even further. This is an international channel for our university, which is very helpful to promote our academic exchanges.”

Last year, Hu Wei attended the annual meeting of the European Geophysical Association. He found that 60% of the students who gave lectures at the meeting participated in iRALL School. “iRALL School has been running for three years. It seems that more and more international students participate in the course, meanwhile, more and more students from iRALL School are going to the world." Hu said.

Over the past three years, iRALL School has trained more than 100 doctoral students from 18 countries and regions in Europe, America and Asia.


Group photo of the third iRALL School