SEAHA Centre for Doctoral Training


Jenny Richards publishes new model for assessing the risk of deterioration of earthen heritage sites

27 October 2020

New model will allow researchers to understand the deterioration risks posed by wind and rain on earthen heritage sites in dryland areas and to test the efficacy of potential conservation strategies

Jenny Richards drylands modelling deterioration wind around Suoyang walls

Conditions in dryland regions, such as wind and rain, can cause rapid erosion to built heritage structures. Research published by recent SEAHA student Jenny Richards, based at the University of Oxford, offers a greater understanding of this phenomenon in a publication in the journal Earth Surface Processes and Landforms.  

Based upon data collected from fieldwork in the Suoyang Ancient City in northwest China, the study presents a new model called the Vegetation and Sand TrAnsport model for Heritage Deterioration (ViSTA-HD). The model can simulate environmentally driven deterioration risk across earthen walls and risk patterns, and allows deterioration scenarios to be projected over decades or centuries. The model demonstrated in the study produces realistic examples for three forms of deterioration, polishing, pitting and slurry that occur over time.  

As such, the model developed allows future researchers to understand what risk the drivers of deterioration such as wind, rain, and sediment have on earthen heritage sites and to test the efficacy of potential conservation strategies. Moreover, the model also can explore the critical issue of how future changes to climate interaction with both of these processes (see Richards, J. Bailey, R., Mayaud, J., Viles, H., Guo, Q. & Wang, X. (2020) Deterioration risk of dryland earthen heritage sites facing future climatic uncertainty). This can be done without a need for regular site visits and can also be adapted to other dryland environments so has significant future applicability.  

The research was done in association with the Getty Conservation Institute and the Dunhuang Academy in China. 


Header image: Jenny Richards, wind measurements from the walls of Suoyang.