Leveraging Natural Disasters to Enhance Geo-Infrastructure Resiliency

Brief description

Natural disasters are typically associated with loss of life and major economic consequences. However, despite their undesirable consequences, they also represent a truly unique opportunity to assess the full-scale response of geo-infrastructure to extreme loads. Deploying shortly after natural disasters to collect perishable site performance data is an important activity of our research team that provides insights on the performance of geo-infrastructure. Early data collection is complemented by subsequent site characterization, testing and numerical modeling to fully leverage the lessons from these major events, identify flaws in our design procedures, guide better decision making, improve risk assessment and enhance disaster preparation for future events. My research team has been deploying following various natural disasters, such as earthquakes (1999 Athens-Greece, 2004, Hawaii 2006, Parkfield-California, 2014 Cephalonia-Greece, 2015 Gorkha-Nepal, 2015 Lefkada-Greece, 2016 Kaikoura-New Zealand, 2020 Puerto Rico), hurricanes and medicanes (Maria 2017, Ianos-Greece, 2020), dam failures (Edenville Dam in Michigan, 2020), landill failures (Xerolakka landfill, Greece, 2010) and major landslides (such as Rat Creek failure of highway 1 in California, 2021). Our research team employs multi-scale approaches that involve, satellites, Unmanned-Aerial Vehicles, field deployments and in-situ and laboratory testing for data collection, and big data analytics, AI, and geotechnical numerical modeling to fully leverage the opportunities to learn from these disasters.

Video Gallery

Using Unmanned Aerial Vehicles and Satellites to Map Fault Rupture and Landslides Following the Kaikoura 2016 earthquake in New Zealand

story and a video of our work to map ground failure caused by the magnitude-7.8 earthquake that struck New Zealand’s South Island on Nov. 13, 2016. Using satellite stereo-imagery, our team created 3D geometries of an area that is approximately equal to the State of South Carolina and compared the results with Ultra-High Resolution imagery from UAVs

Use of Drones to Map Landslides following the Gorkha 2015 earthquake in Nepal

More than 20,000 landslides took place in Nepal during the Mw 7.8 Gorkha earthquake on April 25th 2015 . This video describes the landslide mapping efforts of researchers from the University of Michigan (Dr. Marin Clark, and Dr. Dimitrios Zekkos), University of Southern California (Dr. Josh West) in the US and Tribhuhan University (Dr. Deepak Chamlagain) in Nepal. The research team used drones and photogrammetry principles to view map and create 3D models of large rock slides, debris flows and even rockfalls. The drone was particularly needed in this case, because of the steep topography and the large size and runout length of some of the landslides, that made it nearly impossible to map otherwise. Video prepared by Geoengineer.org staff.

Drones and Natural Disasters

Outreach video explaining our research focus on the use of drones in post-earthquake reconnaissance. Developed by the University of Michigan College of Engineering (MCONNEX).


Refereed Journal Papers

  • Towsend, K., F., Clark, M., and Zekkos, D. (2021). The control of depositional and erosional histories on the near-surface strength of clastic sedimentary rocks. Journal of Geophysical Research – Earth Surface (accepted)
  • Medwedeff, W. G., Clark, M. K., Zekkos, D., & West, A. J. (2020). Characteristic landslide distributions: An investigation of landscape controls on landslide size. Earth and Planetary Science Letters, 539, 116203.
  • Schaefer, M., Teeuw, R., Day, S., Zekkos, D., Weber, P., Meredith, T., & Van Westen, C. J. (2020). Low-cost UAV surveys of hurricane damage in Dominica: automated processing with co-registration of pre-hurricane imagery for change analysis. Natural Hazards, 1-30.
  • Athanasopoulos, G. A., Kechagias, G. C., Zekkos, D., Batilas, A., Karatzia, X., Lyrantzaki, F., & Platis, A. (2020). Lateral spreading of ports in the 2014 Cephalonia, Greece, earthquakes. Soil Dynamics and Earthquake Engineering, 128, 105874.
  • Zekkos, D., Greenwood, W., Manousakis, J., Athanasopoulos-Zekkos, A., Clark, M., Cook, K.L. and Saroglou, C. (2018). Lessons Learned from the Application of UAV-Enabled Structure-From-Motion Photogrammetry in Geotechnical Engineering. International Journal of Geoengineering Case Histories, Vol.4, Issue 4, p.254-274. doi:10.4417/IJGCH-04-04-03
  • Saroglou, H., Asteriou, P., Zekkos, D., Tsiambaos, G., Clark, M., Manousakis, J. (2018) “UAV-enabled reconnaissance and trajectory modeling of a co-seismic rockfall in Lefkada”, Natural Hazards and Earth System Sciences, 18(1):321-333. DOI: 10.5194/nhess-18-321-2018
  • Zekkos, D., Clark, M., Whitworth, M., Greenwood, W., West, J., Roback, K., Li, G., Chamlagain, D., Manousakis, J., Quackenbush, P., Medwedeff, W., Lynch, J., (2017). Observations of landslides caused by the April 2015 Gorkha earthquake in Nepal based on land, UAV and satellite reconnaissance. Earthquake Spectra, 33(S1), S95–S114, December 2017; DOI: 10.1193/121616EQS237M.
  • Stahl, T., Clark, M. K., Zekkos, D., Athanasopoulos-Zekkos, D., Willis, M., Medwedeff, W., Knoper, L., Townsend, T., and Jin, J. (2017). Earthquake science in resilient societies, Tectonics, doi: 10.1002/2017TC004604
  • Roback, K., Clark, M. K., West, J., Zekkos, D., Li, G., Gallen, S. F., Chamlagain, D., Godt, J. W. (2018). “The size, distribution, and mobility of landslides caused by the 2015 Mw7.8 Gorkha earthquake, Nepal.” Geomorphology, 301, 121-138, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.geomorph.2017.01.030.
  • Zekkos, D., Athanasopoulos-Zekkos, A., Grizi, A., Greenwood, W. (2016). “The May 25th 2011 Railroad Embankment Failure in Ann Arbor, Michigan, As a Means for Teaching Geotechnical Engineering.” International Journal of Geoengineering Case Histories, 3 (4), 234-245. doi: 10.4417/IJGCH-03-04-03
  • Zekkos, D., Vlachakis, V. S., Athanasopoulos, G. A. (2014). “The 2010 Xerolakka Landfill Slope Instability”, Environmental Geotechnics Journal, 1 (EG1), 55-65.
  • Cox, B. R., Boulanger, R. W., Tokimatsu, K., Wood, C. M., Abe, A. Ashford, S. Donahue, J. , Ishihara, K., Kayen, K., Katsumata, K., Kishida, T., Kokusho, T., Mason, H. B., Moss, R., Stewart, J. P., Tohyama, K., and Zekkos, D. (2013).  “Liquefaction at Strong Motion Stations and in Urayasu City During the 2011 Great East Japan, Earthquake.”  Earthquake Spectra Journal, 29 (S1), 55-80.


  • Kallimogiannis, V., Saroglou, H., Zekkos, D., and Manousakis, J. (2019) “2D and 3D Back-analysis of a landslide in Egremnoi caused by the November 17 2015 Lefkada earthquake.” 2nd International Conference on Natural Hazards and Infrastructure, 23-26 June 2019, Chania, Greece.
  • Zekkos, D., Tsavalas-Hardy, A., Mandilaras, G., and Tsantilas, K. (2019) “Using social media to assess earthquake impact on people and infrastructure: Examples from earthquakes in 2018.” 2nd International Conference on Natural Hazards and Infrastructure, 23-26 June 2019, Chania, Greece. 
  • Saroglou, H., Kalimogiannis, V., Bar, N., Manousakis, J., and Zekkos, D. (2019) “Analysis of slope instabilities in the Corinth Canal using UAV-enabled mapping” 2nd International Conference on Natural Hazards and Infrastructure, 23-26 June 2019, Chania, Greece.
  • Athanasopoulos-Zekkos, A., Zekkos, D., Rollins, K., Hubler, J., Higbee, J. and Platis, A. (2019) “Earthquake Performance and Characterization of Gravel-Size Earthfills in the Ports of Cephalonia, Greece, following the 2014 Earthquakes”, 7th International Conference on Earthquake Geotechnical Engineering, June 17-20 2019.
  • Zekkos, D., Clark, M., Willis, M., Athanasopoulos-Zekkos, A., Manousakis, J., Knoper, L., Stahl, T., Massey, C., Archibald, G., Greenwood, W., and Medwedeff, W. (2018a). 3D models of the Leader Valley using satellite & UAV imagery following the 2016 Kaikoura earthquake, Eleventh U.S. National Conference on Earthquake Engineering, Integrating Science, Engineering & Policy, June 25-29, 2018, Los Angeles, California. 
  • Zekkos, D., Manousakis, J., Athanasopoulos-Zekkos, A., Clark, M., Knoper, L., Massey, C., Archibald, G., Greenwood, W., Hemphill-Haley, M., Rathje, E., Litchfield, N., Medwedeff, W., Van Dissen, R.J., Ries, W., Villamor, P., Langridge, R.M., and Kearse, J. (2018b). Structure-from-Motion based 3D mapping of landslides & fault rupture sites during 2016 Kaikoura earthquake reconnaissance, Eleventh U.S. National Conference on Earthquake Engineering, Integrating Science, Engineering & Policy, June 25-29, 2018, Los Angeles, California.
  • Zekkos, D., Clark, M., Cowell, K., Medwedeff, W., Manousakis, J, Saroglou, H., Tsiambaos, G. (2017) Satellite and UAV-enabled mapping of landslides caused by the November 17th 2015 Mw 6.5 Lefkada earthquake, 19th International Conference on Soil Mechanics and Geotechnical Engineering, 17-22 September 2017, Seoul, South Korea.  
  • Saroglou, C., Asteriou, P., Tsiambaos, G., Zekkos, D., Clark, M. (2017). Investigation of two co‐seismic rockfalls during the 2015 Lefkada and 2014 Cephalonia Earthquakes in Greece, 3rd North American Symposium on Landslides, June 4-8 2017, Roanoke, Virginia, USA, 521-528.  
  • Manousakis, J., Zekkos, D., Saroglou, F., and Clark, M. (2016). Comparison of UAV-enabled photogrammetry-based 3D point clouds and interpolated DSMs of sloping terrain for rockfall hazard analysis, Int. Arch. Photogramm. Remote Sens. Spatial Inf. Sci., XLII-2/W2, 71-77, doi:10.5194/isprs-archives-XLII-2-W2-71-2016, 2016.
  • Zekkos, D., Manousakis, J., Greenwood, W., and Lynch, J. D. (2016). “Immediate UAV-enabled infrastructure reconnaissance following recent natural disasters: Case Histories from Greece.” 1st International Conference on Natural Hazards and Infrastructure, 28-30 June 2016, Chania, Greece.
  • Greenwood, W., Zekkos, D., Lynch J., and Bateman, J., Clark, M., and Chamlagain, D., 2016.“UAV-Based 3-D Characterization of Rock Masses and Rock Slides in Nepal.” 50th US Rock Mechanics/Geomechanics Symposium, American Rock Mechanics Association, Houston, TX, 26-29 June 2016.
  • Nikolaou, S., Zekkos, D., Assimaki, D. Gilsanz, R. and Deming, P. W. (2015). “Reconnaissance Highlights of the 2014 Sequence of Earthquakes in Cephalonia, Greece.” 6th International Conference on Earthquake Geotechnical Engineering (6ICEGE), Christchurch, New Zealand, 2-4 November 2015. 
  • Zekkos, D. Athanasopoulos-Zekkos, A., Grizi, A. and Greenwood, W. (2014). “The Railroad Embankment Failure of the City of Ann Arbor, Michigan, Case History As a Means for Teaching Geotechnical Engineering,” 7th Hellenic Conference in Geotechnical Engineering, Athens, 5-7 November 2014.
  • Athanasopoulos, G. A., Zekkos, D., Vlachakis, V., Spiliotopoulos, G. (2013).  “The December 29th 2010 Xerolakka Municipal Solid Waste Landfill Failure.” Proc., 18th International Conference on Soil Mechanics and Geotechnical Engineering, September 2-6, 2013, Paris, France, 309-312.
  • Kayen, R.E., Ishihara, K., Stewart, J.P., Tokimatsu, K., Cox, B.R., Tanaka, Y., Kokusho, T., Mason, H.B., Moss, R.E.S, Zekkos, D., Wood, C.M., Katsumata, K., Estevez, I.A., Cullenward, S.S., Tanaka, H., Harder, L.F., Kelson, K.I., Kishida, T. (2012).  “Geotechnical Deformations at Ground Failure Sites from the March 11, 2011 Great Tohoku Earthquake, Japan: Field Mapping, LiDAR Modeling, and Surface Wave Investigation.”  Proc., 9th International Conference on Urban Earthquake Engineering/4th Asia Conference on Earthquake Engineering, March 6-8, 2012, Tokyo, Japan.
  • Medley, E., Zekkos, D., (2007).  “Seismic Performance of Rock Block Structures With Observations From the October 2006 Hawaii Earthquake.”  Proc., 4th International Conference on Earthquake Geotechnical Engineering, June 25-28, 2007, Thessaloniki, Greece.

Publications in popular press/magazines

  • Zekkos, D., Clark, M., Gong, W., Manousakis, J., & Greenwood, W. Landslides Driven by Extreme Events: Can We Learn More from More of Them?. Geo-Strata—Geo Institute of ASCE, 23(3), 44-51.
  • Zekkos, D., Greenwood, W., Manousakis, J., Lynch, J. (2016). The Rise of UAVs signals A New Era In Geotechnics, Geo-Strata Magazine, September-October issue, 72-77. 

Reports & Theses

  • Zekkos D., Zalachoris G., Alvertos, A. E., Aatya P. M., Blunts P., Clark M., Dafis S., Farmakis I.,  Ganas A., Hille M., Kalimogiannis V., Karagiannidis A., Karantanellis E., Khan K., Kirshbaum D., Kourkoulis R., Kotroni V., Ktenidou O.-J., Lagouvardos K., Loli M., Makrinikas A., Marinos V., Manousakis J., Nikas K., Panousis D., Papathanassiou G., Saroglou C., Simopoulos A., Stanley T., Tsavalas A.,  Valkaniotis S. (2020). “The September 18-20 2020 Medicane Ianos Impact on Greece – Phase I Reconnaissance Report”. Geotechnical Extreme Events Reconnaissance Report, GEER-068, https://doi.org/10.18118/G6MT1T .
  • Nikolaou, S., Zekkos, D., Assimaki, D. and Ramon Gilsanz (2014). “Earthquake Reconnaissance January 26/February 2nd 2014 Cephalonia Events, Greece.”  Version 1 Report for Web Dissemination GEER Association Report No. GEER-034 in collaboration with EERI and ATC. Available at: http://geerassociation.org/
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