15 December 2017

The Landslide Blog – the first ten years

Posted by Dave Petley

The Landslide Blog – the first ten years

Tomorrow, 16th December, will mark the end 10th anniversary of The Landslide Blog.  My first post on what was then Dave’s Landslide Blog was made whilst I was at the AGU Fall Meeting in San Francisco.  I followed it up quickly with a couple more posts in those first few days.  A back of the envelope calculation suggests I have probably made over 1,000 posts since then, and maybe nearer to 1,500.  I moved the blog to the AGU blog site in October 2010, and have hugely appreciated the support that they have provided since. The stats of the blog since then continue to amaze me:

The Landslide Blog

The Landslide Blog

I started the blog as an experiment, inspired by the attempts that the climate change community were making to connect communities.  I set myself a target of 100 page views per day to make it viable – a target reached within the first year.  The Landslide Blog is a labour of love, but it has been hugely enjoyable and rewarding.  In many ways it is now a large part of my professional identity. I joined Twitter (@davepetley) a few years ago, and hugely enjoy that format of communication too.  I have never mastered Instagram or Facebook.

Over that ten year period much has changed.  Many of the blogs that inspired me have fallen away; I have changed jobs from Dean of Research at the University of Durham to Pro-Vice Chancellor at UEA and then to Vice-President (Research and Innovation) at the University of Sheffield, entailing a major relocation on each occasion.  I have divorced, my son Adam has suffered serious illness ultimately requiring open heart surgery (he will be 16 next week and has completely recovered), and I have traveled extensively, most importantly with my daughter Holly (now 13) and Adam.  Throughout the Landslide Blog has been my constant reference, and the community with whom it allows me to connect have been a great support.

In the time I have been blogging the wider perception of such activities has changed dramatically. When I started my employer considered the activity with considerable disapproval – the question asked was why I would do this rather than write journal papers.  Over time that view has changed, and in my VP role here at Sheffield I openly promote the virtues of blogging.  I think it has been good for my research, good for the take up of my work and good for me intellectually.  It cannot and must not replace traditional research activities (especially writing research articles), and blogging is not for all, but it is certainly a worthwhile activity when done right.

I sometimes ponder what have been the highlights of the Landslide Blog for me.  In the early days I wrote a great deal about the Tangjiashan valley blocking landslide in Sichuan.  Of course for a time in 2010 the Attabad landslide was a very major concern, and I hope that the blog played a role in the management of that problem.  The work undertaken with the wider community on piecing together the events that led to the Seti River landslide in Nepal also feels like a major, and unique, success.

Blogging has not been uniformly joyful.  At the time of the Attabad landslide I received  a series of offensive communications from a senior landslide scientist that were, at times, quite shocking.  I eventually offered to travel to his institution in Europe to discuss it face-to-face, whereupon he stopped. I also received some surprising emails from a well-known landslide researcher on two occasions regarding posts I have made about another high profile (and more recent) landslide.  But the vast majority of interactions have been warm, generous and supportive, and I have always appreciated the comments I have received about positive aspects of the blog, and those that have pointed out where corrections are needed. The good interactions have outweighed the bad by many, many times.

So what of the future of The Landslide Blog?  Well, I have no intention of stopping in the forseeable future.  Blogging is a great way to start my day when I arrive in work (I start very early) – it gets my brain functioning, it connects me to my research and it reminds me of what a university is for.  I continue to write mainly about things that catch my attention, whether it is a new paper, a significant landslide event or a piece of artwork that features a landslide.  I hope that I will be writing another piece like this a decade from now.

Finally thanks to those who have supported my work on the blog over the last ten years – my family, my colleagues and my friends.  Many people have provided information or tipped me off to events. I would also like to thank the AGU and its staff – they have been wonderful hosts of The Landslide Blog, and their support is remarkable.