Larsen, M.C., Wieczorek, G. F., Eaton, L.S., and Torres-Sierra, H., 2001, Natural hazards on alluvial fans: the debris flow and flash flood disaster of December 1999, Vargas state, Venezuela: in W.F. Sylva (ed.), Proceedings of the Sixth Caribbean Islands Water Resources Congress, Mayagüez, Puerto Rico, February 22 and 23, 2001, unpaginated CD

Large populations live on or near alluvial fans in locations such as Los Angeles, California, Salt Lake City, Utah, Denver, Colorado, and lesser known areas such as Sarno, Italy, and Vargas, Venezuela. Debris flows and flash floods occur episodically in these alluvial fan environments, and place many communities at high risk during intense and prolonged rainfall. In December 1999, rainstorms induced thousands of landslides along the Cordillera de la Costa, Vargas, Venezuela. Rainfall accumulation of 293 mm during the first 2 weeks of December was followed by an additional 911 mm of rainfall on December 14 through 16. Debris flows and floods inundated coastal communities resulting in a catastrophic death toll of as many as 30,000 people. Flash floods and debris flows caused severe property destruction on alluvial fans at the mouths of the coastal mountain drainage network. In time scales spanning thousands of years, the alluvial fans along this Caribbean coastline are dynamic zones of high geomorphic activity. Because most of the coastal zone in Vargas consists of steep mountain fronts that rise abruptly from the Caribbean Sea, the alluvial fans provide practically the only flat areas upon which to build. Rebuilding and reoccupation of these areas requires careful determination of hazard zones to avoid future loss of life and property.


Larsen, M.C., Torres-Sánchez, A.J., and Concepción, I.M., 1998, Slopewash, surface runoff, and fine-litter transport in forest and landslide scars in humid-tropical steeplands, Luquillo Experimental Forest, Puerto Rico [abs] EOS, Transactions American Geophysical Union, vol. 80.

Rainfall, slopewash (the erosion of soil particles), surface runoff, and fine-litter transport at humid-tropical steepland sites in the Luquillo Experimental Forest, Puerto Rico (18? 20' N, 65? 45' W) were measured from 1991 to 1995. Hillslopes underlain by: 1) Cretaceous tuffaceous sandstone and siltstone in subtropical rain (tabonuco) forest with vegetation recovering from Hurricane Hugo (1989); and underlain by 2) Tertiary quartz diorite in subtropical lower montane wet (colorado and dwarf) forest with undisturbed forest canopy were compared to recent landslide scars. Monthly surface runoff on these very steep hillslopes (24? to 43?) was only 0.2 to 0.5 percent of monthly rainfall. Slopewash was higher in sandy loam soils whose parent material is quartz diorite (averaging 46 g m-2 a-1) than in silty-clay loam soils derived from tuffaceous sandstone and siltstone where the average was 9 g m-2 a-1. Annual slopewash of 100 to 349 g m-2 on the surfaces of two recent, small landslide scars was measured initially but slopewash decreased to only 3 to 4 g m-2 a-1 by the end of the study. The mean annual mass of fine litter (mainly leaves and twigs) transported downslope at the forested sites ranged from 5 to 8 g m-2 and was lower at the tabonuco forest site, where post-Hurricane Hugo recovery is still in progress. Mean annual fine-litter transport was 2.5 g m-2 on the two landslide scars.


Larsen, M. C., Alamo, C. F., Gray, J. R., and Fletcher, W. (2001).
„Continuous automated sensing of streamflow density as a
surrogate for suspended-sediment concentration sampling.‰
Proceedings of the 7th Federal Interagency Sedimentation
Conference, March 25–29, 2001, Reno, Nevada, Vol. I, pp. III-

A newly refined technique for continuously and automatically sensing the density of a water-sediment mixture is being tested at a U.S. Geological Survey streamflow-gaging station in Puerto Rico. Originally developed to measure crude oil density, the double bubbler instrument measures fluid density by means of pressure transducers at two elevations in a vertical water column. By subtracting the density of water from the value measured for the density of the water-sediment mixture, the concentration of suspended sediment can be estimated. Preliminary tests of the double bubbler instrument show promise but are not yet conclusive.


Larsen, M. C., M. T. Va´squez Conde, and R. A. Clark, Landslide
hazards associated with flash-floods, with examples from the December,
1999 disaster in Venezuela, in Coping with Flash Floods,
edited by E. Gruntfest and J. Handmer, NATO ASI Ser., in press,

Landslides and flash floods commonly occur together in response to intense and prolonged rainfall. Although these phenomena may be viewed by the popular media as distinct events, rainfall-triggered landslides and flash floods are part of a continuum of processes that includes debris flows, hyperconcentrated flows, and streamflow. This combination of processes has proven to be highly destructive in populated areas. Without careful planning of human settlements, the impacts of these types of disasters are likely to increase in the future. As stated by the Secretary General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, “The term ‘natural disaster’ has become an increasingly anachronistic misnomer. In reality, human behavior transforms natural hazards into what should really be called unnatural disasters.”


Larsen, M.C., 2000, Analysis of 20th century rainfall and streamflow to characterize drought and water resources in Puerto Rico: Physical Geography, v. 21, p. 494-521.

During the period from 1990 to 1997, annual rainfall accumulation averaged 87% of normal at the 12 stations with the longest period of record in Puerto Rico, a Caribbean island with a 1999 population of 3.8 million. Streamflow in rivers supplying the La Plata and Loíza reservoirs, the principal water supply of the San Juan metropolitan area, was at or below the 10th flow percentile for 27% to 50% of the time between December 1993 and May 1996. Diminished reservoir levels in 1994 and 1995 affected more than 1 million people in the San Juan metropolitan area. Water rationing was implemented during this period and significant agricultural losses, valued at $165 million, were recorded in 1994. The public endured a year of mandatory water rationing in which sections of the city had their water-distribution networks shut off for 24 to 36 hours on alternate days. During the winter and spring of 1997–1998, water was rationed to more than 200,000 people in northwestern Puerto Rico because water level in the Guajataca reservoir was well below normal for two years because of rainfall deficits. The drought period of 1993– 1996 was comparable in magnitude to a drought in 1966–1968, but water rationing was more severe during the 1993–1996 period, indicating that water management issues such as demand, storage capacity, water production and losses, and per capita consumption are increasingly important as population and development in Puerto Rico expand.

Assessing Landslide Hazards

Keefer, D.K., Larsen, M.C., 2007. Assessing landslide hazards. Sciences 316, 1136–1137.

On 31 May 1970, a large earthquake shook the highest part of the Peruvian Andes. Millions of cubic meters of rock dislodged from a mountainside and initiated a rock avalanche that traveled more than 14 km in 3 min, burying a city and killing more than 25,000 people (1, 2). On 17 February 2006, a landslide of 15 million m3 that initiated on a slope weakened by long-term tectonic activity buried more than 1100 people on Leyte Island in the Philippines (3). Landslides such as these are a hazard in almost all countries, causing billions of dollars of damage and many casualties (4). Landslides also contribute to landscape evolution and erosion in mountainous regions (see the first figure). Here we discuss the latest strategies used to assess and mitigate landslide hazards.

Rainfall-triggered landslides, anthropogenic hazards, and mitigation strategies

Larsen MC (2008) Rainfall-triggered landslides, anthropogenic
hazards, and mitigation strategies. Adv Geosci 14:147–

Rainfall-triggered landslides are part of a natural process of hillslope erosion that can result in catastrophic loss of life and extensive property damage in mountainous, densely populated areas. As global population expansion on or near steep hillslopes continues, the human and economic costs associated with landslides will increase. Landslide hazard mitigation strategies generally involve hazard assessment mapping, warning systems, control structures, and regional landslide planning and policy development. To be sustainable, hazard mitigation requires that management of natural resources is closely connected to local economic and social interests. A successful strategy is dependent on a combination of multi-disciplinary scientific and engineering approaches, and the political will to take action at the local community to national scale.

Determination of predevelopment denudation rates of an agricultural watershed (Cayaguás River, Puerto Rico) using in-situ-produced 10Be in river-borne quartz

Brown, E.T., Stallard, R.F., Larsen, M.C., Bourles, D.L., Raisbeck,
G.M., Yiou, F., 1998b. Determination fo predevelopment denudation
rates of an agricultural watershed (Cayaguas River, Puerto
Rico) using in-situ-produced Be in river-borne quartz. Earthand
Planetary Science Letters 160 (3-4), 723}728.

Accurate estimates of watershed denudation absent anthropogenic effects are required to develop strategies for mitigating accelerated physical erosion resulting from human activities, to model global geochemical cycles, and to examine interactions among climate, weathering, and uplift. We present a simple approach to estimate predevelopment denudation rates using in-situ-produced cosmogenic 10Be in fluvial sediments. Denudation processes in an agricultural watershed (Cayaguás River Basin, Puerto Rico) and a matched undisturbed watershed (Icacos River Basin) were compared using 10Be concentrations in quartz for various size fractions of bed material. The coarse fractions in both watersheds bear the imprint of long subsurface residence times. Fine material from old shallow soils contributes little, however, to the present-day sediment output of the Cayaguás. This confirms the recent and presumably anthropogenic origin of the modern high denudation rate in the Cayaguás Basin and suggests that pre-agricultural erosional conditions were comparable to those of the present-day Icacos.

Modelling the impact of recent land-cover changes on the stream flows in northeastern Puerto Rico

Wu W, Hall CAS, Scatena FN. Modelling the impact of recent
land-cover changes on the stream flows in northeastern Puerto
Rico. Hydrol Process 2007; 21: 2944-2956.

We investigated the influence of recent and future land-cover changes on stream flow of a watershed northeastern Puerto Rico using hydrological modeling and simulation analysis. Monthly and average annual stream flows were compared between an agricultural period (1973–1980) and an urbanized/reforested period (1988–1995) using the revised Generalized Watershed Loading Function model. Our validated results show that a smaller proportion of rainfall became stream flows in the urbanized/forested period compared with the agricultural period, apparently because of reforestation. Sensitivity analysis of the model showed that evapotranspiration, precipitation, and curve number were the most significant factors influencing stream flow. Simulations of projected land-cover scenarios indicate that annual stream flows would increase by 9Ð6% in a total urbanization scenario, decrease by 3Ð6% in a total reforestation scenario, and decrease by 1Ð1% if both reforestation and urbanization continue at their current rates to 2020. An imposed hurricane event that was similar in scale to the largest recent event on the three land-cover scenarios would increase the daily stream flow by 62Ð1%, 68Ð4% and 67Ð1% respectively. Owing to the environmental setting of eastern Puerto Rico, where sea breezes caused by temperature differences between land surface and the ocean dominate the local climate, we suggest that managing local land-cover changes can have important consequences for water management. Copyright  2007 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

Evaporation from a tropical rain forest, Luquillo Experimental Forest, eastern Puerto Rico

Schellekens, J., L. A. Bruijnzeel, F. N. Scatena, N. J. Bink, and F. Holwerda (2000), Evaporation from a tropical rain forest, Luquillo Experimental Forest, eastern Puerto Rico, Water Resour. Res., 36(8), 2183–2196, doi:10.1029/2000WR900074.

Evaporation losses from a watertight 6.34 ha rain forest catchment under wet maritime tropical conditions in the Luquillo Experimental Forest, Puerto Rico, were determined using complementary hydrological and micrometeorological techniques during 1996 and 1997. At 6.6 mm d−1 for 1996 and 6.0 mm d−1 for 1997, the average evapotranspiration (ET) of the forest is exceptionally high. Rainfall interception (Ei), as evaluated from weekly throughfall measurements and an average stemflow fraction of 2.3%, accounted for much (62–74%) of the ET at 4.9 mm d−1 in 1996 and 3.7 mm d−1 in 1997. Average transpiration rates (Et) according to a combination of the temperature fluctuation method and the Penman-Monteith equation were modest at 2.2 mm d−1 and 2.4 mm d−1 in 1996 and 1997, respectively. Both estimates compared reasonably well with the water-budget-based estimates (ET − Ei) of 1.7 mm d−1 and 2.2 mm d−1. Inferred rates of wet canopy evaporation were roughly 4 to 5 times those predicted by the Penman-Monteith equation, with nighttime rates very similar to daytime rates, suggesting radiant energy is not the dominant controlling factor. A combination of advected energy from the nearby Atlantic Ocean, low aerodynamic resistance, plus frequent low-intensity rain is thought to be the most likely explanation of the observed discrepancy between measured and estimated Ei.
Syndicate content