Landslides

NATURAL HAZARDS ON ALLUVIAL FANS: THE VENEZUELA DEBRIS FLOW AND FLASH FLOOD DISASTER

Larsen, M.C., Wieczorek, G.F., Eaton, L.S., Morgan, B.A., Torres-Sierra, H., 2001,
Natural Hazards on Alluvial Fans: the Venezuela debris-flow and flash-flood disaster: U.S. Geological Survey Fact Sheet, FS 103-01, 4 p.

Abstract: 
In December 1999, rainstorms induced thousands of landslides along the Cordillera de la Costa, Vargas, northern Venezuela. Rainfall on December 2-3 totaled 200 millimeters (8 inches) and was followed by a major storm (911 millimeters, or 36 inches) on December 14 through 16. Debris flows and flash floods on alluvial fans inundated coastal communities, caused severe property destruction, and resulted in a death toll estimated at 19,000 people. Because most of the coastal zone in Vargas consists of steep mountain fronts that rise abruptly from the Caribbean Sea, the alluvial fans are the only areas where slopes are not too steep to build. Rebuilding and reoccupation of these areas requires careful determination of potential hazard zones to avoid future loss of life and property.

NATURAL HAZARDS ON ALLUVIAL FANS: THE DEBRIS FLOW AND FLASH FLOOD DISASTER OF DECEMBER 1999, VARGAS STATE, VENEZUELA

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

Abstract: 
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.

SLOPEWASH, SURFACE RUNOFF, AND FINE-LITTER TRANSPORT IN FOREST AND LANDSLIDE SCARS IN HUMID-TROPICAL STEEPLANDS, LUQUILLO EXPERIMENTAL FOREST, PUERTO RICO

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.

Abstract: 
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.

LANDSLIDE HAZARDS ASSOCIATED WITH FLASH-FLOODS, WITH EXAMPLES FROM THE DECEMBER, 1999 DISASTER IN VENEZUELA

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,
2000.

Abstract: 
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.”

How wide is a road? the association of roads and mass wsting in a forested montane environment

Larsen, M.C., 1995, How wide is a road? The association of roads and mass wasting in a forested montane environment, Puerto Rico [abs] American Geophysical Union, EOS Supplement, v. 76, no. 17, p. S309.

Abstract: 
Mass wasting has confounded road builders for as long as humans have constructed transportation routes through mountainous terrain. The high-intensity rainfall that is typical of mountainous humid-tropical settings results in mass wasting that is exacerbated by construction and maintenance of roads. However, the actual extent of the zone of mass-wasting disturbance associated with roads is not well known. Determination of this zone is important for land use managers, highway engineers, and foresters who must deal with costly and sometimes life-threatening hazards attributed to road-related landsliding. A spatial data base of 1,859 landslides, representing approximately 50 years of landslide activity, was analyzed using a geographic information system to determine landslide frequency in relation to roads. A 268-km-long transportation network in a 276-km2 area of humid-tropical, mountainous, mostly forested terrain in Puerto Rico was used in the analysis by developing a series of 17 buffer zones varying from 5 to 350 m in length, measured perpendicular to road axes. Most of the study area lies within the boundaries of the U.S. Forest Service-administered Luquillo Experimental Forest. Average landslide frequency in the study area was about 7 landslides per km2. In all buffer zones within 100 m of roads, landslide frequency was higher than the average, and in buffer zones beyond 100 m, landslide frequency was about the study area average. The 100-m buffer zone landslide frequency was 2.4 times higher than the average rate, indicating that within 100 m of a road, associated landslide disturbance is significant. The 100-m buffer length is equivalent to a 200-m wide swath along the 268- km road corridor, representing a total of 49 km2 (or 18 percent) of the total surface of the study area. Thi s means that during the 50 years represented by the landslide sample, for every km of road length, 20 hectares of the study area was affected by this high landslide disturbance rate. In addition, the mass of regolith eroded by mass wasting in the 100-m buffer zone is more than 6 times the mass eroded in areas outside the buffer zone. A total of about 94 tonnes per km2 per year is eroded in the buffer zone by mass wasting, compared to about 15 tonnes per km2 per year in areas outside of the 100-m buffer zone. This represents a considerable portion of the approximately 200 to 400 tonnes per km2 per year of fluvial sediment that is exported from Luquillo Experimental Forest watersheds.

Assessing Landslide Hazards

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

Abstract: 
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–
153

Abstract: 
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.

Landsliding and Its Multiscale Influence on Mountainscapes

Restrepo, Carla; Walker, Lawrence R.; Shiels, Aaron B.; Bussmann, Rainer; Claessens, Lieven; Fisch, Simey; Lozano, Pablo; Negi, Girish; Paolini, Leonardo; Poveda, Germán; Ramos-Sharrón, Carlos; Ritcher, Michael; Velázquez, Eduardo. 2009. Landsliding and its multiscale influence on mountainscapes. Bioscience. 59(8): 685-698.

Abstract: 
Landsliding is a complex process that modifies mountainscapes worldwide. Its severe and sometimes long-lasting negative effects contrast with the less-documented positive effects on ecosystems, raising numerous questions about the dual role of landsliding, the feedbacks between biotic and geomorphic processes, and, ultimately, the ecological and evolutionary responses of organisms. We present a conceptual model in which feedbacks between biotic and geomorphic processes, landslides, and ecosystem attributes are hypothesized to drive the dynamics of mountain ecosystems at multiple scales. This model is used to integrate and synthesize a rich, but fragmented, body of literature generated in different disciplines, and to highlight the need for profitable collaborations between biologists and geoscientists. Such efforts should help identify attributes that contribute to the resilience of mountain ecosystems, and also should help in conservation, restoration, and hazard assessment. Given the sensitivity of mountains to land-use and global climate change, these endeavors are both relevant and timely.

Background and Catastrophic Tree Mortality in Tropical Moist, Wet, and Rain Forests

Background and Catastrophic Tree Mortality in Tropical Moist, Wet, and Rain Forests
Ariel E. Lugo and F. N. Scatena
Biotropica
Vol. 28, No. 4, Part A. Special Issue: Long Term Responses of Caribbean Ecosystems to Disturbances (Dec., 1996), pp. 585-599

Abstract: 
The process of tree mortality has dimensions of intensity, spatial, and temporal scales that reflect the characteristics of endogenic processes (i.e., senescence) and exogenic disturbances (i.e., severity, frequency, duration, spatial scale, and points of interaction with the ecosystem). Tree mortality events expressed as percent of stems or biomass per unit area, range in intensity from background (<5% yr-1) to catastrophic (>5% yr-1), in spatial scale from local to massive, and in temporal scale from gradual to sudden (hours to weeks). Absolute annual rates of background tree mortality (biomass or stem ha-1 yr-1) can vary several fold depending on stand conditions and tend to increase with stem density. The ecological effects of a catastrophic, massive, and sudden tree mortality event contrast with those of background, local, and gradual tree mortality in terms of the direction of succession after the event, community dynamics, nutrient cycling, and possibly selection on trees. When standardized for the return frequency of disturbance events, area, and topography, the ranking of tree mortality events (trees ha-1 century-1) in the Luquillo Experimental Forest is: background > hurricanes > individual tree fall gaps > landslides. Estimates of vegetation turnover rates require long-term and spatial analysis to yield accurate results.

SLOPEWASH, SURFACE RUNOFF AND FINE-LITTER TRANSPORT IN FOREST AND LANDSLIDE SCARS IN HUMID- TROPICAL STEEPLANDS, LUQUILLO EXPERIMENTAL FOREST, PUERTO RICO

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.

Abstract: 
Slopewash, surface runoff, and fine-litter transport in forest and landslide scars in humid-tropical steeplands, Luquillo Experimental Forest, Puerto Rico 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.
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