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Hydrologic monitoring data in steep, landslide-prone terrain, Sitka, Alaska, USA

July 10, 2023

This data release includes time-series data and qualitative descriptions from a monitoring station on a steep, landslide-prone slope above the City of Sitka, Alaska. On August 18, 2015, heavy rainfall triggered around 60 landslides in and around Sitka. These landslides moved downslope rapidly; several were damaging, and one demolished a home on South Kramer Avenue and killed three people. On September 16-18, 2019, the U.S. Geological Survey installed instrumentation at a site near the initiation zones of these landslides and other previous landslides on the west face of Harbor Mountain. The station consists of an electronics enclosure, a mounted rain gage, and two instrumented soil pits. Instruments record continuous measurements of precipitation, air temperature, volumetric water content, pore-water pressure, soil temperature, and soil matric potential at five-minute intervals. Soil pits were dug as deep as possible into the soil mantle for installation of the hydrologic monitoring instruments. Extensive probing with a 1.2-m-long piece of rebar to the point of refusal confirmed that the bottom of each hole was near the top of bedrock or compact till.

The first soil pit (SP1), located at N 57.08551, W 135.35936, is about 1 m downslope from the north rim of the drainage hollow. SP1 is about 60 cm deep with the upper 12-15 cm in dark brown, moist, silty sand with large concentration of plant roots. Below 15 cm, to bottom of hole, consists of abundant gray sandstone clasts in silty sand matrix, which ranges in color from orange-brown, brown, to gray. The SP1 sensor array consists of a water potential sensor and soil moisture sensor at 25 cm depth, a second soil moisture sensor at 50 cm depth, and a pressure transducer near bottom of hole with a port at ~55 cm depth.

The second soil pit (SP2), located at N 57.08548, W 135.35933, is about 5 m downslope from the north rim of the drainage hollow and is 65 cm deep. The top of hard material (bedrock or till) was about 70 cm deep, but there was free water at a depth of about 50-55 cm. Material throughout the depth of the hole was moist sandy silty clay of a gelatinous consistency. Color ranged from orange-brown to dark brown. Very few stones were present. These soils were interpreted as transported/mixed, weathered volcanic ash (Jacqueline Foss, USDA Forest Service, personal communication, 2019). The SP2 sensor array consists of soil moisture sensors at 25 and 40 cm depth, and a pressure transducer lying on the bottom of the hole, with a port at about 60 cm depth.

A Campbell Scientific CR1000 datalogger is used to collect continuous data from these sensors. The datalogger and modem are contained in a sealed, weather-resistant fiberglass enclosure. The CR1000 datalogger contains an internal thermistor that continuously measures temperature. Additionally, an air temperature sensor was installed to collect continuous air temperature data. A tipping bucket rain gage installed in a clearing about 10 m northwest of the logger enclosure collects precipitation data. The maximum resolution of the rain gauge is 0.2 mm; that is, one tip of the bucket represents 0.2 mm. Four METER ECH20 EC-5 sensors are used to collect soil moisture data. Pore-water pressures are measured using two Campbell Scientific CS-451 pressure transducers. A METER MPS-6 water potential sensor in SP1 is used to collect soil matric potential. This sensor’s measurements range from -100,000 to -9 kPa was exceeded for the duration of the monitoring period. Recorded values appear to hover around the sensor’s upper limit (-9 kPa), with the exception of September 2019 when the station was first installed and a few brief periods in July 2022 when conditions were sufficiently dry for matric potentials to drop below -9 kPa. The water potential sensor and pressure sensors have integrated thermistors and the associated temperature readings are included.

Several factors that may influence data consistency and/or quality should be considered when analyzing the dataset. Gaps in data exist from 12/15/2019 – 6/9/2020 and 9/10/2022 – 9/15/2022, when power to the monitoring system was lost due to battery failure. Critically low system voltages preceding these periods as well as during sub-freezing temperatures (e.g., March and April 2021) may have unexpected effects on data quality. During battery replacements on 10/29/2020 and 3/1/2023, the rain gauge was cleaned of debris, resulting in excessive tips of the bucket that do not represent actual precipitation. Data quality may be inconsistent during times of low battery voltage and or freezing temperatures and must be interpreted cautiously.

Any use of trade, firm, or product names is for descriptive purposes only and does not imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.

Publication Year 2023
Title Hydrologic monitoring data in steep, landslide-prone terrain, Sitka, Alaska, USA
DOI 10.5066/P9GFA6PC
Authors Joel B Smith, Emily C Bedinger, Dennis M Staley, Rex L Baum, Benjamin B Mirus
Product Type Data Release
Record Source USGS Digital Object Identifier Catalog
USGS Organization Landslide Hazards Programs