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Assessing the feasibility of satellite-based thresholds for hydrologically driven landsliding

October 10, 2019

Elevated soil moisture and heavy precipitation contribute to landslides worldwide. These environmental variables are now being resolved with satellites at spatiotemporal scales that could offer new perspectives on the development of landslide warning systems. However, the application of these data to hydro-meteorological thresholds (which account for antecedent soil moisture and rainfall) first need to be evaluated with respect to proven, direct measurement-based thresholds that use rain gauges and in situ soil moisture sensors. Here, we compare ground-based hydrologic data to overlapping satellite-based data before, during, and after a recent season of widespread shallow landsliding in the San Francisco Bay Area (California, USA). We then explore how the remotely sensed information could be used to empirically define hypothetical thresholds for shallow landsliding. We find that the ground-based thresholds developed with a single monitoring station show superior performance because the in situ soil saturation data better reflect the gravity-dominated subsurface flow conditions that are characteristic of hillslopes during the rainy season. Although the satellite-based thresholds can identify most of the landslide days, they include a greater number of false alarms due to overestimates of soil moisture between major storm events. To avoid the type of false alarms that are characteristic of our satellite-based thresholds, further post-processing of the near-surface hydrologic response data to better reflect gravity-dominated drainage should be integrated into satellite-based model outputs. Our results encourage further deployment of ground stations in landslide-prone terrain and cautious exploration of satellite-based hydro-meteorological thresholds where in situ networks are nonexistent.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2019
Title Assessing the feasibility of satellite-based thresholds for hydrologically driven landsliding
DOI 10.1029/2019WR025577
Authors Matthew A. Thomas, Brian D. Collins, Benjamin B. Mirus
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Water Resources Research
Index ID 70208293
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Geologic Hazards Science Center