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Bellwether sites for evaluating changes in landslide frequency and magnitude in cryospheric mountainous terrain: A call for systematic, long-term observations to decipher the impact of climate change

July 22, 2020

Permafrost and glaciers are being degraded by the warming effects of climate change. The impact that this degradation has on slope stability in mountainous terrain is the subject of ongoing research efforts. The relatively new availability of high-resolution (≤ 10 m) imagery with worldwide coverage and short (≤ 30 days) repeat acquisition times, as well as the emerging field of environmental seismology, presents opportunities for making remote, systematic observations of landslides in cryospheric mountainous terrain. I reviewed the literature and evaluated landslide activity in existing imagery to select five ~ 5000-km2 sites where long-term, systematic observations could take place. The five proposed sites are the northern and eastern flanks of the Northern Patagonia Ice Field, the Western European Alps, the eastern Karakoram Range in the Himalayan Mountains, the Southern Alps of New Zealand, and the Fairweather Range in Southeast Alaska. Systematic observations of landslide occurrence, triggers, size, and travel distance at these sites, especially if coupled with observations from in situ instrumental monitoring, could lead to a better understanding of changes in slope stability induced by climate change. The suggested sites are not meant to be absolute and unalterable. Rather, they are intended as a starting point and discussion starter for new work in this expanding landslide research frontier.

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