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Geographic relations of landslide distribution and assessment of landslide hazards in the Blanco, Cibuco, and Coamo basins, Puerto Rico

December 1, 1996

Landslide occurrence is common in mountainous areas of Puerto Rico where mean annual rainfall and the frequency of intense storms are high and hillslopes are steep. Each year, landslides cause extensive damage to property and occasionally result in loss of life. Landslide maps developed from 1:20,000 scale aerial photographs in combination with a computerized geographic information system were used to evaluate the landslide potential in the Blanco, Cibuco, and Coamo Basins of Puerto Rico. These basins, ranging in surface area from 276 to 350 square kilometers, are described in this report. The basins represent a broad range of the climatologic, geographic, and geologic conditions that occur in Puerto Rico. In addition, a variety of landslide types were documented. Rainfall-triggered debris flows, shallow soil slips, and slumps were most abundant. The most important temporal control on landslide occurrence in Puerto Rico is storm rainfall. Forty-one storms triggered widespread landsliding about 1 to 2 times per year during the last three decades. These storms were frequently of 1 to 2 days duration in which, on average, several hundred millimeters of rainfall triggered tens to hundreds of landslides in the central mountains. Most of these storms were tropical disturbances that occurred during the hurricane season of June through November. Land use and the topographic characteristics of hillslope angle, elevation, and aspect are the most important spatial controls governing landslide frequency. Hillslopes in the study area that have been anthropogenically modified, exceed 12 degrees in gradient and about 350 meters in elevation, and face the east-northeast are most prone to landsliding. Bedrock geology and soil order seem less important in the determination of landslide frequency, at least when considered at a generalized level. A rainfall accumulation-duration relation for the triggering of numerous landslides throughout the central mountains, and a set of simplified matrices representing geographic conditions in the three river basins were developed and are described in this report. These two elements provide a basis for the estimation of the temporal and spatial controls on landslide occurrence in Puerto Rico. Finally, this approach is an example of a relatively inexpensive technique for landslide hazard analysis that may be applicable to other settings.

Citation Information

Publication Year 1996
Title Geographic relations of landslide distribution and assessment of landslide hazards in the Blanco, Cibuco, and Coamo basins, Puerto Rico
DOI 10.3133/wri954029
Authors M. C. Larsen, A. J. Torres-Sanchez
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Water-Resources Investigations Report
Series Number 95-4029
Index ID wri954029
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse