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Landslides triggered by Hurricane Maria: Assessment of an extreme event in Puerto Rico

February 6, 2019

Hurricane Maria hit the island of Puerto Rico on 20 September 2017 and triggered more than 40,000 landslides in at least three-fourths of Puerto Rico’s 78 municipalities. The number of landslides that occurred during this event was two orders of magnitude greater than those reported from previous hurricanes. Landslide source areas were commonly limited to surficial soils but also extended into underlying saprolite and bedrock. Slope failures occurred before, during, and after flooding, and many transitioned into long runout debris flows. Steep slopes in hilly and mountainous regions were particularly impacted by landslides due to antecedent soil moisture levels that were 11%–13% higher than average and rainfall totals of at least 250 mm within a 48 h period. High landslide densities were especially widespread across some geologic formations (e.g., granodiorite of the Utuado batholith); however, bedrock geology alone did not determine the location and distribution of landslides caused by Hurricane Maria. While rainfall data collected during Hurricane Maria were inconsistent, satellite-based soil moisture data were correlated with the distribution of landslides. In the future, the use of soil moisture data could enable assessments of regional landslide susceptibility prior to hurricanes or extreme precipitation events.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2019
Title Landslides triggered by Hurricane Maria: Assessment of an extreme event in Puerto Rico
DOI 10.1130/GSATG383A.1
Authors Erin Bessette-Kirton, Corina Cerovski-Darriau, William Schulz, Jeffrey A. Coe, Jason W. Kean, Jonathan W. Godt, Matthew A. Thomas, K. Stephen Hughes
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title GSA Today
Series Number
Index ID 70207195
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Geologic Hazards Science Center