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Mobility characteristics of landslides triggered by Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico

June 30, 2020

Mobility is an important element of landslide hazard and risk assessments yet has been seldom studied for shallow landslides and debris flows in tropical environments. In September 2017, Hurricane Maria triggered > 70,000 landslides across Puerto Rico. Using aerial imagery and a lidar digital elevation model (DEM), we mapped and characterized the mobility of debris slides and flows in four different geologic materials: (1) mudstone, siltstone, and sandstone; (2) submarine basalt and chert; (3) marine volcaniclastics; and (4) granodiorite. We used the ratio of landslide-fall height (H) to travel length (L), H/L, to assess the mobility of landslides in each material. Additionally, we differentiated between landslides with single and multiple source areas and landslides that either did or did not enter drainages. Overall, extreme rainfall contributed to the mobility of landslides during Hurricane Maria, and our results showed that the mobility of debris slides and flows in Puerto Rico increased linearly as a function of the number of source areas that coalesced. Additionally, landslides that entered drainages were more mobile than those that did not. We found that landslides in soils developed on marine volcaniclastics were the most mobile and landslides in soils on submarine basalt and chert were the least mobile. While landslides were generally small (< 100 m2) and displayed a wide range of H/L values (0.1–2), coalescence increased the mobility of landslides that transitioned to debris flows. The high but variable mobility of landslides that occurred during Hurricane Maria and the associated hazards highlight the importance of characterizing and understanding the factors influencing landslide mobility in Puerto Rico and other tropical environments.

Publication Year 2020
Title Mobility characteristics of landslides triggered by Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico
DOI 10.1007/s10346-020-01445-z
Authors Erin K. Bessette-Kirton, Jeffrey A. Coe, William Schulz, Corina Cerovski-Darriau, Mason Muir Einbund
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Landslides
Index ID 70216279
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Geologic Hazards Science Center