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Controls on the distribution of landslides triggered by the 2008 Wenchuan earthquake, Sichuan Province, China

Parker, R. N. 2010. Controls on the distribution of landslides triggered by the 2008 Wenchuan earthquake, Sichuan Province, China. Institute of Hazard, Risk and Resilience, Durham University.

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Landsliding is the dominant mass wasting process in upland areas where the rate of river incision is higher than that of rock weathering of hillslopes. Although progressive erosional processes can provide sufficient conditions for slope failure, the majority of landslides are induced by earthquakes, rainstorms or a combination of these two. Landslides are also one of the most destructive geological processes, being the primary cause of damage and fatalities associated with severe storms and earthquakes in mountainous regions. On 12th May 2008 the magnitude 7.9 Wenchuan earthquake occurred in the Longmen Shan mountain range, on the northwest margin of the Sichuan Basin. Landsliding contributed greatly to the high death toll of over 70,000 and widespread infrastructural damage produced by the earthquake. The event offers an opportunity to both broaden the global database of seismically induced landslides and study the processes involved in earthquake-triggered landsliding, for a large continental thrust event with complex faulting mechanisms and diverse geophysical conditions. To achieve this, the following investigation builds upon recent advances in landslide remote sensing, to develop automated detection algorithms through which landslides can be accurately mapped using a range of satellite data. Using these techniques, a first order, regional landslide inventory map of slope failures triggered by the Wenchuan earthquake is produced, over an area of 12,000km2 along the main rupture zone. The production of this dataset demonstrates the application of automated classification techniques for the rapid generation of landslide data, for both geomorphological research and hazard management applications. The data is used to examine the interaction of fault rupture dynamics, topography and geology on landslide failure location, and identify key characteristics of the landslide distribution. Findings of the study demonstrate high levels of landslide occurrence along the entire mapped length of the rupture zone, and an exponential decay in landslide density with distance from the co-seismic surface ruptures. This is superimposed over a marked hanging wall effect, along with clear geological and topographic controls on landslide occurrence. Through generalised linear modelling, peak ground acceleration attenuation patterns, hillslope gradient, relief, local elevation and geology are identified as core controls on the location of landslides. The results of this research shed light on some increasingly recognised though poorly understood characteristics of seismically induced landslide distributions. The dataset produced contributes to the limited global database of earthquake-triggered landslide inventories, as well producing a widely applicable resource for further study of the Wenchuan earthquake and post-seismic landscape evolution.

Item Type: Thesis (Other)
Status: Unpublished
Schools: Earth and Ocean Sciences
Subjects: Q Science > QE Geology
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Last Modified: 17 Mar 2021 02:40

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