On the importance of variable soil depth and process representation in the modeling of shallow landslide initiation

Thursday, 18 December 2014
Paolo Burlando, Grigorios Anagnostopoulos and Simone Fatichi, ETH Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland
Sub-surface hydrology has a dominant role on the initiation of rainfall-induced landslides, since changes in the soil water potential affect soil shear strength and thus apparent cohesion. Especially on steep slopes and shallow soils, loss of shear strength can lead to failure even in unsaturated conditions. A process based model, HYDROlisthisis, characterized by high resolution in space and, time is developed to investigate the interactions between surface and subsurface hydrology and shallow landslide initiation. Specifically, 3D variably saturated flow conditions, including soil hydraulic hysteresis and preferential flow, are simulated for the subsurface flow, coupled with a surface runoff routine. Evapotranspiration and specific root water uptake are taken into account for continuous simulations of soil water content during storm and inter-storm periods. The geotechnical component of the model is based on a multidimensional limit equilibrium analysis, which takes into account the basic principles of unsaturated soil mechanics. The model is applied to a small catchment in Switzerland historically prone to rainfall-triggered landslides. A series of numerical simulations were carried out with various boundary conditions (soil depths) and using hydrological and geotechnical components of different complexity. Specifically, the sensitivity to the inclusion of preferential flow and soil hydraulic hysteresis was tested together with the replacement of the infinite slope assumption with a multi-dimensional limit equilibrium analysis. The effect of the different model components on model performance was assessed using accuracy statistics and Receiver Operating Characteristic (ROC) curve. The results show that boundary conditions play a crucial role in the model performance and that the introduced hydrological (preferential flow and soil hydraulic hysteresis) and geotechnical components (multidimensional limit equilibrium analysis) considerably improve predictive capabilities in the presented case study.