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Fuhrmann Etal Landslides

Fuhrmann Etal Landslides

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Published by Lynne Vogel
Western North Carolina Landslides
Western North Carolina Landslides

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Categories:Types, Research, Science
Published by: Lynne Vogel on Jul 28, 2011
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Physical Geography 
, 2008,
, 4, pp. 289-305.Copyright © 2008 by Bellwether Publishing, Ltd. All rights reserved. DOI: 10.2747/0272-3646.29.4.289
Christopher M. Fuhrmann, Charles E. Konrad II,
Lawrence E. Band 
Department of GeographyThe University of North Carolina at Chapel HillChapel Hill, North Carolina 27599-3220
Landslides are a significant hazard in the mountains of North Carolina.While previous studies have estimated the critical instantaneous rainfall rates that maytrigger a landslide, very little is known about the climatology of rainfall events associatedwith landslides. The rainfall climatology of a sample of landslide events in western NorthCarolina from 1950 to 2004 is presented in two parts. First, the two-day concurrent andcumulative antecedent (from 4 to 90 days prior to slope movement) rainfall totals areassessed climatologically by ranking them relative to all heavy precipitation eventsobserved in western North Carolina over a 55-year period. Second, the storm typesresponsible for the rainfall associated with each landslide event are determined using amanual weather map classification scheme. Forty-seven percent (47%) of the landslideevents are connected with concurrent rainfall totals that exceed a one-year return period.In almost half of these cases, the heavy rainfall is associated with a tropical cyclone pass-ing through the region. The other major storm types connected with landslide events (i.e.,synoptic and cyclonic-type events) generally display lower rainfall intensities and longerdurations compared to tropical cyclones. Landslide activity shows the strongest relation-ship with antecedent precipitation totals over a 90-day period, which is the longest timeperiod examined in the study. In many cases, a tropical cyclone produced heavy rainfallover the landslide location between 30 and 90 days before the event. [Key words: land-slide, heavy rainfall, storm types, climatology, western North Carolina.]
INTRODUCTIONLandslides are a significant hazard in mountainous regions. In western NorthCarolina, a region situated in the southern chain of the Appalachian Mountains (Fig.1), over 1000 landslides (i.e., slope movements) have been recorded since the early1900s (Wooten et al., 2007). Across the southern Appalachians, more than 200fatalities and thousands of acres of destroyed forest and farmland have resulted fromlandslide activity (Wieczorek et al., 2004; Witt, 2005). A combination of thin soils,steep slopes, and orographically enhanced precipitation leaves the mountains of North Carolina highly susceptible to slope failure (Witt, 2005). Further, increaseddevelopment along mountain slopes continues to place additional stress on soilsand roots while changing the natural slope configuration through practices such asundercutting and excavation. Landslides are also a potential hazard to those livingin the flat debris fans located above the floodplain, as slope movement along thenearby hillslopes is more likely to “reactivate” during periods of heavy rainfall(Ritter et al., 2002).
.The most common type of landslide in western North Carolina is the debris flow(Witt, 2005). This type of slope movement often originates in mountain hollows(i.e., concavities) where surface and groundwater flows collect. Slope movementgenerally occurs in shallow soils located along steep slopes (at least 20°) with theresulting flow often traveling at swift speeds over distances up to several kilometers(Witt, 2005). Debris flows usually consist of high-density and high-viscosity mate-rial and tend to travel along preexisting drainage channels. Other types of land-slides common in western North Carolina include debris slides, earth slides, rockslides, and rock falls (Wooten et al., 2007). Debris and earth slides typically movemuch more slowly than debris flows because of their higher clay content, requiringmore water for liquification (Varnes, 1978). Persistent wet periods can allow waterto slowly infiltrate existing tension cracks and scarps, thus preconditioning theslope for failure. Approximately two-thirds of all landslides recorded in westernNorth Carolina consist of slope movement deposits, mainly debris fans and otherdebris deposits (Wooten et al., 2007). Rock slides and falls occur most frequentlyalong roadways that have been cut into natural rock slopes. Although heavy rainfallcan trigger a rock slide or fall, most of these landslides have been tied to freeze-thaw cycles, wedging of tree roots, and slope destabilization exacerbated by exca-vation and blasting (Varnes, 1978).In the absence of sufficiently heavy rainfall, most slopes in western NorthCarolina remain stable due to ample vegetation and strong soil-root cohesion (Witt,
Fig. 1.
Study area with shaded relief and COOP station locations.
2912005). Heavy rainfall that penetrates the bedrock-soil interface or results in signifi-cant increases in soil pore pressure at an interface, however, can induce slopemovement. Past studies have defined a 24-hour rainfall threshold of about 125 mm(5 in) before slope movement can occur (e.g., Eschner and Patric, 1982; Neary andSwift, 1987; Witt, 2005). However, excessive point precipitation totals alone can-not be used to adequately determine the potential for flooding rainfall (or rainfallnecessary to induce a landslide). The timing and spatial distribution of rainfall mustalso be considered to determine the potential for flooding or slope movement(Hirschboeck et al., 2000; Konrad, 2001). This includes examinations of antecedentsoil moisture and rainfall conditions at various time scales (e.g., days, weeks,months) as well as the spatial extent of the rainfall (e.g., local to regional scale dis-tributions). Heavy rainfall events known to activate landslides in western NorthCarolina are typically associated with (1) short-lived, intense localized storms, (2)long-lived, regional-scale storms, or (3) multiple short or long duration storms that“train” across the region over a period of days to weeks (Witt, 2005). The returnintervals for these types of storms and how they rank within the context of otherheavy rainfall events in western North Carolina are not known. Moreover, the timescales and intensities of antecedent rainfall required to prime slopes for landslideactivity are not clear, but depend on the soil mass balance of water from rainfallinfiltration, net drainage, and evapotranspiration. In the southern Appalachians,hydrologic conditions promoting landslide activity may be associated with ante-cedent rainfall over a wide range of time periods.The objectives of this study are as follows. First, the 2-day concurrent and 4- to90-day antecedent rainfall totals associated with landslide events in western NorthCarolina from 1950 to 2004 are determined and ranked within the context of aheavy rainfall climatology for western North Carolina. Second, the predominantstorm types associated with each landslide event are characterized using a classifi-cation scheme (with some variants) adopted from a seminal study of flash floodevents.DATA AND METHODOLOGY
Identification of Landslide Events
The North Carolina Geological Survey (NCGS), in response to the destructionresulting from major landslides in the fall of 2004, was authorized by the NorthCarolina General Assembly to prepare county-scale slope movement hazard mapswith an emphasis on western North Carolina. A combination of field observations,remote sensing imagery, and digital elevation models were analyzed in a geographicinformation system to identify historical landslide events in the region. At the timethe NCGS database was acquired for this study (August 2006), there were a com-bined 2046 entries for slope movements (i.e., landslides, nearly all post-1940) andslope movement deposits, which are presumed to be mainly prehistoric. Updates tothe NCGS database are made routinely. As of June 2008, it had included 3032 slopemovement processes and 2254 slope movement deposits (R. Wooten, pers. comm.,2008). The reader is directed to Wooten et al. (2007) for details on the NCGS

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