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Watauga County, NC Real Estate Landslide Hazards

Watauga County, NC Real Estate Landslide Hazards

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Published by Lynne Vogel
Watauga County, NC mountain real estate is subject to debris flows, underground landslides and slope failures.
Watauga County, NC mountain real estate is subject to debris flows, underground landslides and slope failures.

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Categories:Types, Research, Science
Published by: Lynne Vogel on Nov 20, 2011
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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14 Journal o Student Research in Environmental Science at Appalachian
Landslide hazards in Watauga County,North Carolina
Dave ChristieEnvironmental Sciences Program, Appalachian State University, Boone, NCchristiedn@appstate.edu
 The purpose o this research is to analyze the terrain o Watauga County, North Caro-lina and develop models predicting slope instability and landslide probability. Devel-opment in Boone, NC was also analyzed to determine i any existing buildings andinrastructure were at risk. Slope and soil type, as well as previous landslide occurrencewere all analyzed and reclassied using Geographic Inormation System (GIS) sotwareto produce predictive models o slope instability and, consequently, landslide hazards.In Watauga County the area o highest risk was the northwestern region, includingthe towns o Vilas and Sugar Grove, curving towards the center (near Boone), with anadditional high-risk area in the southeast around the town o Deep Gap. There werea ew isolated areas in Boone (southwestern and central, as well as Howard’s Knob tothe north) that posed some landslide risk to a ew buildings and roads, but as a wholethe town was not at risk.
 There are many types o slope ailures, all o whichcan be hazardous. Landslides occur throughoutthe United States, primarily in mountainous, hillyregions and along the Pacic coast [1]. Land-slides cause over $1 billion in damages and areresponsible or between 25 and 50 deaths in thenation annually [1, 2]. Landslides can damagebuildings, property, utilities, roads and bridges[3]. Landslides can be triggered in several ways,including heavy rains, earthquakes, blasting, anddevelopment on steep slopes [3, 4]. Landsliderisk models and maps are essential to inormgovernments, planning committees, developers,and the general public about the potential haz-ards o slope movement and to provide ways tomitigate the impact o such disasters, especiallyi the models can predict which areas are mostlikely to experience slope instability.In Watauga County North Carolina, moredevelopment is occurring on unstable slopes,which may increase the risk o landslides [2].Since Watauga County is mountainous and re-ceives a signicant amount o rainall, approxi-mately 150 cm annually, the risk o landslidesand slope instabilities may be high, especiallyin areas with steep slopes and areas undergoingdevelopment [5]. For Watauga County, the over-whelming cause o landslides historically hasbeen intense rainall. The Southeast Hurricane o 1940 was devastating to the East Coast, aectingGeorgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia,and parts o Tennessee [6]. Watauga County re-ceived between 25.4 and 38.1 cm o rain in justa ew days, triggering an overwhelming majorityo the landslides on record. The dominant type o landslide during the1940 hurricane was the debris fow. A debrisfow is typically a rapid mass movement o mate-rial, which includes loose soil, rock, and organicmatter [1, 3]. This type o landslide combineswith water to orm a slurry, which can range inconsistency rom thin and watery to rather thick [1]. Debris fows tend to occur on steep slopesand can reach speeds up to 35 mph [1, 3]. SinceWatauga County is in a mountainous region, itis not surprising that so many o the landslideshave been debris fows due to the many steepslopes in the area. The second most commonorm o landslide in Watauga County has beenthe debris blowout which is not surprising be-cause this area tends to receive high velocitywinds on a airly regular basis.In this study, historical landslide data inWatauga County is combined with current slopeand soil type data to assist in the prediction o landslide hazards in Watauga County and the Town o Boone, North Carolina.
Figure 1.
Percent Slope Map o Watauga County, North Carolina.
Volume 1, 1st Edition Spring 2011 15
 The data or this study was obtained throughsecondary sources, the majority o which camerom Geographic Inormation Systems (GIS) datagathered primarily rom North Carolina (NC)OneMap, an online GIS clearinghouse [7]. Thedata was downloaded and opened in ESRI ArcGIS(ESRI, 380 New York Street, Redlands, CA) sot-ware. ArcMap was used to generate the maps o Watauga County, North Carolina, and ArcScenewas used to create the 3-dimensional visual-izations. The boundary shapele or WataugaCounty was downloaded rom the Soil Data Mart[8]. A shapele or the municipal boundaries orBoone was also obtained rom the North Caro-lina Department o Transportation (NCDOT) [9].A Watauga digital elevation model (DEM) in ras-ter data ormat was downloaded rom a remoteGIS database as a base map or the research [10]. The Watauga area DEM was clipped to match thecounty boundary. From this model a slope mapwas generated, which showed the percent slopeo the terrain throughout Watauga County (Fig-ure 1). Percent slope is calculated using the ol-lowing conversion:
= 100 • tan(
is the ratio o slope height tohorizontal length. Percent slope is more com-monly used in slope regulations than degrees[2, 4]. This slope map was divided into our maincategories: low, moderate, steep, and very steepslopes. The low slope range included values rom0-25%, the moderate slope range included val-ues rom 25-75%, the steep slope range includedvalues rom 75-150%, and the very steep slopeincluded values between 150-325%. In general,the range o minimum slope or landslides to oc-cur is between 15-25%, so 25% was chosen asthe limit or the low slope category [2, 4, 11]. Ahillshade map was also derived rom the DEM toprovide a visual aid or the layout o the terrain,resulting in a map o terrain that resembles a LI-DAR (LIght Detection And Ranging) image.A dataset containing the recorded landslideso Watauga County through 2006 was down-loaded, which contained inormation includ-ing the location, date and nature o the past
16 Journal o Student Research in Environmental Science at Appalachian
landslides since 1940 [12]. Spatially detailed soildata or Watauga County was obtained rom theSoil Data Mart [8]. The Soil Survey o WataugaCounty, North Carolina, a document describingthe soil characteristics such as soil compositionand elevation range, was used to correlate themap unit symbol abbreviations with their actualmap unit symbols [8]. Data or buildings in andaround Boone were obtained through a GIS re-mote database on the Appalachian State Univer-sity Geography and Planning network. The historical landslide data was added tothe map le and was displayed over the slopemap. The raster values o the slopes on the mapwere joined to the landslide attribute table toprovide a method o classiying the landslides. These were then classied using a quantilemethod, placing approximately equal amountso landslides in each category. The soil map(SSURGO) [8] or Watauga County was overlaidwith the Watauga DEM le [13]. The soil mapwas then spatially joined to the landslides. Thesoil polygons that contained landslides were se-lected rom the new soil-landslide layer. Theseselected soil types were placed into a new layer.Each soil type was assigned a count o how manylandslides were present in its layer. This soil typelayer was converted rom vector to raster data inorder to allow or reclassication. Each soil typethen had its number o landslides converted intoa percentage, and was given a value rom low-est percentage to highest. Any soil types thathad the same percentage were assigned thesame value. For example, the lowest percent-age, 0.048%, was given a value o 1 so all thesoil types with this percentage value were as-signed a 1. These values were assigned to eachsoil type and the layer was reclassied to createa standard o comparison. There were 29 dier-ent classes or the reclassied soil layer. The slopemap was then reclassied evenly into 29 classesin order to match the number o classes or soiltype to ensure proper reclassication. The rangeo slopes was rom between 0% to 325%, withone o the classes being just 0% slope. The reclassied soil layer was added to thereclassied slope layer to produce a layer thatshowed which o the soil types was most suscep-tible to re-activating the ormer landslides. Thissame method was applied to the entire soil mapo Watauga County to produce a map o land-slide risk using:
Landslide risk = [Reclassifed soil layer] +
 [Reclassifed slope layer] 
 The output layer adds the values o both o these layers to create a nal ranking. The higherthe ranking, the more likely a landslide will oc-cur. The output layer was grouped into our cat-egories o landslide risk: low, moderate, high andvery high. These categories were divided evenlyso that they contained 14 ranks each. This newmap layer was overlaid on top o the hillshademap to give a good visual representation o thelandslide risk throughout Watauga County. There was not enough data available to pro-duce a actor o saety – the ratio o the resistingorce o the slope to the disturbing orce placedon it – or this scale o slope analysis. Many vari-ables can be taken into consideration, includingthe angle the slope can ail, the unit weight o the soil, and the cohesion o the soil. More so-phisticated calculations using a wider range o parameters would serve to more condentlydetermine slopes stability and landslide prob-ability [14]. Factors such as soil cohesion and unitweight were unavailable, so more precise mea-surements could not be made.
 Table 1 shows the slope range in both percent
Table 1.
The number o landslides ound ineach range o slopes rom historical landslidedata o Watauga County, North Carolina, in bothpercent and degrees.
Slope Range(percent)DegreesNumber oLandslides
0-18 0-10.2 718-30 10.2-16.7 230-50 16.7-26.6 2750-75 26.6-36.9 8275-95 36.9-43.5 8895-120 43.5-50.2 319120-155 50.2-57.2 755155-180 57.2-60.9 425180-205 60.9-64.0 238205-230 64.0-66.5 103230-255 66.5-68.6 28255-300 68.6-71.6 18>300 >71.6 2

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