Jun 1, 2016

Historic drought puts the brakes on earthflows in Northern California

Bennett, G. L., Roering, J. J., Mackey, B. H., Handwerger, A. L., Schmidt, D. A., Guillod, B. P.
Geophysical Research Letters
  • Assesses the California drought's impact on 98 deep-seated, slow-moving landslides in Northern California
  • Uses aerial photograph analysis, satellite interferometry, and satellite pixel tracking to measure earthflow velocities spanning 1944–2015 and compares these trends with the Palmer Drought Severity Index, a proxy for soil moisture and pore pressure that governs landslide motion
  • Finds that earthflow velocities reached a historical low in the 2012–2015 drought, but that their deceleration began at the turn of the century in response to a longer-term moisture deficit.
  • Analysis implies depth-dependent sensitivity of earthflows to climate forcing, with thicker earthflows reflecting longer-term climate trends and thinner earthflows exhibiting less systematic velocity variations
  • Findings have implications for mechanical-hydrologic interactions that link landslide movement with climate change as well as sediment delivery in the region