Surveys in Geophysics

, Volume 23, Issue 6, pp 473–510

Investigating Landslides Caused by Earthquakes – A Historical Review

  • David K. Keefer

DOI: 10.1023/A:1021274710840

Cite this article as:
Keefer, D.K. Surveys in Geophysics (2002) 23: 473. doi:10.1023/A:1021274710840


Post-earthquake field investigations of landslide occurrence have provided a basis for understanding, evaluating, and mapping the hazard and risk associated withearthquake-induced landslides. This paper traces thehistorical development of knowledge derived from these investigations. Before 1783, historical accounts of the occurrence of landslides in earthquakes are typically so incomplete and vague that conclusions based on these accounts are of limited usefulness. For example, the number of landslides triggered by a given event is almost always greatly underestimated. The first formal, scientific post-earthquake investigation that included systematic documentation of the landslides was undertaken in the Calabria region of Italy after the 1783 earthquake swarm. From then until the mid-twentieth century, the best information on earthquake-induced landslides came from a succession ofpost-earthquake investigations largely carried out by formal commissions that undertook extensive ground-based field studies. Beginning in the mid-twentieth century, when the use of aerial photography became widespread, comprehensive inventories of landslide occurrence have been made for several earthquakes in the United States, Peru, Guatemala, Italy, El Salvador, Japan, and Taiwan. Techniques have also been developed for performing ``retrospective'' analyses years or decades after an earthquake that attempt to reconstruct the distribution of landslides triggered by the event. The additional use of Geographic Information System (GIS) processing and digital mapping since about 1989 has greatly facilitated the level of analysis that can applied to mapped distributions of landslides. Beginning in 1984, syntheses of worldwide and national data on earthquake-induced landslides have defined their general characteristics and relations between their occurrence and various geologic and seismic parameters. However, the number of comprehensive post-earthquake studies of landslides is still relatively small, and one of the most pressing needs in this area of research is for the complete documentation of landslides triggered by many more earthquakes in a wider variety of environments.

Debris flowsearthquakesground failurehistorical landslideslandslideslandslide inventorieslateral spreadsliquefactionreviewrock fallsseismic slope stabilityslope failure

Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 2002

Authors and Affiliations

  • David K. Keefer
    • 1
  1. 1.U.S. Geological SurveyMenlo ParkUSA