, Volume 9, Issue 1, pp 131–142 | Cite as

The characteristics and failure mechanism of the largest landslide triggered by the Wenchuan earthquake, May 12, 2008, China

  • Runqiu Huang
  • Xiangjun Pei
  • Xuanmei Fan
  • Weifeng Zhang
  • Shigui Li
  • Biliang Li
Recent Landslides


Strong earthquakes are among the prime triggering factors of landslides. The 2008 Wenchuan earthquake (M w = 7.9) triggered tens of thousands of landslides. Among them, the Daguangbao landslide is the largest one, which covered an area of 7.8 km2 with a maximum width of 2.2 km and an estimated volume of 7.5 × 108 m3. The landslide is located on the hanging wall of the seismogenic fault, the Yingxiu–Beichuan fault in Anxian town, Sichuan Province. The sliding mass travelled about 4.5 km and blocked the Huangdongzi valley, forming a landslide dam nearly 600 m high. Compared to other coseismic landslides in the study area, the Daguangbao landslide attained phenomenal kinetic energy, intense cracking, and deformation, exposing a 1-km long head scarp in the rear of the landslide. Based on the field investigation, we conclude that the occurrence of the landslide is controlled mainly by the seismic, terrain, and geological factors. The special location of the landslide and the possible topographic amplification of ground motions due to the terrain features governed the landslide failure. The effects of earthquakes on the stability of slopes were considered in two aspects: First, the ground shaking may reduce the frictional strength of the substrate by shattering of rock mass. Second, the seismic acceleration may result in short-lived and episodic changes of the normal (tensile) and shear stresses in the hillshopes during earthquakes. According to the failure mechanism, the dynamic process of the landslide might contain four stages: (a) the cracking of rock mass in the rear of the slope mainly due to the tensile stress generated by the ground shaking; (b) the shattering of the substrate due to the ground shaking, which reduced the frictional strength of the substrate; (c) the shearing failure of the toe of the landslide due to the large shear stress caused by the landslide gravity; and (d) the deposition stage.


Wenchuan earthquake Daguangbao landslide Geomorphologic feature Failure mechanism Dynamic process 



This research was financially supported by the National Basic Research Program “973” Project of the Ministry of Science and Technology of the People’s Republic of China (2008CB425801). The authors acknowledge Prof. Niek Rengers for his suggestions. We thank the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) for providing the data for this research.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Runqiu Huang
    • 1
  • Xiangjun Pei
    • 1
  • Xuanmei Fan
    • 1
    • 2
  • Weifeng Zhang
    • 1
  • Shigui Li
    • 1
  • Biliang Li
    • 1
  1. 1.The State Key Laboratory of Geohazards Prevention and Geoenvironment ProtectionChengdu University of TechnologyChengduChina
  2. 2.International Institute for Geo-Information Science and Earth Observation (ITC)EnschedeThe Netherlands

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