, Volume 9, Issue 2, pp 229–237 | Cite as

Assessment of rainfall thresholds and soil moisture modeling for operational hydrogeological risk prevention in the Umbria region (central Italy)

  • Francesco Ponziani
  • Claudia Pandolfo
  • Marco Stelluti
  • Nicola Berni
  • Luca Brocca
  • Tommaso Moramarco
Original Paper


Rainfall thresholds represent the main tool for the Italian Civil Protection System for early warning of the threat of landslides. However, it is well-known that soil moisture conditions at the onset of a storm event also play a critical role in triggering slope failures, especially in the case of shallow landslides. This study attempts to define soil moisture (estimated by using a soil water balance model) and rainfall thresholds that can be employed for hydrogeological risk prevention by the Civil Protection Decentrate Functional Centre (CFD) located in the Umbria Region (central Italy). Two different analyses were carried out by determining rainfall and soil moisture conditions prior to widespread landslide events that occurred in the Umbria Region and that are reported in the AVI (Italian Vulnerable Areas) inventory for the period 1991–2001. Specifically, a “local” analysis that considered the major landslide events of the AVI inventory and an “areal” analysis subdividing the Umbria Region in ten sub-areas were carried out. Comparison with rainfall thresholds used by the Umbria Region CFD was also carried out to evaluate the reliability of the current procedures employed for landslide warning. The main result of the analysis is the quantification of the decreasing linear trend between the maximum cumulated rainfall values over 24, 36 and 48 h and the soil moisture conditions prior to landslide events. This trend provides a guideline to dynamically adjust the operational rainfall thresholds used for warning. Moreover, the areal analysis, which was aimed to test the operational use of the combined soil moisture–rainfall thresholds showed, particularly for low values of rainfall, the key role of soil moisture conditions for the triggering of landslides. On the basis of these results, the Umbria Region CFD is implementing a procedure aimed to the near real-time estimation of soil moisture conditions based on the soil water balance model developed ad hoc for the region. In fact, it was evident that a better assessment of the initial soil moisture conditions would support and improve the hydrogeological risk assessment.


Hydrogeological risk Landslides Rainfall thresholds Soil moisture 



The authors are grateful to Umbria Region for providing most of the analyzed data. The authors would like to express special acknowledgment to two anonymous reviewers and to the Associate Editor for their valuable comments and remarks which helped to significantly improve the manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Francesco Ponziani
    • 1
  • Claudia Pandolfo
    • 1
  • Marco Stelluti
    • 1
  • Nicola Berni
    • 1
  • Luca Brocca
    • 2
  • Tommaso Moramarco
    • 2
  1. 1.Umbria Region Functional CentreVia Romana VecchiaFolignoItaly
  2. 2.Research Institute for Geo-Hydrological ProtectionNational Research Council of ItalyPerugiaItaly

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