, Volume 11, Issue 3, pp 385–397 | Cite as

Improving mass-wasting inventories by incorporating debris flow topographic signatures

  • N. J. Lyons
  • H. Mitasova
  • K. W. Wegmann
Original Paper


Debris flows are a prevalent and destructive mass-wasting type in many mountainous regions throughout the world, yet the recent identification of a debris flow topographic signature has not been incorporated into landslide inventories. We have detected this signature in a digital elevation model of the mountainous Oconaluftee River basin of the southern Appalachians, USA, where we have conducted mass-wasting inventories. We evaluate the applicability of this topographic signature in debris flow mapping efforts using inventories created by semiautomated classification of topographic derivative and vegetation index maps. Debris flow detection was increased by 12 % when the inventory was limited to the portion of the landscape that exhibits the debris flow topographic signature. The extent of drainages with this topographic signature, which have areas of 6 to 35 km2, is corroborated by analyses of channel form, knickpoint and bedrock distributions, and hypsometry. This mass-wasting inventory technique provides a more focused approach to statistically characterize the land surface, which resulted in increased inventory proficiency across a landscape with an extensive and relatively well-documented debris flow history.


Landslide Southern Appalachians Disaster management Supervised classification Landscape evolution Knickpoint 



The authors wish to thank the National Park Service staff of the Great Smoky Mountains for their assistance; especially Paul Super, Benjamin Zank, Kris Johnson, Matt Kulp, and Keith Langdon. Field assistance was provided by Jacqueline S. Gronwald. Regional insight and technical guidance was provided by Scott Southworth, Michael Starek, Sean Gallen, Richard Ketelle, and Bill Weatherspoon. Reviews by Mauri McSaveney, Birgit Terhorst, and two anonymous readers greatly improved the manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Marine, Earth, and Atmospheric SciencesNorth Carolina State UniversityRaleighUSA

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