, Volume 11, Issue 5, pp 877–887 | Cite as

Rainfall thresholds for debris flow initiation in the Wenchuan earthquake-stricken area, southwestern China

  • Wei ZhouEmail author
  • Chuan Tang
Original Paper


The Wenchuan earthquake-stricken area is frequently hit by heavy rainfall, which often triggers sediment-related disasters, such as shallow landslides, debris flows, and related natural events, sometimes causing tremendous damage to lives, property, infrastructure, and environment. The assessment of the rainfall thresholds for debris flow occurrence is very important in order to improve forecasting and for risk management. In the context of the Wenchuan earthquake-stricken area, however, the rainfall thresholds for triggering debris flows are not well understood. With the aim of defining the critical rainfall thresholds for this area, a detailed analysis of the main rainstorm events was carried out. This paper presents 11 rainfall events that induced debris flows which occurred between 2008 and 2012 after the Wenchuan earthquake. The rainfall thresholds were defined in terms of mean rainfall intensity I, rainfall duration D, and normalized using the mean annual precipitation (MAP). An ID threshold and a normalized I MAP D threshold graph could be set up for the Wenchuan earthquake-stricken area which forms the lower boundary of the domain with debris flow-triggering rainfall events. The rainfall threshold curves obtained for the study area were compared with the local, regional, and global curves proposed by various authors. The results suggest that debris flow initiation in the study area almost requires a higher amount of rainfall and greater intensity than elsewhere. The comparison of rainfall intensity prior to and after the earthquake clearly indicates that the critical rainfall intensity necessary to trigger debris flows decreased after the earthquake. Rainfall thresholds presented in this paper are generalized, so that they can be used in debris flow warning systems in areas with the same geology as the Wenchuan earthquake-stricken area.


Wenchuan earthquake Debris flow Critical rainfall ID threshold 



This work was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (no. 41202253), research fund of the State Key Laboratory of Geo-Hazard Prevention and Geo-Environment Protection (no. 2011Z020) and the Special Program for the Fundamental Research of Science and Technology of the Ministry of Science and Technology, China (no. 2011FY110100-3). We express our gratitude to Zhou Chunhua for the collection of rainfall data and Xia Tian for the figures. Dr. ThWJ van Asch (Utrecht University, The Netherlands) helped to improve the language of the paper. The authors thank the anonymous reviewers for their helpful suggestions to improve the paper.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.State Key Laboratory of Geo-Hazard Prevention and Geo-Environment ProtectionChengdu University of TechnologyChengduPeople’s Republic of China

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