, Volume 14, Issue 3, pp 805–819 | Cite as

On the initiation and movement mechanisms of a catastrophic landslide triggered by the 2008 Wenchuan (Ms 8.0) earthquake in the epicenter area

  • Shenghua CuiEmail author
  • Gonghui Wang
  • Xiangjun Pei
  • Runqiu Huang
  • Toshitaka Kamai
Original Paper


The Niumiangou landslide (~7.5 × 106 m3) was the largest that occurred in the town of Yingxiu (the epicentral area) during the 2008 Wenchuan earthquake. This landslide originated on a steep slope (~30°) that was located directly above the rupture surface of the responsible fault and then traveled ~2 km after flowing down the axes of two gently sloping (<12°) valleys. Evidence at the site indicates that the landslide materials were highly fluidized and underwent rapid movement. To examine the initiation and movement mechanisms of this landslide, we performed a detailed field survey, conducted laboratory tests on samples taken from the field, and analyzed the seismic motion. We conclude that the landside materials were displaced due to seismic loading during the earthquake and that liquefaction may have been triggered in saturated layers above the sliding surface with progressive downslope sliding, which resulted in the high mobility of the displaced materials. The liquefaction of colluvial deposits along the travel path due to loading by the sliding mass enhanced the mobility of the displaced mass originating in the source area. Using an energy-based approach, we estimated the dissipated energy in our cyclic loading test and the possible energy dissipated to the soil layer on the slope by the earthquake. We infer that the seismic energy available for the initiation of the slope failure in the source area may have greatly exceeded the amount required for the initiation of the liquefaction failure. The slope instability might have been triggered several seconds after the arrival of seismic motion.


Wenchuan earthquake Large landslide Liquefaction Mobility Epicenter area 



This study was partially supported by the National Science Foundation of China (No. 41572302) and the Funds for Creative Research Groups of China (No.41521002). The first author was financially supported by the State Key Laboratory of Geohazard Prevention and Geoenvironment Protection (SKLGP), Chengdu University of Technology, for his studying in Kyoto University.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Shenghua Cui
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Gonghui Wang
    • 2
  • Xiangjun Pei
    • 1
  • Runqiu Huang
    • 1
  • Toshitaka Kamai
    • 2
  1. 1.State Key Laboratory of Geohazard Prevention and Geoenvironment ProtectionChengdu University of TechnologyChengduChina
  2. 2.Disaster Prevention Research InstituteKyoto UniversityUjiJapan

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