Environmental Earth Sciences

, Volume 66, Issue 6, pp 1697–1705 | Cite as

Assessment of shallow landslides from Hurricane Mitch in central America using a physically based model

  • Zonghu Liao
  • Yang Hong
  • Dalia Kirschbaum
  • Chun Liu
Special Issue


Shallow landslides induced by heavy rainfall events represent one of the most disastrous hazards in mountainous regions because of their high frequency and rapid mobility. Recent advancements in the availability and accessibility of remote sensing data, including topography, land cover and precipitation products, allow landslide hazard assessment to be considered at larger spatial scales. A theoretical framework for a landslide forecasting system was prototyped in this study using several remotely sensed and surface parameters. The applied physical model SLope-Infiltration-Distributed Equilibrium (SLIDE) takes into account some simplified hypotheses on water infiltration and defines a direct relation between factor of safety and the rainfall depth on an infinite slope. This prototype model is applied to a case study in Honduras during Hurricane Mitch in 1998. Two study areas were selected where a high density of shallow landslides occurred, covering approximately 1,200 km2. The results were quantitatively evaluated using landslide inventory data compiled by the United States Geological Survey (USGS) following Hurricane Mitch’s landfall. The agreement between the SLIDE modeling results and landslide observations demonstrates good predictive skill and suggests that this framework could serve as a potential tool for the future early landslide warning systems. Results show that within the two study areas, the values of rates of successful estimation of slope failure locations reached as high as 78 and 75%, while the error indices were 35 and 49%. Despite positive model performance, the SLIDE model is limited by several assumptions including using general parameter calibration rather than in situ tests and neglecting geologic information. Advantages and limitations of this physically based model are discussed with respect to future applications of landslide assessment and prediction over large scales.


Landslide Hurricane Mitch Hazard prediction Remote sensing 



The computing for this project was performed at the OU Supercomputing Center for Education & Research (OSCER) at the University of Oklahoma (OU). This research was supported by an appointment to the NASA Postdoctoral Program at the Goddard Space Flight Center, administered by Oak Ridge Associated Universities through a contract with NASA. The authors would also like to extend the appreciations to USGS scientists make the landslide inventory data available for research community.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Zonghu Liao
    • 1
    • 2
  • Yang Hong
    • 1
    • 2
  • Dalia Kirschbaum
    • 3
  • Chun Liu
    • 4
  1. 1.School of Civil Engineering and Environmental SciencesUniversity of OklahomaNormanUSA
  2. 2.Atmospheric Radar Research Center, National Weather CenterUniversity of OklahomaNormanUSA
  3. 3.Goddard Space Flight CenterNASAGreenbeltUSA
  4. 4.Department of Surveying and Geo-InformaticsTongji UniversityShanghaiChina

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