, Volume 15, Issue 1, pp 145–159 | Cite as

Location-based environmental factors contributing to rainfall-triggered debris flows in the Ba river catchment, northwest Viti Levu island, Fiji

  • M. StephensEmail author
  • J. H. Lowry
  • A. R. Ram
Recent Landslides


Mass movements in tropical Pacific small island developing states (SIDS) can be devastating although studies are relatively few and contributing environmental factors are not often investigated in detail. On 25 January 2012, following 3 days of heavy monsoonal rainfall (c. 550 mm) during a La Niña episode, more than 150 debris flows were triggered in the western part of the Ba river catchment of northwest Viti Levu island, Fiji. Reconnaissance field survey and geographical information system (GIS) analyses using high-resolution satellite imagery were carried out to investigate factors that may have led to the occurrence of the debris flows in the catchment. We evaluated the correlation between the density of mass movements (number of mass movements/km2) and several continuous variables using data measured within the GIS. There was a weak but significant positive correlation between mass movement density and elevation (r = 0.38, p value < 0.01), cyclonic precipitation (r = 0.37, p value < 0.01) and stream density (r = 0.31, p value < 0.01). Ninety-three percent of the mass movements occur within a plantation of Pinus caribaea (Caribbean pine) on slopes oriented mainly to the northeast and east on (trade) windward slopes and may be significant factors for their development. Although forests generally have a stabilizing effect on slopes, the plantation at Ba was a mature stand on its second plantation cycle and is a species that has a shallow rooting system making it more susceptible to failure.


Rainfall-triggered mass movements Debris flow GIS Environmental factors Small island developing states Fiji 



The authors are very thankful for a research grant from the Faculty of Science, Technology & Environment at the University of the South Pacific (USP), awarded to MS to conduct fieldwork in the Ba river catchment. The Fiji Meterological Service (FMS) is thanked for kindly providing rainfall data for Lautoka Mill. Gratitude is shown to Mr. Eroni Kata (district officer) for assisting with the fieldwork. Mr. Waisea Tuinuku and Mr. Jokatama Rarasea are also thanked for their invaluable assistance as guides in the field. Mrs. Mereoni Senivesi, Mrs. Luisa Rarasea, and Mrs. Erenesau Kubu are thanked for their hospitality during fieldwork. Mr. Kalivati Qolicokota (field assistant, USP) is also thanked for his very useful assistance in the field. MS would like to acknowledge Mr. Ezekiel Tabua for his correspondence regarding the Caribbean pine plantation at Ba. The authors would like to thank Mr. Tevita Naisau (postgraduate student, USP), for digitizing several of the GIS datasets used in this study. ARR acknowledges the New Zealand goverment’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade for awarding the Pacific PhD scholarship through the NZ Aid program to undertake doctoral studies at The University of Auckland. Prof. James Terry through the Asia Oceania Geoscience Society (AOGS) is thanked for recommending a fee waiver (to MS whilst at USP) for presentation of this work at the 2013 Brisbane meeting and Dr. Russell Howorth is thanked for discussions in the early stages of the research.


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© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Environmental Science, Faculty of ScienceUniversity of BotswanaGaboroneBotswana
  2. 2.School of Geography, Earth Science and Environment, Faculty of Science, Technology and EnvironmentThe University of the South PacificSuvaFiji
  3. 3.School of People, Environment and Planning, College of Humanities and Social SciencesMassey UniversityPalmerston NorthNew Zealand
  4. 4.School of Environment, Faculty of ScienceThe University of AucklandAucklandNew Zealand

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