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Landslides of the 1920 Haiyuan earthquake, northern China

Abstract

The great M ~ 8 1920 Haiyuan earthquake (HYEQ) was one of the largest and most deadly earthquakes in China in the last century, with ~ 234,000 deaths. The earthquake occurred within the Loess Plateau of northern China, where Quaternary loess deposits form a distinctive blanket across the landscape. Large regions of this loess cover experienced co-seismic landslides. Based on an analysis of the original disaster reports, field surveys, and satellite image interpretation, we have compiled the shaking effects of the earthquake, including the distribution of landslides, fatalities, and structural damage. Landslides triggered by the HYEQ (n > 7,000) are concentrated south of the Haiyuan fault, in a region that has both thick loess cover and long-term relief generated by the drainage network. This distribution is spatially separated from landslides triggered by other earthquakes. We find that in contrast to previous studies, the most important factor in the severe death toll of the HYEQ was the collapse of housing by ground shaking, including collapse of loess house-caves. Landslides were a secondary factor; although up to 32,000 deaths occurred in areas with intense landsliding. Based on the revised distribution pattern of landslides and damage (e.g., house collapses), we suggest that the isoseismal intensity IX line extends south of previous locations. We have also identified 126 dammed lakes created by co-seismic landslides, which form major modifications of this semi-arid landscape. The research methods in this paper, combining historical review, satellite image interpretation, and field validation of landslides, can be used as a reference for studies of other areas affected by historical earthquakes and co-seismic landslides, elsewhere in the Loess Plateau and beyond.

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Acknowledgments

We thank two reviewers for their constructive comments.

Funding

Funding for this research was provided by the Fundamental Scientific Research Fund in the IEF, CEA grant 2019IEF0201, 2017IES010101, 2017IES010102, National Natural Science Foundation of China grant 41502204, U1839203, Seismic Active Fault Exploration Project based on High-resolution Remote Sensing Interpretation Technology by Department of Earthquake Damage Defense, CEA grant 15230003. Yueren Xu was sponsored as Academic Visiting Scholar to University of Durham by the China Scholarship Council grant 201604190021.

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Correspondence to Yueren Xu.

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Xu, Y., Liu-Zeng, J., Allen, M.B. et al. Landslides of the 1920 Haiyuan earthquake, northern China. Landslides 18, 935–953 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10346-020-01512-5

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Keywords

  • 1920 Haiyuan Earthquake
  • Landslide
  • Historical damage report
  • Loess Plateau