Document Details

A shift from drought to extreme rainfall drives a stable landslide to catastrophic failure

Mong-Han Huang, Alexander L. Handwerger, Eric Jameson Fielding, Roland Bürgmann, Adam M. Booth | February 7th, 2019

The addition of water on or below the earth’s surface generates changes in stress that can trigger both stable and unstable sliding of landslides and faults. While these sliding behaviours are well-described by commonly used mechanical models developed from laboratory testing (e.g., critical-state soilmechanics and rate-and-state friction), less is known about the field-scale environmental conditions orkinematic behaviours that occur during the transition from stable to unstable sliding. Here we use radarinterferometry (InSAR) and a simple 1D hydrological model to characterize 8 years of stable sliding of the Mud Creek landslide, California, UsA, prior to its rapid acceleration and catastrophic failure on May 20, 2017. Our results suggest a large increase in pore-fluid pressure occurred during a shift from historic drought to record rainfall that triggered a large increase in velocity and drove slip localization, overcoming the stabilizing mechanisms that had previously inhibited landslide acceleration. Given thepredicted increase in precipitation extremes with a warming climate, we expect it to become more common for landslides to transition from stable to unstable motion, and therefore a better assessmentof this destabilization process is required to prevent loss of life and infrastructure.


atmospheric rivers, debris flow