Decades of quantitative measurement indicate that roots can mechanically reinforce shallow soils in forested landscapes. Forests, however, have variations in vegetation species and age which can dominate the local stability of landslide-initiation sites. To assess the influence of this variability on root cohesion we examined scarps of landslides triggered during large storms in February and November of 1996 in the Oregon Coast Range and hand-dug soil pits on stable ground. At 41 sites we estimated the cohesive reinforcement to soil due to roots by determining the tensile strength, species, depth, orientation, relative health, and the density of roots ???1 mm in diameter within a measured soil area. We found that median lateral root cohesion ranges from 6.8-23.2 kPa in industrial forests with significant understory and deciduous vegetation to 25.6-94.3 kPa in natural forests dominated by coniferous vegetation. Lateral root cohesion in clearcuts is uniformly ???10 kPa. Some 100-year-old industrial forests have species compositions, lateral root cohesion, and root diameters that more closely resemble 10-year-old clearcuts than natural forests. As such, the influence of root cohesion variability on landslide susceptibility cannot be determined solely from broad age classifications or extrapolated from the presence of one species of vegetation. Furthermore, the anthropogenic disturbance legacy modifies root cohesion for at least a century and should be considered when comparing contemporary landslide rates from industrial forests with geologic background rates.
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The variability of root cohesion as an influence on shallow landslide susceptibility in the Oregon Coast Range