Size distributions and failure initiation of submarine and subaerial landslides

Earth and Planetary Science Letters

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DOI: 10.1016/j.epsl.2009.07.031



Landslides are often viewed together with other natural hazards, such as earthquakes and fires, as phenomena whose size distribution obeys an inverse power law. Inverse power law distributions are the result of additive avalanche processes, in which the final size cannot be predicted at the onset of the disturbance. Volume and area distributions of submarine landslides along the U.S. Atlantic continental slope follow a lognormal distribution and not an inverse power law. Using Monte Carlo simulations, we generated area distributions of submarine landslides that show a characteristic size and with few smaller and larger areas, which can be described well by a lognormal distribution. To generate these distributions we assumed that the area of slope failure depends on earthquake magnitude, i.e., that failure occurs simultaneously over the area affected by horizontal ground shaking, and does not cascade from nucleating points. Furthermore, the downslope movement of displaced sediments does not entrain significant amounts of additional material. Our simulations fit well the area distribution of landslide sources along the Atlantic continental margin, if we assume that the slope has been subjected to earthquakes of magnitude ??? 6.3. Regions of submarine landslides, whose area distributions obey inverse power laws, may be controlled by different generation mechanisms, such as the gradual development of fractures in the headwalls of cliffs. The observation of a large number of small subaerial landslides being triggered by a single earthquake is also compatible with the hypothesis that failure occurs simultaneously in many locations within the area affected by ground shaking. Unlike submarine landslides, which are found on large uniformly-dipping slopes, a single large landslide scarp cannot form on land because of the heterogeneous morphology and short slope distances of tectonically-active subaerial regions. However, for a given earthquake magnitude, the total area affected by subaerial landslides is comparable to that calculated by slope stability analysis for submarine landslides. The area distribution of subaerial landslides from a single event may be determined by the size distribution of the morphology of the affected area, not by the initiation process. ?? 2009 Elsevier B.V.

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Size distributions and failure initiation of submarine and subaerial landslides
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Earth and Planetary Science Letters
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