Landslides are a widespread, frequent, and costly hazard in Seattle and the Puget Sound area of Washington State, USA. Shallow earth slides triggered by heavy rainfall are the most common type of landslide in the area; many transform into debris flows and cause significant property damage or disrupt transportation. Large rotational and translational slides, though less common, also cause serious property damage. The hundreds of landslides that occurred during the winters of 1995-96 and 1996-97 stimulated renewed interest by Puget Sound communities in identifying landslide-prone areas and taking actions to reduce future landslide losses. Informal partnerships between the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), the City of Seattle, and private consultants are focusing on the problem of identifying and mapping areas of landslide hazard as well as characterizing temporal aspects of the hazard. We have developed GIS-based methods to map the probability of landslide occurrence as well as empirical rainfall thresholds and physically based methods to forecast times of landslide occurrence. Our methods for mapping landslide hazard zones began with field studies and physically based models to assess relative slope stability, including the effects of material properties, seasonal groundwater levels, and rainfall infiltration. We have analyzed the correlation between historic landslide occurrence and relative slope stability to map the degree of landslide hazard. The City of Seattle is using results of the USGS studies in storm preparedness planning for emergency access and response, planning for development or redevelopment of hillsides, and municipal facility planning and prioritization. Methods we have developed could be applied elsewhere to suit local needs and available data.
Additional publication details
Regional landslide-hazard assessment for Seattle, Washington, USA