Variability in soil-water retention properties and implications for physics-based simulation of landslide early warning criteria

Landslides
By: , and 

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Abstract

Rainfall-induced shallow landsliding is a persistent hazard to human life and property. Despite the observed connection between infiltration through the unsaturated zone and shallow landslide initiation, there is considerable uncertainty in how estimates of unsaturated soil-water retention properties affect slope stability assessment. This source of uncertainty is critical to evaluating the utility of physics-based hydrologic modeling as a tool for landslide early warning. We employ a numerical model of variably saturated groundwater flow parameterized with an ensemble of texture-, laboratory-, and field-based estimates of soil-water retention properties for an extensively monitored landslide-prone site in the San Francisco Bay Area, CA, USA. Simulations of soil-water content, pore-water pressure, and the resultant factor of safety show considerable variability across and within these different parameter estimation techniques. In particular, we demonstrate that with the same permeability structure imposed across all simulations, the variability in soil-water retention properties strongly influences predictions of positive pore-water pressure coincident with widespread shallow landsliding. We also find that the ensemble of soil-water retention properties imposes an order-of-magnitude and nearly two-fold variability in seasonal and event-scale landslide susceptibility, respectively. Despite the reduced factor of safety uncertainty during wet conditions, parameters that control the dry end of the soil-water retention function markedly impact the ability of a hydrologic model to capture soil-water content dynamics observed in the field. These results suggest that variability in soil-water retention properties should be considered for objective physics-based simulation of landslide early warning criteria.

Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Variability in soil-water retention properties and implications for physics-based simulation of landslide early warning criteria
Series title Landslides
DOI 10.1007/s10346-018-0950-z
Volume 15
Issue 7
Year Published 2018
Language English
Publisher Springer
Contributing office(s) Geologic Hazards Science Center
Description 13 p.
First page 1265
Last page 1277