Transient water and sediment storage of the decaying landslide dams induced by the 2008 Wenchuan earthquake, China

Fan X., van Westen C. J., Korup O., Gorum T., Xu Q., Dai F., ...More

GEOMORPHOLOGY, vol.171, pp.58-68, 2012 (SCI-Expanded) identifier identifier

  • Publication Type: Article / Article
  • Volume: 171
  • Publication Date: 2012
  • Doi Number: 10.1016/j.geomorph.2012.05.003
  • Journal Name: GEOMORPHOLOGY
  • Journal Indexes: Science Citation Index Expanded (SCI-EXPANDED), Scopus
  • Page Numbers: pp.58-68
  • Yıldız Technical University Affiliated: No


Earthquake-triggered landslide dams are potentially dangerous disrupters of water and sediment flux in mountain rivers, and capable of releasing catastrophic outburst flows to downstream areas. We analyze an inventory of 828 landslide dams in the Longmen Shan mountains, China, triggered by the M-w 7.9 2008 Wenchuan earthquake. This database is unique in that it is the largest of its kind attributable to a single regional-scale triggering event: 501 of the spatially clustered landslides fully blocked rivers, while the remainder only partially obstructed or diverted channels in steep watersheds of the hanging wall of the Yingxiu-Beichuan Fault Zone. The size distributions of the earthquake-triggered landslides, landslide dams, and associated lakes (a) can be modeled by an inverse gamma distribution; (b) show that moderate-size slope failures caused the majority of blockages; and (c) allow a detailed assessment of seismically induced river-blockage effects on regional water and sediment storage. Monte Carlo simulations based on volumetric scaling relationships for soil and bedrock failures respectively indicate that 14% (18%) of the estimated total coseismic landslide volume of 6.4 (14.6) x 10(9) m(3) was contained in landslide dams, representing only 1.4% of the >60,000 slope failures attributed to the earthquake. These dams have created storage capacity of similar to 0.6x 10(9) m(3) for incoming water and sediment. About 25% of the dams containing 2% of the total river-blocking debris volume failed one week after the earthquake; these figures had risen to 60% (similar to 20%), and >90% (>90%) within one month, and one:year, respectively, thus also emptying similar to 92% of the total potential water and sediment storage behind these, dams within one year following the earthquake. Currently only similar to 0.08 x 10(9) m(3) remain available as natural reservoirs for storing water and sediment, while similar to 0.19 x 10(9) m(3), i.e. about a third of the total river-blocking debris volume, has been eroded by rivers. Dam volume and upstream catchment area control to first order the longevity of the barriers, and bivariate domain plots are consistent with the observation that most earthquake-triggered landslide dams were ephemeral. We conclude that the river-blocking portion of coseismic slope failures disproportionately modulates the post-seismic sediment flux in the Longmen Shan on annual to decadal timescales. (C) 2012 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.