Articles | Volume 16, issue 11
Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 16, 3959–3971, 2012
Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 16, 3959–3971, 2012

Research article 02 Nov 2012

Research article | 02 Nov 2012

Modelling shallow landslide susceptibility by means of a subsurface flow path connectivity index and estimates of soil depth spatial distribution

C. Lanni1, M. Borga2, R. Rigon1, and P. Tarolli2 C. Lanni et al.
  • 1Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of Trento, Trento, Italy
  • 2Dipartimento Territorio e Sistemi Agro-Forestali, Università di Padova, Padova, Italy

Abstract. Topographic index-based hydrological models have gained wide use to describe the hydrological control on the triggering of rainfall-induced shallow landslides at the catchment scale. A common assumption in these models is that a spatially continuous water table occurs simultaneously across the catchment. However, during a rainfall event isolated patches of subsurface saturation form above an impeding layer and their hydrological connectivity is a necessary condition for lateral flow initiation at a point on the hillslope.

Here, a new hydrological model is presented, which allows us to account for the concept of hydrological connectivity while keeping the simplicity of the topographic index approach. A dynamic topographic index is used to describe the transient lateral flow that is established at a hillslope element when the rainfall amount exceeds a threshold value allowing for (a) development of a perched water table above an impeding layer, and (b) hydrological connectivity between the hillslope element and its own upslope contributing area. A spatially variable soil depth is the main control of hydrological connectivity in the model. The hydrological model is coupled with the infinite slope stability model and with a scaling model for the rainfall frequency–duration relationship to determine the return period of the critical rainfall needed to cause instability on three catchments located in the Italian Alps, where a survey of soil depth spatial distribution is available. The model is compared with a quasi-dynamic model in which the dynamic nature of the hydrological connectivity is neglected. The results show a better performance of the new model in predicting observed shallow landslides, implying that soil depth spatial variability and connectivity bear a significant control on shallow landsliding.