Articles | Volume 17, issue 9
Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 17, 3371–3387, 2013

Special issue: Hillslope hydrological modelling for landslides prediction

Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 17, 3371–3387, 2013

Research article 03 Sep 2013

Research article | 03 Sep 2013

Physically based modeling of rainfall-triggered landslides: a case study in the Luquillo forest, Puerto Rico

C. Lepore1, E. Arnone2,4, L. V. Noto2, G. Sivandran3, and R. L. Bras4 C. Lepore et al.
  • 1Parsons Laboratory for Environmental Science and Engineering, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA, USA
  • 2Dipartimento di Ingegneria Civile, Ambientale, Aerospaziale, dei Materiali, Università degli Studi di Palermo, Palermo, Italy
  • 3Ohio State University, Department of Civil, Environmental and Geodetic Engineering 483B Hitchcock Hall, 2070 Neil Avenue, Columbus, OH 43210, USA
  • 4Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, GA, USA

Abstract. This paper presents the development of a rainfall-triggered landslide module within an existing physically based spatially distributed ecohydrologic model. The model, tRIBS-VEGGIE (Triangulated Irregular Networks-based Real-time Integrated Basin Simulator and Vegetation Generator for Interactive Evolution), is capable of a sophisticated description of many hydrological processes; in particular, the soil moisture dynamics are resolved at a temporal and spatial resolution required to examine the triggering mechanisms of rainfall-induced landslides. The validity of the tRIBS-VEGGIE model to a tropical environment is shown with an evaluation of its performance against direct observations made within the study area of Luquillo Forest.

The newly developed landslide module builds upon the previous version of the tRIBS landslide component. This new module utilizes a numerical solution to the Richards' equation (present in tRIBS-VEGGIE but not in tRIBS), which better represents the time evolution of soil moisture transport through the soil column. Moreover, the new landslide module utilizes an extended formulation of the factor of safety (FS) to correctly quantify the role of matric suction in slope stability and to account for unsaturated conditions in the evaluation of FS.

The new modeling framework couples the capabilities of the detailed hydrologic model to describe soil moisture dynamics with the infinite slope model, creating a powerful tool for the assessment of rainfall-triggered landslide risk.