Articles | Volume 18, issue 12
Research article
08 Dec 2014
Research article |  | 08 Dec 2014

Derivation and evaluation of landslide-triggering thresholds by a Monte Carlo approach

D. J. Peres and A. Cancelliere

Abstract. Assessment of landslide-triggering rainfall thresholds is useful for early warning in prone areas.

In this paper, it is shown how stochastic rainfall models and hydrological and slope stability physically based models can be advantageously combined in a Monte Carlo simulation framework to generate virtually unlimited-length synthetic rainfall and related slope stability factor of safety data, exploiting the information contained in observed rainfall records and field-measurements of soil hydraulic and geotechnical parameters. The synthetic data set, dichotomized in triggering and non-triggering rainfall events, is analyzed by receiver operating characteristics (ROC) analysis to derive stochastic-input physically based thresholds that optimize the trade-off between correct and wrong predictions. Moreover, the specific modeling framework implemented in this work, based on hourly analysis, enables one to analyze the uncertainty related to variability of rainfall intensity within events and to past rainfall (antecedent rainfall). A specific focus is dedicated to the widely used power-law rainfall intensity–duration (ID) thresholds.

Results indicate that variability of intensity during rainfall events influences significantly rainfall intensity and duration associated with landslide triggering. Remarkably, when a time-variable rainfall-rate event is considered, the simulated triggering points may be separated with a very good approximation from the non-triggering ones by a ID power-law equation, while a representation of rainfall as constant–intensity hyetographs globally leads to non-conservative results. This indicates that the ID power-law equation is adequate to represent the triggering part due to transient infiltration produced by rainfall events of variable intensity and thus gives a physically based justification for this widely used threshold form, which provides results that are valid when landslide occurrence is mostly due to that part. These conditions are more likely to occur in hillslopes of low specific upslope contributing area, relatively high hydraulic conductivity and high critical wetness ratio. Otherwise, rainfall time history occurring before single rainfall events influences landslide triggering, determining whether a threshold based only on rainfall intensity and duration may be sufficient or it needs to be improved by the introduction of antecedent rainfall variables. Further analyses show that predictability of landslides decreases with soil depth, critical wetness ratio and the increase of vertical basal drainage (leakage) that occurs in the presence of a fractured bedrock.

Short summary
A Monte Carlo approach, combining rainfall-stochastic models and hydrological and slope stability physically based models, is used to derive rainfall thresholds of landslide triggering. The uncertainty in threshold assessment related to variability of rainfall intensity within events and to past rainfall (antecedent rainfall) is analyzed and measured via ROC-based indexes, with a specific focus dedicated to the widely used power-law rainfall intensity-duration (I-D) thresholds.