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Landslide erosion controlled by hillslope material


Steep hillslopes in mountain belts are eroded by landslides, and landsliding is ultimately driven by the topographic relief produced by fluvial and glacial erosion1,2,3,4,5. Landslide erosion rates are derived from estimates of landslide volume and can help to appraise landscape responses to tectonic, climatic and anthropogenic forcing. However, the scaling relationships—power-law equations that are used to estimate the volume of the landslide from the area of the failure—are derived from a limited number of measurements, and do not discriminate between bedrock and soil landslides. Here we use a compilation of landslide geometry measurements from 4,231 individual landslides to assess the relative volume–area scaling of bedrock and soil landslides. We find that shallow, soil-based landslides can be approximated by an exponent of γ = 1.1–1.3. In contrast, landslides that involve the failure of bedrock have a deeper scar area, and hence larger volume, and are characterized by γ = 1.3–1.6. On the basis of observations that soil residence times in uplifting mountains can be as low as a few centuries6, we suggest that both deep bedrock and frequent, shallow soil landslides can erode steep hillslopes at rates commensurate with even rapid tectonic uplift.

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Figure 1: Effect of the volume–area scaling exponent γ on predicted total landslide volume (VT).
Figure 2: Landslide geometry scaling.
Figure 3: Box plots of landslide scar depth and deposit thickness as a function of landslide area for soil and bedrock landslides.
Figure 4: Scaling exponents (γ) from the landslide data sets used in this study, previous empirical studies and previous models.
Figure 5: Soil and landslide depths.


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We thank M. Allen, P. Flentje, J. Griffiths, R. Guthrie, F. Imaizumi, J. Iwahashi, H. Kelsey, A. Knappen, M. A. Madej, Y. Martin, C. May, L. Owen, C. Pain, L. Reid, A. Strom, J. Poesen, R. Sidle, M. Van Den Eeckhaut and H. Yamagishi for generously sharing landslide data and A. Heimsath for a stimulating discussion. I.J.L. thanks Sigma Xi and the Washington NASA Space Grant Consortium for support.

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All authors contributed to data compilation, analysis and writing. I.J.L. primarily conducted the data compilation and analysis.

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Correspondence to Isaac J. Larsen or Oliver Korup.

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Larsen, I., Montgomery, D. & Korup, O. Landslide erosion controlled by hillslope material. Nature Geosci 3, 247–251 (2010).

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