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article imageNew technique for detecting landslides

By Tim Sandle     Mar 25, 2013 in Environment
Researchers have developed a way to remotely detect the events using energy unleashed by landslides. This is similar, in principle, to the way that geologists identify earthquakes using waves of energy.
A landslide occurs when erosion and other factors weaken a steep cliff. Once friction can no longer hold rocks in place, a mass of debris will fall down a slope, sometimes for many kilometers before stopping. Landslides can occur in offshore, coastal and onshore environments.
The physics of landslides are remarkably complex and the events are generally difficult to predict. A new method, however, appears to be successful in predicting when landslides are about to occur and the method can be run using a computer.
According to the American Geophysics Union, the new technique provides a three-dimensional look at a landslide’s trajectory down a slope. The technique is based on the physical observation that, like an earthquake, a landslide creates seismic waves that travel through Earth’s crust. These waves have a distinct pattern and can be identified.
Using the computer model, scientists can calculate the landslide’s magnitude, its location to within 100 kilometers and the direction the landslide traveled. The technique at the moment can only detect giant landslides that dislodge millions of metric tons of debris and unleash at least as much energy as a magnitude 4.5 earthquake. The scientists hope to improve the sensitivity of the method. Furthermore, the seismic detection and analysis of landslides could improve scientist's understanding of how the rock falls work and perhaps provide warning to people living nearby.
Göran Ekström, lead study author, is quoted by Live Science as saying: “The landslides turned out to be not only an interesting curiosity, but we are also discovering things about landslides which were not really observed before.”
The new method was developed by scientists based at Canada’s University of Waterloo and it has been outlined in the journal Science.
More about Landslide, Landslides, Earthquake, Seismology, Physics
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