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Earthquakes and heavy rains lead to a significant increase in landslides in Nepal




A landslide occurred during the 2019 monsoon season near Chakhu village in Nepal. Credit: Josh Jones, University of Plymouth

A new study has revealed that earthquakes and heavy rains can lead to a six-fold increase in the rates of rainfall-triggered landslides that occur during Nepal’s monsoon season.

The Himalayan country experiences severe landslides every year as a result of the annual monsoon season that occurs between June and August.

However, this new study, published in Nature Communications, explores how intense rain and earthquakes can induce rates of landslides higher than those seen during the Himalayan monsoon season.

By analyzing satellite images and rainfall data, the researchers were able to identify a clear pattern between the strength of the monsoon season and the amount of landslides over a 30-year period between 1988 and 2018.

This revealed that severe “cloud blast” storms in 1993 and 2002 led to nearly four times the number of landslides than would be expected in the average monsoon season.

Similarly, damage to the landscape from the Gorka earthquake in April 2015 was shown to have caused about six times as many landslides as rain during the 2015 monsoon season as expected. This damage to the landscape also increased the projected numbers of landslides in the 2016 monsoon season, with conditions returning to closer to average by 2017.

The study also showed that the most severe landscape damage caused by the 2015 earthquake occurred not directly at the epicenter, but at nearby locations where intense ground accelerations occurred through particularly steep mountain slopes.

The study was conducted by researchers from the University of East Anglia, University of Plymouth, University of Exeter and international engineering consultancy AECOM.

A building in the border town of Kodari between Nepal and China was badly damaged by rockslides that occurred during the 2015 Gurkha earthquake. Credit: Josh Jones, University of Plymouth

Ph.D. Candidate Josh Jones, lead author of the study, conducted the work while in Plymouth and East Anglia. He said, “Unfortunately, people in Nepal are frequently affected by landslides during the monsoon season, with widespread damage to homes and infrastructure every year. This study demonstrates to what extent landslide risks can be increased by heavy rainfall and earthquakes, and for how long can Feel these effects. We hope that this information will be an important tool in helping local communities plan for future landslide risk, particularly in the aftermath of major earthquakes.”

Dr Sarah Bolton, Associate Professor of Active Kinesiology and Neotectonics at the University of Plymouth added: “Once unusual rain and flood events become more frequent globally as a result of our changing climates, climate models indicate that Nepal is likely to experience increased storms and the potential for higher levels of precipitation. Annual rainfall in the future. Our study shows that in the past 30 years, there have been two occasions when annual precipitation can be categorized as extreme. Similar events could become more frequent in the coming years and lead to more devastating effects on local populations.”

Dr. Michael Whitworth, Associate Director at AECOM, said: “This project demonstrates the benefits of collaborative work between industry and academia. The results of this research can help reduce disaster risk in high-risk areas, leading to better planning and mitigating landslide risks. Due to Large infrequent events such as earthquakes.”

For the research, Josh, a postdoctoral researcher at Exeter, spent more than eight months analyzing 30 years of satellite imagery to build a long-term picture of where the landslides occur, and the detailed effects they have on the landscapes of central and eastern Nepal.

This was then plotted against monsoon, heavy rain and earthquake data to provide a comprehensive view of the main factors contributing to the increased incidence of landslides.

The result is an unprecedented inventory of landslides in Nepal, a record of just under 13,000 landslides over a geographical area spanning more than 42,000 square kilometers of the Himalayas.

It also illustrates the geographic characteristics of areas most prone to landslides in the future, and how this risk can be affected by both extreme weather and large earthquakes.

Extreme weather and earthquakes need more attention when examining landslides in Nepal More information: 30-year record of mass wasting in the Himalayas reveals landscape disturbances due to extreme events, Nature Communications (2021). DOI: 10.1038 / s41467-021-26964-8 Provided by University of Plymouth

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