Articles | Volume 7, issue 6
26 Nov 2007
26 Nov 2007

GIS-based debris flow source and runout susceptibility assessment from DEM data – a case study in NW Nicaragua

M. Guinau, I. Vilajosana, and J. M. Vilaplana

Abstract. In October 1998, Hurricane Mitch triggered numerous landslides (mainly debris flows) in Honduras and Nicaragua, resulting in a high death toll and in considerable damage to property. The potential application of relatively simple and affordable spatial prediction models for landslide hazard mapping in developing countries was studied. Our attention was focused on a region in NW Nicaragua, one of the most severely hit places during the Mitch event.

A landslide map was obtained at 1:10 000 scale in a Geographic Information System (GIS) environment from the interpretation of aerial photographs and detailed field work. In this map the terrain failure zones were distinguished from the areas within the reach of the mobilized materials. A Digital Elevation Model (DEM) with 20 m×20 m of pixel size was also employed in the study area.

A comparative analysis of the terrain failures caused by Hurricane Mitch and a selection of 4 terrain factors extracted from the DEM which, contributed to the terrain instability, was carried out. Land propensity to failure was determined with the aid of a bivariate analysis and GIS tools in a terrain failure susceptibility map. In order to estimate the areas that could be affected by the path or deposition of the mobilized materials, we considered the fact that under intense rainfall events debris flows tend to travel long distances following the maximum slope and merging with the drainage network. Using the TauDEM extension for ArcGIS software we generated automatically flow lines following the maximum slope in the DEM starting from the areas prone to failure in the terrain failure susceptibility map. The areas crossed by the flow lines from each terrain failure susceptibility class correspond to the runout susceptibility classes represented in a runout susceptibility map.

The study of terrain failure and runout susceptibility enabled us to obtain a spatial prediction for landslides, which could contribute to landslide risk mitigation.