Articles | Volume 8, issue 3
19 May 2008
 | 19 May 2008

Impacts of anthropogenic and environmental factors on the occurrence of shallow landslides in an alpine catchment (Urseren Valley, Switzerland)

K. Meusburger and C. Alewell

Abstract. Changes in climate and land use pose a risk to stability of alpine soils, but the direction and magnitude of the impact is still discussed controversially with respect to the various alpine regions. In this study, we explicitly consider the influence of dynamic human-induced changes on the occurrence of landslides in addition to natural factors. Our hypothesis was that if changes in land use and climate have a significant influence on the occurrence of landslides we would see a trend in the incidence of landslides over time. We chose the Urseren Valley in the Central Swiss Alps as investigation site because the valley is dramatically affected by landslides and the land use history is well documented. Maps of several environmental factors were used to analyse the spatial landslide pattern. In order to explain the causation of the temporal variation, time-series (45 years) of precipitation characteristics, cattle stocking and pasture maps were compared to a series of seven landslide investigation maps between 1959 and 2004. We found that the area affected by landslides increased by 92% from 1959 to 2004. Even though catchment characteristics like geology and slope largely explain the spatial variation in landslide susceptibility (68%), this cannot explain the temporal trend in landslide activity. The increase in stocking numbers and the increased intensity of torrential rain events had most likely an influence on landslide incidence. In addition, our data and interviews with farmers pointed to the importance of management practice.