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Topographic stress control on bedrock landslide size

Li, Gen K. and Moon, Seulgi (2021) Topographic stress control on bedrock landslide size. Nature Geoscience, 14 (5). pp. 307-313. ISSN 1752-0894. doi:10.1038/s41561-021-00739-8.

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Landslides are a major natural hazard and act as a primary driver of erosion, chemical weathering and organic carbon transfer in mountain ranges. Evaluating the impact of landslides on Earth systems requires knowledge about the controls on their size, which are not well understood. Here we show that topographic stress, resulting from the interaction between tectonic stress and topography, influences bedrock landslide size at landscape scales by modulating the subsurface material strength through fracturing and weathering. Using a three-dimensional topographic stress model, we characterize the spatial pattern of subsurface open-fracture zones in a crystalline-rock terrain of the eastern Tibetan mountains. Then, we compare the predicted open-fracture zones with 982 mapped bedrock landslides. The results show that areas with deeper subsurface open-fracture zones tend to accommodate larger landslides. This is probably due to the influences of topographically induced fractures on the material strength and groundwater flow paths and rates. We conclude that the extent of hillslope failure depends on both distant tectonic forces and local topography, which has implications for hazard mitigation, landscape evolution and the global carbon cycle.

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URLURL TypeDescription ReadCube access of precipitation- and earthquake-induced landslides, together with the calculated proxies
Li, Gen K.0000-0002-6300-3570
Moon, Seulgi0000-0001-5207-1781
Additional Information:© 2021 Nature Publishing Group. Received 03 May 2020. Accepted 18 March 2021. Published 29 April 2021. This project was funded by NSF EAR-1945431 awarded to S.M. The authors thank S. Cui, P. van der Beek and A. Duvall for constructive reviews, and G. E. Hilley, J. J. Roering, J. T. Perron, I. J. Larsen, A. J. West, K. Shao, J. Higa, S. J. Martel, A. Yin, D. A. Paige, D. C. Jewitt and J. P. Prancevic for helpful discussions. The authors acknowledge software donations from Midland Valley Inc. and Schlumberger. Author Contributions. G.L. and S.M. conceived the study. G.L. conducted the landslide mapping. S.M. performed the topographic stress modelling, and G.L. compiled the necessary input data for the model. G.L. and S.M. analysed the results and wrote the manuscript together. Data availability. The datasets of precipitation- and earthquake-induced landslides, together with the calculated proxies, are archived at the Caltech Research Data Repository ( Code availability. MATLAB codes used for data analysis can be obtained from the corresponding authors upon reasonable request. Poly3D is proprietary software that can be purchased at The authors declare no competing interests. Peer review information. Nature Geoscience thanks Shenghua Cui, Peter van der Beek and Alison Duvall for their contribution to the peer review of this work. Primary Handling Editor: Stefan Lachowycz.
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Issue or Number:5
Record Number:CaltechAUTHORS:20210429-144552932
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Official Citation:Li, G.K., Moon, S. Topographic stress control on bedrock landslide size. Nat. Geosci. 14, 307–313 (2021).
Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:108879
Deposited By: George Porter
Deposited On:30 Apr 2021 14:13
Last Modified:12 May 2021 16:38

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