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The Seismic Signature of Debris Flows: Flow Mechanics and Early Warning at Montecito, California

Lai, Voon Hui and Tsai, Victor C. and Lamb, Michael P. and Ulizio, Thomas P. and Beer, Alexander R. (2018) The Seismic Signature of Debris Flows: Flow Mechanics and Early Warning at Montecito, California. Geophysical Research Letters, 45 (11). pp. 5528-5535. ISSN 0094-8276. doi:10.1029/2018GL077683.

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Debris flows are concentrated slurries of water and sediment that shape the landscape and pose a major hazard to human life and infrastructure. Seismic ground motion‐based observations promise to provide new, remote constraints on debris flow physics, but the lack of data and a theoretical basis for interpreting them hinders progress. Here we present a new mechanistic physical model for the seismic ground motion of debris flows and apply this to the devastating debris flows in Montecito, California on 9 January 2018. The amplitude and frequency characteristics of the seismic data can distinguish debris flows from other seismic sources and enable the estimation of debris‐flow speed, width, boulder sizes, and location. Results suggest that present instrumentation could have provided 5 min of early warning over limited areas, whereas a seismic array designed for debris flows would have provided 10 min of warning for most of the city.

Item Type:Article
Related URLs:
URLURL TypeDescription
Lai, Voon Hui0000-0002-0738-0187
Tsai, Victor C.0000-0003-1809-6672
Lamb, Michael P.0000-0002-5701-0504
Ulizio, Thomas P.0000-0001-9685-2926
Beer, Alexander R.0000-0001-7538-6727
Additional Information:© 2018 American Geophysical Union. Received 25 FEB 2018; Accepted 19 MAY 2018; Accepted article online 30 MAY 2018; Published online 12 JUN 2018. The authors thank three anonymous reviewers for comments. Funding was provided by the U.S. National Science Foundation EAR‐1558479 to V.C.T. and M.P.L. and EAR‐1346115 to M.P.L. A.R.B. acknowledges support from the Swiss National Science Foundation. V.L. processed the seismic data, V.C.T. designed the model, M.P.L. analyzed the geomorphic data, T.P.U. measured the geographical data, and A.R.B. measured boulder data. V.C.T. and M.P.L. wrote the paper, with editorial contributions from all authors. All authors contributed to the interpretation of results. All waveform data were accessed through the Southern California Earthquake Data Center (SCEDC) at Caltech,
Group:Seismological Laboratory
Funding AgencyGrant Number
Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF)UNSPECIFIED
Subject Keywords:debris flow; mechanics; seismology; early warning
Issue or Number:11
Record Number:CaltechAUTHORS:20180530-083814651
Persistent URL:
Official Citation:Lai, V. H., Tsai, V. C., Lamb, M. P., Ulizio, T. P., & Beer, A. R. (2018). The seismic signature of debris flows: Flow mechanics and early warning at Montecito, California. Geophysical Research Letters, 45, 5528–5535.
Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:86701
Deposited By: Tony Diaz
Deposited On:30 May 2018 16:17
Last Modified:15 Nov 2021 20:41

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