NASA Model Finds Landslide Threats in Near Real-Time During Heavy Rains

New NASA Model Finds Landslide Risk in Real Time

New NASA Model Finds Landslide Risk in Real Time

Of all the things for NASA to get involved in, landslide prediction is probably one of the more surprising.

If conditions beneath Earth's surface are already unstable, heavy rains act as the last straw that causes mud, rocks or debris - or all combined - to move rapidly down mountains and hillsides.

The model is created to increase our understanding of where and when landslide hazards are present and improve estimates of long-term patterns. Here, you can see landslide trends across the world.

"Landslides can cause widespread destruction and fatalities, but we really don't have a complete sense of where and when landslides may be happening to inform disaster response and mitigation", Dalia Kirschbaum, a landslide expert at Goddard, said in a news release.

Researchers detailed their predictive model this week in the journal Earth's Future. "Nothing has been done like this before". So Kirschbaum and co-author Thomas Stanley, a landslide expert with the Universities Space Research Association at NASA Goddard, built the new model using rainfall data gathered by the Global Precipitation Measurement satellite mission, which is run jointly by NASA and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency. The model considers when GPM data exceeds a critical rainfall threshold looking back at the last seven days.

With the NASA landslide detection model using the "susceptibility map" to determine the areas getting hammered by rain, the identification of landslide-prone areas will be easier - for example, if they are on or near steep slopes or tectonic-plate boundaries, or have undergone deforestation. If, based on these five variables, the model points to a location with heavy rainfall as being vulnerable, it then produces a "nowcast" that warns of high or moderate chances of a landslide taking place.

The model estimates potential landslide activity by first identifying areas with heavy, persistent and recent precipitation. The model spits out new nowcasts every half-hour. The team's analysis showed a global "landslide season" with a peak in the number of landslides in July and August, most likely associated with the Asian monsoon and tropical cyclone seasons in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.

"The model has been able to help us understand immediate potential landslide hazards in a matter of minutes", Stanley said in the same statement. Given that the model also proved to be effective in analyzing trends when the new data was compared to historical information, he added that it could be the first of its kind used to provide a retroactive snapshot of landslide activity over a certain period of time.

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