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Updated: Dec 30, 2021


Using NASADEM to understand feedbacks among landslides, topographic evolution, and sediment dynamics across tectonic and climatic regimes



Funding Source: NASA

Collaborators: Benjamin Campforts and Greg Tucker (lead PIs) - University of Colorado CSDMS, Charlie Shobe (co-I) - West Virginia University

GeoScape Team Members: Alison Duvall (co-I), Paul Morgan (graduate student)


A study of landslides in evolving landscapes

Overview: Landslides dominate erosion in mountainous terrain (Egholm et al., 2013; Hovius et al., 1997), provide a major source of sediment at the global scale (Broeckx et

al., 2020), and rank among Earth’s most destructive natural hazards (Petley, 2012). The importance of landsliding has motivated efforts to map and statistically analyze landslide

occurrence on short timescales (Stanley et al., 2021). However, little is known about the

longer-term interplay between landslides, sediment dynamics, and the topographic evolution of Earth’s surface.


This knowledge gap limits our ability to forecast how landsliding triggered by environmental change will impact the landscape as a whole, both downstream in space, and subsequently in time. We address this knowledge gap with three complementary approaches.


Project Objectives


This project will address three objectives designed to improve our understanding of, and ultimately ability to forecast, the influence of landsliding on terrain structure and sediment dynamics:

(1) Use NASADEM together with numerical modeling to test the hypothesis that mountainous landscapes encode, in their topography and sediment dynamics, signatures of the landsliding processes that help shape them.


(2) Use numerical modeling constrained by NASADEM and other data to understand how a landslide-prone region is likely to respond to a synchronous trigger event (e.g., earthquake, precipitation), and what factors control this response.


(3) Use numerical modeling constrained by NASADEM and other data to study how

landslide-prone terrain is likely to respond to a wetter climate, and what determines whether the response is sustained or transient.


The project will result in improved understanding of the distinctive role of landsliding in

shaping mountainous terrain, which will in turn contribute to understanding how landslide prone regions respond to climatic and seismic variability. These goals directly address CORE

report Challenge #2: “how do tectonic processes and climate variability interact to shape

Earth’s surface and create natural hazards?” (NASA, 2015). The project will also yield an

improved, open-source numerical model of landsliding and fluvial processes, and demonstrate the value of NASADEM for this type of model to real landscapes. The model itself will provide both a concept demonstration and a new tool for evaluating the impact of earthquakes and intense storm events on landslide occurrence and downstream sediment impact


The project is just getting underway in winter 2022 but be sure to check back often to see our latest results!

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