Urgent help for landslide research
(27 April 2006)
Survivors of the 2005 Kashmir earthquake in Pakistan could soon be at risk from landslides during the rainy season. So a team of British experts from the International Landslide Centre (ILC) at Durham University have been given urgent funding by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) to travel to the region.
The scientists will set off in May and will be examining the unique set of geological circumstances presented by the legacy of the earthquake – and advising local authorities there on how best to avoid disaster. The weather in Kashmir is dominated by monsoon rainfall, which is most likely to start in July 2006 – and could last for over two months. It is likely that this rainfall will trigger many landslides on the slopes already destabilised by the 2005 earthquake. Up to 30,000 refugees face the threat of flash floods and landslips from giant lakes that have formed above the remains of their former homes. Professor David Petley who heads the ILC team says: “This situation seems very dangerous in light of the forthcoming rainy season - the conditions would seem ideal for landslides to place these people in Kashmir in great danger from debris and flooding. We travelled to the site in January 2006 and having assessed the risks, advised urgent action. We hope to assist the authorities by identifying the area least at risk where people can be moved too.” Following this earlier visit by the ILC team, the Pakistani authorities have created a relocation plan for the refugees. Beyond the immediate risks to people, David Petley says that the Kashmir situation offers a rare chance to investigate the features of landslides - or slope failures: “The Kashmir earthquake has created a unique set of circumstances in which the location and likely timing of large-scale landslides are predictable. We want to use this opportunity by setting up a monitoring system on four of the slopes. Until we further develop this knowledge it will be difficult to forecast where and when landslides will occur in the future, and to provide effective warning systems.” The data gathered will be complemented by rain gauge information at each site, so that the researchers can discover how much rain is associated with the movement events. They will also use a terrestrial laser scanning system to measure the morphology (shape) of the slopes, and conventional methods to understand the geology. The results will be used to assess existing models of landslide movement. The ILC team hope that their instruments can be used by the Pakistan authorities, to provide a basic warning system of impending landslides. NERC has previously funded the ILC to visit the site of a major Japanese landslide in 2004. The team to travelled to Japan and collected samples for lab testing, and scanning using lasers. This helped the ILC to create a better understanding of the landslide transition process from static to rapid movement. In Pakistan, the earthquake has left numerous slopes in a condition in which failure is likely during the monsoon and the ILC team will instrument the slopes and measure what happens.