Articles | Volume 7, issue 2
Development and technical paper
25 Mar 2014
Development and technical paper |  | 25 Mar 2014

Improving predictive power of physically based rainfall-induced shallow landslide models: a probabilistic approach

S. Raia, M. Alvioli, M. Rossi, R. L. Baum, J. W. Godt, and F. Guzzetti

Abstract. Distributed models to forecast the spatial and temporal occurrence of rainfall-induced shallow landslides are based on deterministic laws. These models extend spatially the static stability models adopted in geotechnical engineering, and adopt an infinite-slope geometry to balance the resisting and the driving forces acting on the sliding mass. An infiltration model is used to determine how rainfall changes pore-water conditions, modulating the local stability/instability conditions. A problem with the operation of the existing models lays in the difficulty in obtaining accurate values for the several variables that describe the material properties of the slopes. The problem is particularly severe when the models are applied over large areas, for which sufficient information on the geotechnical and hydrological conditions of the slopes is not generally available. To help solve the problem, we propose a probabilistic Monte Carlo approach to the distributed modeling of rainfall-induced shallow landslides. For this purpose, we have modified the transient rainfall infiltration and grid-based regional slope-stability analysis (TRIGRS) code. The new code (TRIGRS-P) adopts a probabilistic approach to compute, on a cell-by-cell basis, transient pore-pressure changes and related changes in the factor of safety due to rainfall infiltration. Infiltration is modeled using analytical solutions of partial differential equations describing one-dimensional vertical flow in isotropic, homogeneous materials. Both saturated and unsaturated soil conditions can be considered. TRIGRS-P copes with the natural variability inherent to the mechanical and hydrological properties of the slope materials by allowing values of the TRIGRS model input parameters to be sampled randomly from a given probability distribution. The range of variation and the mean value of the parameters can be determined by the usual methods used for preparing the TRIGRS input parameters. The outputs of several model runs obtained varying the input parameters are analyzed statistically, and compared to the original (deterministic) model output. The comparison suggests an improvement of the predictive power of the model of about 10% and 16% in two small test areas, that is, the Frontignano (Italy) and the Mukilteo (USA) areas. We discuss the computational requirements of TRIGRS-P to determine the potential use of the numerical model to forecast the spatial and temporal occurrence of rainfall-induced shallow landslides in very large areas, extending for several hundreds or thousands of square kilometers. Parallel execution of the code using a simple process distribution and the message passing interface (MPI) on multi-processor machines was successful, opening the possibly of testing the use of TRIGRS-P for the operational forecasting of rainfall-induced shallow landslides over large regions.