Seismic and geologic controls on spatial clustering of landslides in three large earthquakes
The large, shallow earthquakes at Northridge, California (1994), Chi-Chi, Taiwan (1999), and Wenchuan, China (2008), each triggered thousands of landslides. We have determined the position of these landslides along hillslopes, normalizing for statistical bias. The landslide patterns have a co-seismic signature, with clustering at ridge crests and slope toes. A cross-check against rainfall-induced landslide inventories seems to confirm that crest clustering is specific to seismic triggering as observed in previous studies. In our three study areas, the seismic ground motion parameters and lithologic and topographic features used do not seem to exert a primary control on the observed patterns of landslide clustering. However, we show that at the scale of the epicentral area, crest and toe clustering occur in areas with specific geological features. Toe clustering of seismically induced landslides tends to occur along regional major faults. Crest clustering is concentrated at sites where the lithology along hillslopes is approximately uniform, or made of alternating soft and hard strata, and without strong overprint of geological structures. Although earthquake-induced landslides locate higher on hillslopes in a statistically significant way, geological features strongly modulate the landslide position along the hillslopes. As a result the observation of landslide clustering on topographic ridges cannot be used as a definite indicator of the topographic amplification of ground shaking.