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Water Resources of the Caribbean


Rainfall-threshold conditions for landslides in a humid-tropical system, Puerto Rico


Matthew C. Larsen1 and Andrew Simon2

1U.S. Geological Survey, GSA Center, Suite 400-15, 651 Federal Drive, Guaynabo, Puerto Rico, 00965-5703, USA

2U.S. Geological Survey, Nashville, Tennessee, USA


Abstract

Landslides are triggered by factors such as heavy rainfall, seismic activity, and construction on hillslopes. The leading cause of landslides in Puerto Rico is intense and/or prolonged rainfall. A rainfall threshold for rainfall-triggered landsliding is delimited by 256 storms that occurred between 1959 and 1991 in the central mountains of Puerto Rico, where mean annual rainfall is close to or in excess of 2,000 mm. Forty one of the 256 storms produced intense and/or prolonged rainfall that resulted in tens to hundreds of landslides. A threshold fitted to the lower boundary of the field defined by landslide-triggering storms is expressed as

I = 91.46 D -0.82

where I is rainfall intensity in millimeters per hour, and D is duration in hours. Landslide-producing storms occurred at an average rate of 1.2 per year. In general the landslides triggered by short-duration, high-intensity rainfall events were mainly shallow soil slips and debris flows, while the long-duration, low-intensity rainfall produced larger, deeper debris avalanches and slumps. For storms that had durations of up to 10 h, landsliding did not occur until rainfall intensity was as much as three times as high as the rainfall intensity reported as sufficient to trigger landsliding in temperate regions. As storm durations approach 100 h, the rainfall conditions necessary to initiate landsliding in Puerto Rico converge with those defined for temperate regions. A comparison of the Puerto Rico threshold with rainfall data from other humid-tropical regions suggests that the threshold developed for Puerto Rico may be applicable to other similar environments throughout the world.
Larsen, M.C., and Simon, Andrew, 1993, Rainfall-threshold conditions for landslides in a humid-tropical system, Puerto Rico: Geografiska Annaler, v. 75A (1-2), p. 13-23.

 
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