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Keywords:

  • shallow landslides;
  • debris flow;
  • dynamic modelling;
  • vegetation effects;
  • root cohesion;
  • data deficiency;
  • STARWARS;
  • PROBSTAB;
  • Western Ghats

Abstract

Shallow landslides and consequent debris flows are an increasing concern in the Western Ghats of Kerala, India. Their increased frequency has been associated with deforestation and unfavourable land-use practices in cultivated areas. In order to evaluate the influence of vegetation on shallow slope failures a physically based, dynamic and distributed hydrological model (STARWARS) coupled with a probabilistic slope stability model (PROBSTAB) was applied to the upper Tikovil River basin (55·6 km2). It was tuned with the limited evidence of groundwater conditions during the monsoon season of 2005 and validated against observed landslide activity in the hydrological year 2001–2002. Given the data poor conditions in the region some modifications to the original model were in order, including the estimation of parameters on the basis of generalized information from secondary sources, pedo-transfer functions, empirical equations and satellite remote sensing data. Despite the poor input, the model captured the general temporal and spatial pattern of instability in the area. Sensitivity analysis proved root cohesion, soil depth and angle of internal friction as the most dominant parameters influencing slope stability. The results indicate the importance of root cohesion in maintaining stability and the critical role of the management of rubber plantations in this. Interception and evapotranspiration showed little influence on the development of failure conditions. The study also highlights the importance of high resolution digital terrain models for the accurate mechanistic prediction of shallow landslide initiation. Copyright © 2009 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.