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Keywords:

  • landslide;
  • climate change;
  • magnitude & frequency

ABSTRACT

Projected scenarios of climate change involve general predictions about the likely changes to the magnitude and frequency of landslides, particularly as a consequence of altered precipitation and temperature regimes. Whether such landslide response to contemporary or past climate change may be captured in differing scaling statistics of landslide size distributions and the erosion rates derived thereof remains debated. We test this notion with simple Monte Carlo and bootstrap simulations of statistical models commonly used to characterize empirical landslide size distributions. Our results show that significant changes to total volumes contained in such inventories may be masked by statistically indistinguishable scaling parameters, critically depending on, among others, the size of the largest of landslides recorded. Conversely, comparable model parameter values may obscure significant, i.e. more than twofold, changes to landslide occurrence, and thus inferred rates of hillslope denudation and sediment delivery to drainage networks. A time series of some of Earth's largest mass movements reveals clustering near and partly before the last glacial-interglacial transition and a distinct step-over from white noise to temporal clustering around this period. However, elucidating whether this is a distinct signal of first-order climate-change impact on slope stability or simply coincides with a transition from short-term statistical noise to long-term steady-state conditions remains an important research challenge. Copyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.