Landslide Amplification by Liquefaction of Runout-Path Material after the 2008 Wenchuan (M 8·0) Earthquake, China


Correspondence to: Gonghui Wang, Research Center on Landslides, Disaster Prevention Research Institute, Kyoto University, Gokasho, Uji, 611–0011, Japan. E-mail:


Here, we propose that an earthquake can trigger the failure of a landslide mass while simultaneously triggering liquefaction of runout-path materials before the arrival of the landslide mass, thus greatly increasing the size and mobility of an overriding landslide. During the 2008 Wenchuan earthquake, about 60 000 landslides were triggered, directly resulting in about 20 000 casualties. While these landslides mainly originated from steep slopes, some landslides with high mobility formed in colluvial valley deposits. Among these, the most catastrophic was the Xiejiadian landslide in Pengzhou city, which traveled hundreds of meters before coming to rest. Through field investigation and laboratory testing, we conclude that this landslide primarily formed from colluvial deposits in the valley and secondarily from failure of slopes in granitic rock located uphill. Much of the granitic slope failure was deposited in the upper part of the travel path (near the slide head); the remainder was dispersed throughout the main landslide deposit. Superposition of deposits at the landslide toe indicates that landslide debris derived from colluvial soil was deposited first. The deposits at the landslide toe displayed flow characteristics, such as fine materials comprising basal layers and large boulders covering the deposit surface. We hypothesize that the main part of the landslide resulted from seismogenic liquefaction of valley colluvium, rather than from liquefaction potentially caused by undrained loading from the granitic slope failures impacting the colluvium. To examine the likelihood that seismogenic liquefaction occurred, we took samples from different areas of the landslide deposit and performed undrained cyclic shear tests on them in the laboratory. The results showed that the sandy soils that comprise most of the deposit are highly liquefiable under seismic loading. Therefore, we conclude that liquefaction of the colluvium in the valley during the earthquake was the main reason for this rapid (~46 m/s) long-runout (1·7 km) landslide. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.