Kinematics of active earthflows revealed by digital image correlation and DEM subtraction techniques applied to multi-temporal LiDAR data


Correspondence to: Alexander Daehne, Department of Geosciences, University of Missouri - Kansas City, USA. E-mail:


Earthflow-type landslides are persistent natural hazards having deep socio-economic and environmental consequences. They have significantly contributed to the geomorphic evolution of mountainous slopes in Europe since the Late Glacial. An understanding of their complex kinematics is crucial to better constrain the processes governing their occurrence and mobility.

In this work we explored the possibility to quantify displacement vectors on a spatially distributed basis and to quantify volumetric transfer at the slope scale with regard to a large flow-type landslide located in the northern Apennines of Italy. For this purpose we applied digital image correlation (DIC) and digital elevation model differencing (DEMoD) techniques to multi-temporal airborne LiDAR surveys of 2006, 2007 and 2009.

The DIC was applied to greyscale slope gradient maps retrieved after precise co-registration of LiDAR surveys. Thereby, movement patterns over various sectors of the landslide were reconstructed and quantified, most notably up to 20 m in the head zone, up to 51 m in the lower main track, and up to about 27 m at the landslide toe. The DEMoD analysis revealed significant mass transfer from the source to the tracks and toe zone, with the upper flow tracks acting as temporal storage of large amounts of material. The mass balance indicated that significant amounts of advancing landslide debris were eroded by a local stream. An integrated analysis of DEMoD and DIC results allowed for a discussion of governing processes, such as the transition from slide to flow, the influence of underlying topography on earthflow mobility, and the role of undrained loading as a mechanism of toe zone reactivation.

In conclusion, the successful application of DIC and DEMoD to the case study underlines the added value of high-resolution DEMs in the analysis of earthflow kinematics toward a better understanding of their role in the geomorphic evolution of slopes. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.