Date of Award

Fall 2009

Project Type


Program or Major

Civil Engineering

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

Jennifer M Jacobs


Landslides are common throughout the world and can be triggered by earthquakes, volcanoes, floods, and heavy continuous rainfall in mountainous regions. For most types of slope failure, soil moisture plays a critical role because increased pore water pressure reduces the soil strength and increases stress. The combined effect of soil moisture in unsaturated soil layers and pore water pressure in saturated soil layers is critical to accurately predict landslides. However, dynamic in-situ soil moisture profiles are rarely measured on regional or global scales.

The dynamic soil moisture can be estimated by a soil vegetation atmosphere transfer (SVAT) model or satellite. While a SVAT model can estimate soil moisture profile, satellite estimates are limited to the upper thin surface (0-5 cm). However, considering the complex database needed for a SVAT model, satellite data can be obtained quickly and may produce promising results in less data-rich regions at the global scale. While no previous landslide studies have used remotely-sensed soil moisture data, Advanced Microwave Scanning Radiometer (AMSR-E) has the potential to be useful in characterizing soil moisture profiles.

First this study investigated relationships among landslides, AMSR-E soil moisture and Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM) in landslide prone regions of California, U.S., Leyte, Philippines and Dhading, Nepal. Then, a modified infinite slope stability model was developed and applied at Cleveland Corral, California, US and Dhading Nepal, using variable infiltration capacity (VIC-3L) soil moisture and AMSR-E soil moisture to develop dynamic landslide susceptibility maps at regional scale.

Results show a strong relationship among remotely sensed soil moisture, rainfall and landslide events. Results also show a modified infinite slope stability model that directly includes vadose zone soil moisture can produce promising landslide susceptibility maps at regional scale using either VIC-3L or AMSR-E soil moisture. Vadose zone soil moisture has a significant role in shallow slope failure. Results show promising agreement between the susceptible area predicted by the model and the actual slope movements and slope failures observed in the study region. This model is quite reasonable to use in shallow slope stability analysis at a regional or global scale.