Interpretation of earthquake-induced landslides triggered by the 12 May 2008, M7.9 Wenchuan earthquake in the Beichuan area, Sichuan Province, China using satellite imagery and Google Earth

Abstract

The 12 May 2008 M7.9 Wenchuan earthquake in the People’s Republic of China represented a unique opportunity for the international community to use commonly available GIS (Geographic Information System) tools, like Google Earth (GE), to rapidly evaluate and assess landslide hazards triggered by the destructive earthquake and its aftershocks. In order to map earthquake-triggered landslides, we provide details on the applicability and limitations of publicly available 3-day-post- and pre-earthquake imagery provided by GE from the FORMOSAT-2 (formerly ROCSAT-2; Republic of China Satellite 2). We interpreted landslides on the 8-m-resolution FORMOSAT-2 image by GE; as a result, 257 large landslides were mapped with the highest concentration along the Beichuan fault. An estimated density of 0.3 landslides/km2 represents a minimum bound on density given the resolution of available imagery; higher resolution data would have identified more landslides. This is a preliminary study, and further study is needed to understand the landslide characteristics in detail. Although it is best to obtain landslide locations and measurements from satellite imagery having high resolution, it was found that GE is an effective and rapid reconnaissance tool.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3
Fig. 4
Fig. 5
Fig. 6
Fig. 7

References

  1. Colesanti C, Wasowski J (2006) Investigating landslides with space-borne Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) interferometry. Eng Geol 88:173–199, doi:10.1016/j.enggeo.2006.09.013

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Dai FC, Lee CF, Deng JH, Tham LG (2005) The 1786 earthquake-triggered landslide dam and subsequent dam-break flood on the Dadu River, southwestern China. Geomorphology 65:205–221, doi:10.1016/j.geomorph.2004.08.011

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Densmore AL, Ellis MA, Li Y, Zhou R, Hancock GS, Richardson N (2007) Active tectonics of the Beichuan and Pengguan faults at the eastern margin of the Tibetan Plateau. Tectonics 26(4):1–17, doi:10.1029/2006TC001987

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Dong S, Zhang Y, Wu Z, Yang N, Ma Y, Shi W, Chen Z, Long C, An M (2008) Surface rupture and co-seismic displacement produced by the Ms8.0 Wenchuan earthquake of May 12th, 2008, Sichuan, China: eastwards growth of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau. Acta Geol Sin 82(5):938–948

    Google Scholar 

  5. Geographical Survey Institute (2008) Crustal Deformation and Source Fault of the Sichuan (Wenchuan) Earthquake in 2008 (in Japanese). http://cais.gsi.go.jp/Research/topics/topic080604/index.html

  6. Google Earth (2008) http://earth.google.com/userguide/v4/ug_importdata.html#note

  7. Přidal KP (2008) http://www.maptiler.org/google-maps-coordinates-tile-bounds-projection/globalmaptiles.py

  8. Neilsen MO (2008) http://www.sharpgis.net/author/Morten.aspx

  9. NASA (2006) ftp://e0srp01u.ecs.nasa.gov/srtm

  10. Parise M, Jibson RW (2000) A seismic landslide susceptibility rating of geologic units based on analysis of characteristics of landslides triggered by the 17 January, 1994 Northridge, California earthquake. Eng Geol 58:251–270, doi:10.1016/S0013-7952(00)00038-7

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Sato HP, Hasegawa H, Fujiwara S, Tobita M, Koarai M, Une H, Iwahashi J (2007) Interpretation of landslide distribution triggered by the 2005 Northern Pakistan earthquake using SPOT 5 image. Landslides 4:113–122, doi:10.1007/s10346-006-0069-5

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Science Museum of China (2008) Earthquake ruins in Diexi. http://www.kepu.net.cn/english/quake/ruins/rns16.html

  13. SPOT IMAGE (2005) Preprocessing levels and location accuracy. http://www.spot.com/automne_modules_files/standard/public/p449_c868d036b7d60e9be17d5ea3c7930165Processing_Levels_and_Accuracy.pdf

  14. Taiwan National Space Organization (2008) FORMOSAT-2 features. http://www.nspo.org.tw/2005e/imagesell/SATproperty.htm

  15. Tang B, Liu S, Liu S (1994) Mountain disaster formation in northwest Sichuan. GeoJournal 34:41–46, doi:10.1007/BF00813968

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. Terra ETL (2007) http://terraetl.blogspot.com/2007/10/google-maps-is-earth-sphere-or.html

  17. Tobita M, Yarai H, Nishimura T, SAR team in GSI (2008) SAR-derived deformation fields and a fault model of the 2008 Wenchuan earthquake. U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2008-1335:48–49. http://pubs.usgs.gov/of/2008/1335/of2008-1335.pdf

    Google Scholar 

  18. Une H, Kumaki Y (2007) “Remotely sensed” surface fault rupture accompanied with the northern Pakistan earthquake. E-Journal Geo 2:86–94, http://www.soc.nii.ac.jp/ajg/ejgeo/228694une.pdf (in Japanese with English abstract)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. USGS (2008) Magnitude 7.9—EASTERN SICHUAN, CHINA. http://earthquake.usgs.gov/eqcenter/eqinthenews/2008/us2008ryan/

  20. Xinhua (2008) At least 1,000 students buried in China county worst hit by quake. http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/2008-05/13/content_8157648.htm

Download references

Acknowledgements

Support for Hiroshi P. Sato’s research at the U.S. Geological Survey facilities in Golden, CO was provided by a grant from the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology of Japan.

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to H. P. Sato.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Sato, H.P., Harp, E.L. Interpretation of earthquake-induced landslides triggered by the 12 May 2008, M7.9 Wenchuan earthquake in the Beichuan area, Sichuan Province, China using satellite imagery and Google Earth. Landslides 6, 153–159 (2009). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10346-009-0147-6

Download citation

Keywords

  • Landslides
  • Sichuan
  • Wenchuan
  • Earthquake
  • Google Earth
  • FORMOSAT-2
  • SPOT5
  • Satellite