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


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.

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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.

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Correspondence to H. P. Sato.

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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).

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  • Landslides
  • Sichuan
  • Wenchuan
  • Earthquake
  • Google Earth
  • SPOT5
  • Satellite