27 March 2018

You can help compile the NASA landslide catalogue

Posted by Dave Petley

You can help compile the NASA landslide catalogue

For the last few years Dalia Kirschbaum and colleagues have been compiling a NASA landslide catalogue, with a focus on rainfall-induced landslides, to help with their work on landslide climatology.  In a move that we should all welcome, this dataset has now been placed online and can be accessed via a web-based GIS application.  The is an incredibly helpful and powerful tool, both for understanding the nature and distribution of the hazard and for teaching.  There are a range of different ways to plot the data, allowing the user to tailor the analysis to his or her needs.

As an illustration, this is the global distribution of landslides in the dataset, plotted in terms of fatalities (i.e. the size of the dot represents the number of deaths in each event).  The smallest dots are events in which no fatalities occurred:-

NASA landslide catalogue

The global distribution of records in the NASA landslide catalogue. The size of each dot represents the number of fatalities.


The map shows the extraordinary role of Asia in terms of landslide impacts, of course.  But as expected, it also highlights the role of reporting in the nature of these types of databases.  Thus, for example, the USA has a very large number of recorded events in the NASA landslide catalogue, with few recorded fatalities.  The same applies to the UK and New Zealand.  In comparison, Africa as a continent has few recorded landslides, but the majority appear to be associated with loss of life.  This is unlikely to be the case in reality; the difference is merely the quality of reporting (especially the availability of online media and issues associated with languages).  This is the reason that my own work has focused only on fatal landslides – it is more likely that landslides that cause loss of life will be reported reliably, and thus the dataset is probably more homogeneous (although very far from perfect). Of course collecting data on fatal landslide introduces other biases (the location of people, vulnerability, etc), so no dataset can be said to be superior to any other.

It is unlikely that these biases can be overcome completely for a hazard as complex as a landslide, but providing additional means to collate data is very helpful.  So, it is now possible to provide information to add to the NASA landslide catalogue.  This can be undertaken using the Landslide Reporter tool. It is hoped that this will greatly improve the quality of the dataset, especially in those areas in which data is quite sparse at present.

As an aside, Melanie Froude and I have a paper in review on our work on global landslide impacts.  The journal is Natural Hazards and Earth System Sciences, which has an open review process, so anyone can download and comment upon the paper.  We would be delighted to hear your views.  We think that the data shows that the impact of human induced landslides is increasing.