New Technology Promotes Landslide Risk Awareness

By Casey Garfield

Oso_Mudslide_22_March_2014_Aerial_view300Engineers from Oregon State University and George Mason University have created a new way to use lidar technology to identify and classify landslides on a landslide scale.

Lidar technology, which uses light detecting and ranging, is already a powerful tool, but the new system developed at OSU offers an automated way to improve the use of it, and may revolutionize the understanding of landslides in the Pacific Northwest.

This new technology can seemingly strip away vegetation and other obstructions to show land features in their bare form and may also reveal landslides to be even more common and hazardous than often believed.

“We’ve always known landslides were a problem in the Pacific Northwest,” said Michael Olsen, an expert in geomatics in the OSU College of Engineering. “Many people are just now beginning to realize how big the problem is.”

Analyzing landslide-prone areas for potential landslides normally might take an expert anywhere from several weeks to months to complete. Now with this new method, analysts can examine and classify the landslide risk in an area of 50 or more square miles in about 30 minutes. This method also allows for the ability to identify risks common to a broad area rather than just an individual site.

This technology, called the contour connection method, was applied to the region surrounding the landslide of March 2014 that killed 43 people near the small town of Oso, Washington. In about nine minutes it analyzed more than 2,200 acres and many prehistoric landslide features that are readily apparent in lidar images in this region known for slope instability.

Eventually, adaptations of the technology might even allow for real-time monitoring of soil movement, the researchers said.