Preliminary analysis on the impacts of the rhizosphere on occurrence of rainfall-induced shallow landslides

Balzano, Brunella and Tarantino, Alessandro and Ridley, Andrew (2019) Preliminary analysis on the impacts of the rhizosphere on occurrence of rainfall-induced shallow landslides. Landslides, 16 (10). pp. 1885-1901. ISSN 1612-5118

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    Abstract

    Rainfall-induced diffuse shallow landslides are one of the most critical natural hazards as they often evolve into highly destructive flow slides and debris flows. Vegetation is recognised to play a key role in landslide occurrence and is frequently invoked as a potential remedial measure for slope stabilisation at the catchment scale. The beneficial action of vegetation is generally associated with mechanical (root anchoring) and hydrological (suction generated by root water uptake) effects. There is indeed a third effect that has thus far been little explored. The rhizosphere, the portion of soil directly affected by plant roots, is characterised by hydraulic conductivity higher than the underlying soil horizons. This significantly affects hillslope hydrology by promoting lateral diversion of rainwater. This paper presents a case study in Scotland where the rhizosphere is demonstrated to play a major role in controlling shallow landslides. Field investigation and laboratory testing were carried out to characterise the hydraulic conductivity of the rhizosphere and deeper horizons. In turn, this formed the basis for the development of a physically based model for the slope. The model was first validated against its capability to simulate failure of two historical landslides and then exploited to demonstrate the beneficial effect of the rhizosphere. The lesson learned from this study is that shallow landslide hazard can be mitigated by enhancing the capacity of the rhizosphere to act as a natural lateral drainage. This implies that plants with root-system architecture that enhances lateral subsurface flow should be privileged when designing vegetation-based remedial measures.