The role of land use changes in the distribution of shallow landslides

Sci Total Environ. 2017 Jan 1;574:924-937. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2016.09.125. Epub 2016 Oct 14.


The role of land use dynamics on shallow landslide susceptibility remains an unresolved problem. Thus, this work aims to assess the influence of land use changes on shallow landslide susceptibility. Three shallow landslide-prone areas that are representative of peculiar land use settings in the Oltrepò Pavese (North Apennines) are analysed: the Rio Frate, Versa and Alta Val Tidone catchments. These areas were affected by widespread land abandonment and modifications in agricultural practices from 1954 to 2012 and relevant shallow landslide phenomena in 2009, 2013 and 2014. A multi-temporal land use change analysis allows us to evaluate the degree of transformation in the three investigated areas and the influence of these changes on the susceptibility to shallow landslides. The results show that the three catchments were characterised by pronounced land abandonment and important changes in agricultural practices. In particular, abandoned cultivated lands that gradually recovered through natural grasses, shrubs and woods were identified as the land use change classes that were most prone to shallow landslides. Additionally, the negative qualities of the agricultural maintenance practices increased the surface water runoff and consequently intensified erosion processes and instability phenomena. Although the land use was identified as the most important predisposing factor in all the study areas, some cases existed in which the predisposition of certain areas to shallow landslides was influenced by the combined effect of land use changes and the geological conditions, as highlighted by the high susceptibility of slopes that are characterised by adverse local geological (thick soils derived from clayey-marly bedrocks) and geomorphological (slope angle higher than 25°) conditions. Thus, the achieved results are particularly useful to understand the best land conservation strategies to be adopted to reduce instability phenomena and the consequent economic losses in areas that are strongly linked to agricultural land use in these territories.

Keywords: Frequency ratio method; Land abandonment; Land use changes; Multi-temporal analysis; North Apennines; Shallow landslides susceptibility.