CAMBRIDGE, MA (PRWEB) April 26, 2013
Landslides, which can destroy entire communities and are on the rise due to climate change, are more often caused by rainfall accumulated over long periods than single storms. Engineers at Draper Laboratory and MIT are working under contract to NASA to develop a statistical model that can identify areas where landslides are most likely to occur so that preparations can be made to better respond to a crisis.
"By accurately predicting where landslides are most likely to occur, we can initiate timely preventive measures that will save lives and prevent property damage," said Natasha Markuzon, Draper’s lead technical investigator.
The study found that when cumulative precipitation is high and the underlying soil is saturated with moisture, a few days of heavy rain increases the probability of landslide occurrences. However, if the underlying soil has not been saturated by months of consistent precipitation, then an intense storm is relatively harmless. Markuzon suggests a possible explanation for this finding is the soil underneath was eroded from months of consistent rain, leaving the ground unstable.
The team, led by Catherine Slesnick, the principal investigator of the project at Draper, and Markuzon, collected 33 years worth of historical data, ranging from 1966-1999, on 577 landslides that occurred in the Seattle, Washington, area from local databases, national reports, and newspaper archives. They were also provided with hourly precipitation data from that time period by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Facing a mountain of data, they developed a machine learning algorithm to efficiently determine what factors were strongly associated with landslide occurrences.
The next phase of the project will focus on further understanding the effects of climate change on landslide activity, and developing recommendations aimed at prevention of loss of life and financial damages due to landslides.
Draper Laboratory, which celebrates 80 years of service to the nation in 2013, is a not-for-profit, engineering research and development organization dedicated to solving critical national problems in national security, space systems, biomedical systems, and energy. Core capabilities include guidance, navigation and control; miniature low power systems; highly reliable complex systems; information and decision systems; autonomous systems; biomedical and chemical systems; and secure networks and communications.