Water, Energy, and Biogeochemical Budgets (WEBB) Program

Rainfall-soil moisture relations in landslide-prone areas of a tropical rain forest

Matthew C. Larsen and Angel J. Torres-Sánchez

U.S. Geological Survey, GSA Center, Suite 400-15, 651 Federal Drive, Guaynabo, Puerto Rico, 00965-5703, USA


Soil moisture conditions are not well documented in steep, tropical landslide-prone terrain. In the 11,330 ha Caribbean National Forest (CNF) in northeastern Puerto Rico more than 170 landslides that occurred from one to approximately 60 years ago have been mapped. Most of these landslides are shallow, with failure depths of 0.5 ot 7 m, and are associated with periods of intense, prolonged rainfall. Annual rainfall in the CNF ranges from 2,500 to more than 4,000 mm. Rainfall intensities of up to 65 mm/h have been recorded in the area during hurricanes.

Detailed studies of the relation between rainfall and soil moisture are underway at two forested sites on slopes in the CNF. Soil at the sites is characterized by a layer of silty-clay colluvial soil about 1 m thick, which is underlain by up to 10 m of saprolite, and overlies weathered volcaniclastic or quartz-diorite bedrock. Although considerable surface runoff has been observed at the study sites, data show moderate to rapid increases in pore pressure in repsonse to short duration storm events. Pore-pressure increases are greatest in the lower sections of concave slopes apparently due to convergent flow. It is anticipated that these pore-pressure data will provide a means of assessing rainfall characteristics leading to landslide initiation as well as insight to the mechanics of shallow landslides.

Larsen, M. C., and Torres-Sánchez, A. J., 1990, Rainfall-soil moisture relations in landslide-prone areas of a tropical rain forest, Puerto Rico, in Krishna, J. H., Quinones-Aponte, Vicente, Gomez-Gomez, Fernando, and Morris, G. L., eds., Tropical Hydrology and Caribbean Water Resources: Proceedings of the International Symposium on Tropical Hydrology and Fourth Caribbean Islands Water Resources Congress, p. 121-130.

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