This award supports a planning visit to Bari, Italy to establish a collaborative research project on the processes controlling slow moving landslides. The US researchers will work with counterpart at the University of Bari and the Italian National Research Council (CNR). The international research team brings together geotechnical and geological scientists with both applied and theoretical knowledge in the processes controlling landscape change in mountainous regions. This catalytic research activity is designed to share preliminary knowledge and data between the US and Italian researchers and to commence initial field activity. The study will focus on two hilltop towns in the Appenine Mountains of Southeastern Italy. These towns are nearly encircled by landslides that are slowly undermining the towns and destroying infrastructure. In order to prevent infrastructure damage imparted by landslides, the variables that enhance and inhibit landslide movement must be identified and quantified.

Results from this research will contribute to better management of landscapes prone to slow landsliding events. A planned outcome of this project is competitive proposals for ongoing international research collaborations between the participants. In addition, the project will enable a graduate student at Tulane University to conduct extensive field work in Italy, use unique Italian facilities, and develop an international network of collaborators at an early stage in her academic career.

Project Report

This project funded expenses for an initial research trip for one professor and her graduate student to Bari, Italy. The professor and student met with Italian colleagues to learn about a region in which very slow moving landslides are undermining small towns and damaging infrastructure (see Figure 1). In this case, very slow moving means that the landslides are sliding at a rate of less than one inch per year, on average. These types of landslides, although not very dramatic, are a global phenomenon, and they have also led to damage in areas of the United States. The team spent time on the ground mapping out the locations of landslides and learning about the local geology and land use. A number of data sets were also shared with the American team members, including high-resolution digital elevation data that were critical for the student’s research. Time in the field proved to be an important part of this research project. These slow moving landslides are very subtle landscape features (see Figure 2), and some of the initially mapped locations from aerial photos were modified after field validation. It is important to know the exact location of the landslide in order to quantify the characteristics of each landslide, which are used to determine the forces that are driving landslide motion. If these forces and variables can be identified, this can lead to better land management practices in the future. Understanding the local geology also proved to be a critical part of the time spent in the field because similar landslides in other parts of the world have been mapped in rock types similar to those in the Italian study area. The data collected during this initial research trip were analyzed by the graduate student, and this research was the focus of the student’s master’s thesis. The Italian and American members of the team continued to meet regularly and discuss progress after the research trip using online conferencing tools. One of the student’s primary findings is that although these landslides are moving very slowly, because the landslides are pervasive throughout the landscape, they are responsible for contributing a large amount of sediment to the local rivers and can have significant impacts on landscape change. Further, she also found that form of these landslides is not well described by any of the existing process models for hillslope sediment movement. More research is required to properly quantify the variables controlling landslide movement in order to understand how sediment moves through these slow moving landslides. The graduate student presented the results of her study at two national research conferences (expenses for these conferences were not paid for by this award), and she will also submit her results for publication in a peer-reviewed journal (again, these expenses will not be paid for by this award).

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Office of International and Integrative Activities (IIA)
Standard Grant (Standard)
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Graham M. Harrison
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Tulane University
New Orleans
United States
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