Skip to Main Content
U.S. Forest Service
Caring for the land and serving people

United States Department of Agriculture

Home > Search > Publication Information

  1. Share via EmailShare on FacebookShare on LinkedInShare on Twitter
    Dislike this pubLike this pub
    Author(s): J. McKean; J. Roering
    Date: 2004
    Source: Geomorphology. 57(3-4): 331–351
    Publication Series: Miscellaneous Publication
    PDF: View PDF  (1.5 MB)


    A map of extant slope failures is the most basic element of any landslide assessment. Without an accurate inventory of slope instability, it is not possible to analyze the controls on the spatial and temporal patterns of mass movement or the environmental, human, or geomorphic consequences of slides. Landslide inventory maps are tedious to compile, difficult to make in vegetated terrain using conventional techniques, and tend to be subjective. In addition, most landslide inventories simply outline landslide boundaries and do not offer information about landslide mechanics as manifested by internal deformation features. In an alternative approach, we constructed accurate, high-resolution DEMs from airborne laser altimetry (LIDAR) data to characterize a large landslide complex and surrounding terrain near Christchurch, New Zealand. One-dimensional, circular (2-D) and spherical (3-D) statistics are used to map the local topographic roughness in the DEMs over a spatial scale of 1.5 to 10 m. The bedrock landslide is rougher than adjacent unfailed terrain and any of the statistics can be employed to automatically detect and map the overall slide complex. Furthermore, statistics that include a measure of the local variability of aspect successfully delineate four kinematic units within the gently sloping lower half of the slide. Features with a minimum size of surface folds that have a wavelength of about 11 to 12 m and amplitude of about 1 m are readily mapped. Two adjacent earthflows within the landslide complex are distinguished by a contrast in median roughness, and texture and continuity of roughness elements. The less active of the earthflows has a surface morphology that presumably has been smoothed by surface processes. The Laplacian operator also accurately maps the kinematic units and the folds and longitudinal levees within and at the margins of the units. Finally, two-dimensional power spectra analyses are used to quantify how roughness varies with length scale. These results indicate that no dominant length scale of roughness exists for smooth, unfailed terrain. In contrast, zones with different styles of landslide deformation exhibit distinctive spectral peaks that correspond to the scale of deformation features, such as the compression folds. The topographic-based analyses described here may be used to objectively delineate landslide features, generate mechanical inferences about landslide behavior, and evaluate relatively the recent activity of slides.

    Publication Notes

    • You may send email to to request a hard copy of this publication.
    • (Please specify exactly which publication you are requesting and your mailing address.)
    • We recommend that you also print this page and attach it to the printout of the article, to retain the full citation information.
    • This article was written and prepared by U.S. Government employees on official time, and is therefore in the public domain.


    McKean, J.; Roering, J. 2004. Objective landslide detection and surface morphology mapping using high-resolution airborne laser altimetry. Geomorphology. 57(3-4): 331–351


    landslides, surface morphology, LIDAR

    Related Search

    XML: View XML
Show More
Show Fewer
Jump to Top of Page