An integrated model to assess critical rainfall thresholds for run - out distances of debris flows

Th.W.J. van Asch, C. Tang, D. Alkema, J. Zhu, W. Zhou

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A dramatic increase in debris flows occurred in the years after the 2008 Wenchuan earthquake in SW China due to the deposition of loose co-seismic landslide material. This paper proposes a preliminary integrated model, which describes the relationship between rain input and debris flow run-out in order to establish critical rain thresholds for mobilizing enough debris volume to reach the basin outlet. The model integrates in a simple way rainfall, surface runoff, and concentrated erosion of the loose material deposited in channels, propagation, and deposition of flow material. The model could be calibrated on total volumes of debris flow materials deposited at the outlet of the Shuida catchment during two successive rain events which occurred in August 2011. The calibrated model was used to construct critical rainfall intensity-duration graphs defining thresholds for a run-out distance until the outlet of the catchment. Model simulations show that threshold values increase after successive rain events due to a decrease in erodible material. The constructed rainfall intensity-duration threshold graphs for the Shuida catchment based on the current situation appeared to have basically the same exponential value as a threshold graph for debris flow occurrences, constructed for the Wenjia catchment on the basis of 5 observed triggering rain events. This may indicate that the triggering mechanism by intensive run-off erosion in channels in this catchment is the same. The model did not account for a supply of extra loose material by landslips transforming into debris flow or reaching the channels for transportation by run-off. In August 2012, two severe rain events were measured in the Shuida catchment, which did not produce debris flows. This could be confirmed by the threshold diagram constructed by the model.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)299-311
JournalNatural hazards
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2014


  • METIS-298779
  • Debris flow
  • Integrated model
  • Triggering mechanism
  • Run out distance
  • Rainfall threshold
  • Intensity duration curves


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