Analyzing successive landslide dam formation by different triggering mechanisms: The case of the Tangjiawan landslide, Sichuan, China

Xuanmei Fan, Weiwei Zhang (Corresponding Author), Xiujun Dong (Corresponding Author), C.J. van Westen, Qiang Xu, Lanxin Dai, Runqiu Huang, Hans-Balder Havenith

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

33 Citations (Scopus)


The catastrophic Tangjiawan landslide, triggered by the 2008 Wenchuan earthquake, blocked the Duba River, impounding one of the most dangerous coseismic barrier lakes in Beichuan, China. The lake was drained by an artificial spillway within one month after the earthquake to minimize the potential dam-breach flooding risk. However, on September 5, 2016, this landslide was reactivated and dammed the river again, creating a 20-m high dam at the same location and resulting in the formation of a barrier lake with a volume of 0.6 million m3. The day after the event we carried out a field investigation of the landslide and obtained a high-resolution image and DEM using UAV. The satellite images from 2005, 2008, 2010 and 2015 were also collected to analyze the evolution of the landslide. Together with multi-temporal DEMs, the geometry and volumes of the displaced mass and the landslide dams and barrier lakes were calculated using image interpretation and 3D spatial analysis with GIS. This landslide is of great scientific interest, as it presents a good example of multiple reactivation of a prehistorical giant landslide under different triggering conditions: a reactivation of an older landslide during the Wenchuan earthquake, and a second reactivation during a rainfall event several years later. Meanwhile from the hazard assessment and prevention perspective, it is also representative as it dammed the river twice in 2008 and 2016, posing threats to both upstream and downstream areas. We infer that the successive landslides in this region could be caused by the strong tectonic activities: including earthquakes and high average uplifting rate. The results of landslide volume analysis using multi-temporal DEMs, contribute to the landslide mechanism analysis, and suggest that the landslide volume estimation is effected by the landslide type, landslide rupture surface location, and resolution of DEM. We also compare the performance of different empirical models of landslide stability and dam-breach flood parameters and discuss their application during the quick assessment of
the potential hazard of the landslide dams. Generally, the successive landslide dams at the Tangjiawan site are caused by the successive landslide reactivations on an anti-dip slope controlled by strong tectonic activity and river erosion, involve with a mass of loose materials of previous landslide deposition, and possess high flood risk to the downstream area. The experience gained in this work can be used to assist the hazard assessment and the planning of the emergency measures for similar landslide dams in the future.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)128-144
Number of pages17
JournalEngineering geology
Issue number4 September 2018
Early online date30 Jun 2018
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2018


  • Landslide dams
  • Wenchuan earthquake


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