EGU22-10284, updated on 28 Mar 2022
EGU General Assembly 2022
© Author(s) 2022. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Landslide mobilization rates in the Anthropocene: insights from a 60-year observation period in the North-Tanganyika-Kivu Rift region, Africa

Arthur Depicker1, Gerard Govers1, Liesbet Jacobs2, Matthias Vanmaercke1, Judith Uwihirwe3,4, Benjamin Campforts5, Désiré Kubwimana6,7, Jean-Claude Maki Mateso8,9, Toussaint Mugaruka Bibentyo10,11,12, Louis Nahimana6, Benoît Smets10,13, and Olivier Dewitte10
Arthur Depicker et al.
  • 1KU Leuven, Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, Heverlee, Belgium (
  • 2University of Amsterdam, Institute for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Dynamics, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
  • 3Delft University of Technology, Department of Water Management, Delft, The Netherlands
  • 4University of Rwanda, Department of Irrigation and Drainage, Kigali, Rwanda
  • 5University of Colorado at Boulder, CSDMS, Institute for Arctic and Alpine Research, Boulder, CO, USA
  • 6University of Burundi, Department of Earth Sciences, Bujumbura, Burundi
  • 7Mohammed V University, Department of Earth Sciences, Rabat, Morocco
  • 8Centre de Recherche en Sciences Naturelles, Department of Geophysics, Lwiro, DR Congo
  • 9Université Catholique de Louvain, Earth and Life Institute – Environmental Sciences, Louvain-La-Neuve, Belgium
  • 10Royal Museum for Central Africa, Department of Earth Sciences, Tervuren, Belgium
  • 11Ghent University, Department of Geology, Ghent, Belgium
  • 12Université Officielle de Bukavu, Department of Geology, Bukavu, DR Congo
  • 13Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Department of Geography, Brussels, Belgium

During the Anthropocene, the impact of humans on Earth surface processes has increased exponentially, often surpassing the importance of natural drivers. Also in mountainous areas, landslide mobilization rates are exacerbated by human disturbances of the landscape such as deforestation, road constructions, and mining processes. However, investigating these interactions remains difficult in many regions due to a lack of sufficiently long observation periods, preferably over a large area, so that the presence of extreme landslide events (triggered by rainfall or earthquakes) does not induce an observation bias. Here, we investigate landslide mobilization rates in the densely populated North Tanganyika-Kivu Rift Region (NTK Rift), a prominent landslide hotspot in Africa. We use ca. 2,400 panchromatic aerial photographs from 1958 in combination with recent satellite imagery to assess the long-term landslide mobilization rates over a large area of ca. 21,000 km2.

By estimating the volume of the deep-seated and shallow rapidly-moving landslides using empirical volume-area scaling relationships, we estimate that the average landslide mobilization rate in the NTK Rift is ca. 31 m3 km-2 year-1 in actively incising, rejuvenating landscapes and ca. 12 m3 km-2 year-1 in relict landscapes. The mobilization rates in the NTK Rift are dominated by the largest landslides. For instance, the 15 largest deep-seated landslides account for 50% of the total rate. Overall, we observe mobilization rates in the NTK Rift that are somewhat lower than what a global model predicts. These relatively low rates could be explained by four factors: (i) the absence of major landslide-triggering earthquakes during our 60-year observation period, (ii) the exclusion of earthflows from our analysis due to a lack of information on the depth and velocity of these instances, (iii) the relatively large size of our study area which reduces biases linked to extreme rainfall, (iv) the fact that the NTK Rift is a mountain range in an extension area, which differs from orogenic mountainous areas, where most landslide mobilization rates are reported; and (v) uncertainties on the global landslide mobilization rate model.

In rejuvenated landscapes, roughly 5% of the sediment mobilization by rapidly-moving landslides is linked to human activity, while in relict landscapes this figure rises to 18%, notably due to mining and road construction. The role of human activity is limited as compared to the recent occurrence of some large landslides, which seem linked to natural causes and dominate the overall mobilization rates. Moreover, the limited role of human activity must be balanced with the fact that the NTK Rift, although highly populated, remains relatively untouched by major road infrastructure constructions. While previous studies have found that deforestation has a large impact on the landside risk (i.e. the incidence of landslide fatalities), its impact on the observed mobilization rates appears to be much less important. The landslides associated with deforestation are commonly shallow debris avalanches with a limited size and rather high mobility.

Overall, our results significantly contribute to a better understanding of landslide mobilization and its controlling factors, especially by proving much-needed long-term observations for a currently under-researched type of environment.

How to cite: Depicker, A., Govers, G., Jacobs, L., Vanmaercke, M., Uwihirwe, J., Campforts, B., Kubwimana, D., Maki Mateso, J.-C., Mugaruka Bibentyo, T., Nahimana, L., Smets, B., and Dewitte, O.: Landslide mobilization rates in the Anthropocene: insights from a 60-year observation period in the North-Tanganyika-Kivu Rift region, Africa, EGU General Assembly 2022, Vienna, Austria, 23–27 May 2022, EGU22-10284,, 2022.

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