Abstract

Earthquakes impart an impressive force on epicentral landscapes, with immediate catastrophic hillslope response. However, their legacy on geomorphic process rates remains poorly constrained. We have determined the evolution of landslide rates in the epicentral areas of four intermediate to large earthquakes (Mw, 6.6–7.6). In each area, landsliding correlates with the cumulative precipitation during a given interval. Normalizing for this meteorological forcing, landslide rates have been found to peak after an earthquake and decay to background values in 1–4 yr, with the decay time scale probably proportional to the earthquake magnitude. The transient pulse of landsliding is not related to external forcing such as rainfall or aftershocks, and we tentatively attribute it to the reduction and subsequent recovery of ground strength. Observed geomorphic trends are not linked with groundwater level changes or root system damage, both of which could affect substrate strength. We propose that they are caused by reversible damage of rock mass and/or loosening of regolith. Qualitative accounts of ground cracking due to strong ground motion abound, and our observations are circumstantial evidence of its potential importance in setting landscape sensitivity to meteorological forcing after large earthquakes.

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