Landslides in coastal Uttara Kannada: Management towards risk reduction
Subash Chandran M D, Rao G R, Prakash Mesta, Bharath H Aithal, Uttam Kumar and Ramachandra T V
Energy & Wetlands Research Group, Centre for Ecological Sciences, Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore 560 012, India
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The hilly coast of Uttara Kannada, interrupted with backwaters and river mouths, had no notable history of landslides until multiple slides struck Karwar during the rain-soaked early days of October 2009 causing live burial of 19 persons. That the proneness of the region to landslides has increased due to rising human impacts can be assumed considering the collapse of a hillside along Kumta coast during the peak rainy days of 2010 and in yet another incident near Karwar, boulders rolling down a steep hill hit a running train causing one death and injuries to others.

A combination of factors may be blamed for the landslides that happened and likely to repeat, especially during days of excessive rains which are on the rise. Low lateritic coastal hills are formed of eroded and re-deposited materials from the Western Ghats through geological ages. Vegetation flourished on these hills until pressures from rising population and developmental activities erased bulk of it. The exposed soils of denuded hills got laterised through surface erosion, fine clay materials seeping down into the lower horizons leaving honey-combed iron rich, indurated surface laterite, a poor terrain for plant growth. The indurated surface laterite is an effective shield against landslides, except when deep vertical cuts are made exposing the soft clayey soil horizon beneath.

The vulnerability of deposited lateritic hills to landslides increases if such deposits have taken place along the river courses or estuarine regions, causing capillary rise of water from beneath and descend of rain water through fissures and holes formed by rotten tree stumps. Rainy spells can soak up the soft soils in the interior triggering mudslides due to rupture of the hills, as is the case with the killer landslide at Kadwad in Karwar. Quarrying, pediment cutting, soil removal and stripping of vegetation increase risks.

The granitic hills of Karwar coast are also posing potential landslide problems. The rocks here are of fractured type with ample pockets and cracks with trapped soils. Good forest cover could minimize risks. Deforestation in these is at its peak, caused erosion of top soil and water seepage into the interior of hills. Whereas the soils soak up and expand the granite rocks do not, unlike the laterite. Heavy rainfall acts as triggering cause for landslide hazards in such hills. Pediment cutting and quarrying add to the risk factor.

Probable landslide prone areas in Uttara Kannada district and also in Kerala were predicted using algorithms – GARP  (Genetic Algorithm for Rule-set Prediction) and Support Vector Machine (SVM) in a free and open source software package - openModeller. Several environmental layers such as aspect, digital elevation data, flow accumulation, flow direction, slope, land cover, compound topographic index, and precipitation data were used in modelling. A comparison of the simulated outputs, validated by overlaying the actual landslide occurrence points showed 92% accuracy with GARP and 96% accuracy with SVM in predicting landslide prone areas considering precipitation in the wettest month whereas 91% and 94% accuracy were obtained from GARP and SVM considering precipitation in the wettest quarter of the year.

To prevent landslide hazards, there should be accepted norms for each region, based on composition of soil and rocks, rainfall, quality and biomass of vegetation etc. Reduction of risk factor lies in providing appropriate vegetation cover, and any interference with the hills should be strictly adhering to norms of geology and ecology of the region.

Citation: M. D. Subash Chandran , G. R. Rao , Prakash Mesta, Bharath H. Aithal, Uttam Kumar and T. V. Ramachandra, 2011. Landslides in coastal Uttara Kannada: Management towards risk reduction. Disaster, Risk Vulnerablity Conference 2011 (DRVC 2011), School of Environmental Sciences, Mahatma Gandhi University, India. March 12- 14, 2011, pp. 7-22.

* Address for Correspondence:
  Dr. T.V. Ramachandra
Energy & Wetlands Research Group, Centre for Ecological Sciences, Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore – 560 012, India.
Tel : 91-80-23600985 / 22932506 / 22933099,     Fax : 91-80-23601428 / 23600085 / 23600683 [CES-TVR]
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