Geomorphic Hazard Analyses in Tectonically-Active Mountains: Application to the Western Southern Alps, New Zealand
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
On-going population growth and urbanization increasingly force people to occupy environments where natural processes intensely affect the landscape, by way of potentially hazardous natural events. Tectonic plate boundaries, active volcanic regions and rapidly uplifting mountain ranges are prominent examples of geomorphically hazardous areas which today accommodate some of the world’s largest cities. These areas are often affected by more than one hazard such as volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, landslides, tsunamis, floods, storms and wildfires, which frequently interact with each other increasing the total impact on communities. Despite progress in natural hazards research over the last two decades, the increasing losses from natural disasters highlight the limitations of existing methodologies to effectively mitigate the adverse effects of natural hazards. A major limitation is the lack of effective hazard and risk assessments incorporating hazard interactions and cascade effects. Most commonly, the assessment of risks related to different hazards is carried out through independent analyses, adopting different procedures and time-space resolutions. Such approaches make the comparison of risks from different hazard sources extremely difficult, and the implicit assumption of independence of the risk sources leads to neglect of possible interactions among hazard processes. As a result the full hazard potential is likely to be underestimated and lead to inadequate mitigation measures or land-use planning. Therefore there is a pressing need to improve hazard and risk assessments and mitigation strategies especially in highly dynamic environments affected by multiple hazards. A prominent example of such an environment is the western Southern Alps of New Zealand. The region is located along an actively deforming plate boundary and is subject to high rates of uplift, erosion and orographically-enhanced precipitation that drive a range of interrelated geomorphic processes and consequent hazards. Furthermore, the region is an increasingly popular tourist destination with growing visitor numbers and the prospect for future development, significantly increasing societal vulnerability and the likelihood of serious impacts from potential hazards. Therefore the mountainous landscape of the western Southern Alps is an ideal area for studying the interaction between a range of interrelated geomorphic hazards and human activity. In an effort to address these issues this research has developed an approach for the analysis of geomorphic hazards in highly dynamic environments with particular focus on tectonically-active mountains using the western Southern Alps as a study area. The approach aims to provide a framework comprising the stages required to perform multi-hazard and risk analyses and inform land-use planning. This aim was approached through four main objectives integrating quantitative geomorphology, hazard assessments and GIS. The first objective was to identify the dominant geomorphic processes, their spatial distribution and interrelationships and explore their implications in hazard assessment and modelling. This was achieved through regional geomorphic analysis focusing on catchment morphometry and the structure of the drainage networks. This analysis revealed the strong influence and interactions between frequent landslides / debris-flows, glaciers, orographic precipitation and spatially-variable uplift rates on the landscape evolution of the western Southern Alps, which supports the need for hazard assessment approaches incorporating the interrelationships between different processes and accounting for potential event cascades. The second and third objectives were to assess the regional susceptibility to rainfall-generated shallow landslides and river floods respectively, as these phenomena are most often responsible for extensive damage to property and infrastructure, injury, and loss of lives in mountainous environments. To achieve these objectives a series of GIS-based models was developed, applied and evaluated in the western Southern Alps. Evaluation results based on historical records indicated that the susceptibility assessment of shallow landslides and river floods using the proposed GIS-based models is feasible. The output from the landslide model delineates the regional spatial variation of shallow landslide susceptibility and potential runout zones while the results from the flood modelling illustrate the hydrologic response of major ungauged catchments in the study area and identify flood-prone areas. Both outputs provide critical insights for land-use planning. Finally, a multi-hazard analysis approach was developed by combining the findings from the previous objectives based on the concepts of interaction and emergent properties (cascade effects) inherent in complex systems. The integrated analysis of shallow landslides, river floods and expected ground shaking from a M8 plate-boundary fault (Alpine fault) earthquake revealed the areas with the highest and lowest total susceptibilities. Areas characterized by the highest total susceptibility require to be prioritized in terms of hazard mitigation, and areas with very low total susceptibility may be suitable locations for future development. This doctoral research project contributes to the field of hazard research, and particularly to geomorphic hazard analyses in highly dynamic environments such as tectonically active mountains, aiming to inform land-use planning in the context of sustainable hazard mitigation.