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Over the past three decades, geophysical techniques, most notably remote sensing, have become a key component of landslide investigation. Key developments have been: (1) a move from the use of analog aerial and oblique photography through satellite image interpretation to the application of radar and laser technologies; and (2) the increased use of photogrammetry to allow remote collection of rock-slope property data. Throughout this period there has been a progressive improvement in the spatial resolution of the data available, cost, and geographic coverage. The result has been a continuous and often underappreciated improvement in our capacity to identify and analyze landslides. Some improvements have been progressive and gradual, such as in the capacity of optical satellite remote sensing, while others have occurred almost instantaneously, and with little fanfare, such as the appearance of the Google Earth tool. As a consequence, this field is vast and rapidly developing. This chapter aims to examine recent key developments in the use and application of these techniques in landslide investigation, focusing primarily on remote sensing. Likely future developments in this area are outlined in the final section, although with the caveat that predicting likely advances in technology and techniques is difficult and not without risk.
Landslides are naturally occurring phenomena in every environment on Earth, including the tropics, the temperate regions and the high latitudes, and in the oceans. Unfortunately, this ubiquitous natural process represents a substantial hazard to humans because people and structures have a surprisingly low capacity to withstand the forces generated by mobile soil and/or rock. In consequence, there is a long recorded history of landslide disasters – for example, Nihon Shoki (the ancient chronicle of Japan), which was completed in the year AD 720, describes numerous landslides and failures associated with the Hakuho earthquake on 29 November AD 684, whilst the city of Helike in Greece is believed to have been submerged and destroyed as a result of a submarine landslide in 373 BC. Today, landslides continue to inflict a substantial economic and social toll, especially in mountainous, less developed countries, and there is a widely held but admittedly poorly quantified expert perception that the impacts associated with mass movements are increasing rapidly with time.
The term landslide is unfortunately something of a misnomer as many landslides do not in reality involve sliding. The word landslide is used to describe a range of processes that result in downward and outward movement of slope-forming material composed of rock, soil and artificial materials. In this context the term ‘mass movement’ might be preferable, but here the term landslide will be retained as it is in such common use in this context.
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