Help NASA Build the Largest Open Landslide Catalog with Landslide Reporter

With the longer days of spring comes relief for many on the west coast: the end of winter also means the end of the wet season—the rainiest time of year—for coastal California, Oregon, and Washington. Since January of this year, states up and down the west coast have been inundated with mudslides and debris flows because of saturated soils, steep slopes, and—in southern California—deforested, barren hillsides from the California wildfires.

The Puerto Rico Army National Guard work on road clearance and repair in the municipality of Corozal where over 15 families are isolated because of a landslide caused by Hurricane Maria. (PRNG photos by: Sgt. Alexis Vélez/Released-PAO)

Landslides like these cause billions of dollars in property damage and thousands of deaths every year worldwide. Unfortunately, landslides—a term describing the movement of soil and rock down a slope—are notoriously difficult to both predict and often detect. To improve our ability to get a better understanding of where and when these events occur, scientists at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland are building a massive open worldwide database for landslide research—and we are calling upon volunteers to contribute.

Landslide Reporter is part of a larger project called the Cooperative Open Online Landslide Repository, or COOLR. The goal of the COOLR project is to create the largest global public online landslide catalog available for everyone to share, download, and analyze landslide information. “Making information on landslide locations, timing, and impacts available to everyone has the potential to substantially improve our modeling of, response to, and even prediction of these hazards” says Dalia Kirschbaum, the lead scientist of this project at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. To build a catalog of this size, encompassing all landslide activity around the world, NASA scientists are turning to crowdsourcing and citizen science.

How it works

NASA invites citizen scientists like you to submit information about landslides you learn of, whether in person, in local newspapers, or in online databases, to the Landside Reporter portal. You’ll be asked to provide the location of the landslide, the date the landslide occurred, and the source of the information.

Knowing the landslide’s location and date helps match the landslide closely to its causes, such as heavy rainfall (i.e., was it raining at the time of the event?) or the type of geology involved (i.e., what type of rock is located at the landslide site?). Furthermore, an accurate description of the landslide’s whereabouts helps scientists validate landslide models to make sure that the models are correctly predicting where they are most likely to occur based on a variety of information.

Screen shot of Landslide Reporter Quick Start video on the Get Started page.

Citizen scientists can go above and beyond by submitting additional details like a description of the event, size of the landslide, landslide trigger, a link to a photo, and more in Landslide Reporter. NASA scientists review each entry for accuracy before adding the landslide event to COOLR.

Anyone can look at the landslide data in COOLR with a separate application, Landslide Viewer, and then download the data to use on his or her own. Scientists, policy makers, disaster specialists, and the general public can use the data to improve scientific modeling, conduct emergency response, or just better understand where and when landslides have occurred in their area.

Why landslides?

We need continued research on why and how landslides occur to prevent future loss of life and infrastructure. Yet, we have very little open information about where and when landslides occur.

Photo Credit: FEMA/Lee Snyder

Landslides are hard to track visually because they are often too small to see from space. It’s also difficult to keep complete records of landslides because a single storm or other disturbance could trigger hundreds of landslides at once, making a landslide record hard and time-consuming for a single person to map alone.

Additionally, regional landslide databases are rarely shared with the greater community, making it difficult to construct a global picture of landslides open to all. COOLR hopes to engage the global landslide community and become the central location for worldwide landslide data sharing.

Why citizen science?

A robust landslide catalog covering the entire world is only made possible with citizen science!

Before COOLR, NASA created the Global Landslide Catalog (GLC), the largest worldwide database of rainfall-triggered landslides. The GLC contains more than 11,000 landslide reports made by our scientists here at Goddard Space Flight Center.

However, the manual process of adding new landslide reports solely from our lab is challenging—the process is time-consuming and adds biases to our data. If we sum up all the hours it has taken to compile the GLC since its creation in 2007, it would total 140 days or 84 workweeks (without lunch breaks!) of nonstop landslide reporting. In addition, we are challenged by where and when landslide information is available, which skews our information about how frequently landslides may be occurring and what are the most affected areas.

Citizen science extends our reach with more hands and eyes to create a more up-to-date landslide database with as many different sources and as little bias as possible. With your help, we can get a more accurate understanding of the broad reach and impacts of landslides around the world as well as make the general public more aware and educated about landslides as a widespread hazard.

How to get involved

Your data make a difference! It helps to support decisions that can save lives and property. If you want to begin submitting your own landslide reports, we encourage you to check out the Get Started page of our website, landslides.nasa.gov. Use the how-to guides and videos to learn how to use Landslide Reporter and make high-quality reports. We look forward to seeing your submissions!

Categories: Citizen Science

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About the Author

Caroline Juang

Caroline Juang is an Earth scientist, 2017 Brooke Owens Fellow, and recent Harvard graduate currently working as a Landslide Citizen Science Project Coordinator at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, MD. You can follow her on Twitter at @caro_in_space.