NASA, Pacific Disaster Center release new landslide hazard alerting capability

October 26, 2023
By: Chani Goering (Pacific Disaster Center) and Jacob Reed (NASA)

Communities worldwide now have access to a powerful tool to increase their awareness of landslide hazards, thanks to NASA and the Pacific Disaster Center

After years of development and testing, NASA’s Landslide Hazard Assessment for Situational Awareness model (LHASA) has been integrated into the Pacific Disaster Center’s (PDC) multi-hazard monitoring, alerting, and decision-support platform, DisasterAWARE. LHASA allows researchers to map rainfall-triggered landslide hazards, giving DisasterAWARE users around the world a robust tool for identifying, tracking, and responding to these threats. The aim is to equip communities with timely and critical risk awareness that bolsters disaster resilience and safeguards lives and livelihoods.

PDC’s web-based platform, DisasterAWARE Pro, shows LHASA landslide hazard probabilities for Myanmar in Sept. 2023. Red areas indicate the highest risk for landslide occurrence within the past three hours, while orange and yellow indicate lesser risk. Credits: Pacific Disaster Center

Some local authorities develop their own systems to monitor landslide risk, but there isn’t a global model that works in the same way. That’s what defines LHASA: it works all the time and it covers most regions of the world.

Thanks to our collaboration with the Pacific Disaster Center, this powerful landslide technology is now even more accessible for the communities that need it most.

—Robert Emberson, NASA Disasters associate program manager and a key member of the NASA landslides team

Landslides cause thousands of deaths and billions of dollars in damage every year. Developing countries often bear disproportionate losses due to lack of access to hazard early warning systems and other resources for effective risk reduction and recovery. Reports from the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction emphasize that early warning systems and early action are among the most effective ways to decrease disaster-related deaths and losses.

A humanitarian worker from USAID observes the impacts of a landslide. USAID deployed an elite Disaster Assistance Response Team on Nov. 17, 2020, to lead the U.S. response to Hurricanes Eta and Iota. Credits: USAID’s Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance

Image: In 2021, a 7.2 magnitude earthquake struck Haiti, triggering a series of landslides across the country. Landslides can destroy infrastructure and impede the movement of people and life-saving aid. Credits: United Nations World Food Programme


The distribution of reported fatalities from 10,804 rainfall-triggered landslides in NASA’s Global Landslide Catalog (GLC) from 2007 to 2017. White dots represent incidents with zero reported fatalities and dots in the color scale from pink to red represent incidents in the range of 1-5000 fatalities. The NASA landslides team, based primarily out of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, develops the Global Landslide Catalog and LHASA with support from NASA’s Disasters program. Credits: NASA’s Scientific Visualization Studio

LHASA uses a machine learning model that combines data on ground slope, soil moisture, snow, geological conditions, distance to faults, and the latest near real-time precipitation data from NASA’s IMERG product (part of the Global Precipitation Measurement mission). The model has been trained on a database of historical landslides and the conditions surrounding them, allowing it to recognize patterns that indicate a landslide is likely.

The result is a landslide “nowcast”—a map showing the potential of rainfall-triggered landslides occurring for any given region within the past day. This map of hazard likelihood can help agencies and officials rapidly assess areas where the current landslide risk is high. It can also give disaster response teams critical information on where a landslide may have occurred so they can investigate and deploy life-saving resources.

Partnering to Protect the Vulnerable

Generating landslide nowcasts is merely the first step. To be truly effective, vulnerable communities must receive the data in a way that is accessible and easy to integrate into existing disaster management plans. That’s where the Pacific Disaster Center comes in.

PDC is an applied research center managed by the University of Hawaii, and it shares NASA’s goal to reduce global disaster risk through innovative uses of science and technology. Its flagship DisasterAWARE software provides early warnings and risk assessment tools for 18 types of natural hazards and supports decision-making by a wide range of disaster management agencies, local governments, and humanitarian organizations. Prominent users include the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA), and the World Food Programme (WFP).

The close pairing of our organizations and use of PDC’s DisasterAWARE platform for early warning has been a special recipe for success in getting life-saving information into the hands of decision-makers and communities around the world.

—PDC Deputy Executive Director aChris Chiesa, PDC deputy executive director

The collaboration with PDC brings NASA’s landslide tool to tens of thousands of existing DisasterAWARE users, dramatically increasing LHASA’s reach and effectiveness. Chiesa notes that teams in El Salvador, Honduras, and the Dominican Republic have already begun using these new capabilities to assess landslide hazards during the 2023 rainy season.

PDC’s software ingests and interprets LHASA model data and generates maps of landslide risk severity. It then uses the data to generate landslide hazard alerts for a chosen region that the DisasterAWARE mobile app pushes to users. These alerts give communities critical information on potential hazards, enabling them to take protective measures.

DisasterAWARE also creates comprehensive regional risk reports that estimate the number of people and infrastructure exposed to a disaster—focusing specifically on things like bridges, roads, and hospitals that could complicate relief efforts when damaged. This information is critical for allowing decision-makers to effectively deploy resources to the areas that need them most.

This screenshot from PDC’s DisasterAWARE Pro software shows LHASA landslide hazard probabilities for Myanmar in Sept. 2023. Red areas indicate the highest risk for landslide occurrence within the past three hours, while orange and yellow indicate lesser risk. Credits: Pacific Disaster Center

This effort between NASA and the PDC builds upon a history of fruitful cooperation between the organizations. In 2022, they deployed a NASA global flood modeling tool to enhance DisasterAWARE’s flood early-warning capabilities. They have also shared data and expertise during multiple disasters, including Hurricane Iota in 2020, the 2021 earthquake in Haiti, and the devastating August 2023 wildfires in Maui, PDC’s base of operations.

“The LHASA model is all open-source and leverages publicly available data from NASA and partners,” says Dalia Kirschbaum, lead of the NASA landslides team and director of Earth Sciences at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. Kirschbaum and her team were recently awarded the prestigious NASA Software of the Year award for their work developing LHASA.

“This enables other researchers and disaster response communities to adapt the framework to regional or local applications and further awareness at scales relevant to their decision-making needs.”

Landslide hazard alerting and impact reporting is also provided to the business community through DisasterAWARE Enterprise provided by DisasterIQ. DisasterIQ specializes in helping small businesses and large enterprises mitigate the impacts of hazards by protecting business continuity and increasing risk intelligence through its advanced suite of tools.

About PDC

Winner of the 2022 UN Sasakawa Award for Disaster Risk Reduction, the University of Hawai’i’s Pacific Disaster Center is a global leader in the application of life-saving disaster management science, early warning technology, and advanced analytics. Our risk intelligence products provide decision-makers with the essential insights and information needed to act early to protect communities from hazards and to build more sustainable, resilient communities for a safer world.

The Center’s DisasterAWARE technology is used by tens of thousands of disaster management practitioners around the globe. DisasterAWARE provides global, multi-hazard early warning for 19 types of natural hazards. DisasterAWARE offers advanced situational awareness tools for disaster management and humanitarian assistance practitioners including the highest resolution all-hazards impact modeling, advanced analytics, and augmented information through artificial intelligence.

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