Transient motion of the largest landslide on earth, modulated by hydrological forces

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Aslan G., De Michele M., Raucoules D., Bernardie S., Çakır Z.

SCIENTIFIC REPORTS, vol.11, no.1, 2021 (Journal Indexed in SCI) identifier identifier identifier

  • Publication Type: Article / Article
  • Volume: 11 Issue: 1
  • Publication Date: 2021
  • Doi Number: 10.1038/s41598-021-89899-6
  • Title of Journal : SCIENTIFIC REPORTS


Sea-level rise of the Caspian Sea (CS) during the early Khvalynian (approximately 40-25 ka BP) generated hundreds of giant landslides along the sea's ancient coastlines in western Kazakhstan, which extended hundreds of kilometers. Although similar landslides have been observed along the present-day coastlines of the CS in the area of a prominent high escarpment, it remains unclear whether some of these ancient landslides are still active and whether the movement is slow or catastrophic, as previously suggested. The present study is the first to show evidence proving that the geomorphic responses to sea-level changes of the CS that were triggered in the Pleistocene are currently active. Using interferometric synthetic aperture radar (InSAR) data, we show that one of these giant landslides occurring along the western shore of the Kara-Bogaz-Gol (KBG) lagoon of the CS presents active transient motion, which makes it the world's largest active landslide reported thus far. Extending more than 25 km along the eastern coast of the inundated KBG depression in a N-S direction with maximum landward expansion of 5 km from the shoreline to the flat Ustyurt Plateau, this landslide conveys-10 x 10(9) m(3) rocks toward the lagoon at a rate of similar to 2.5 cm/year. This event releases a nearly episodic aseismic moment of 6.0 x 10(10) Nm annually, which is equivalent to the response of an Mw 5.1 earthquake. We analyze the present-day evolution of this giant coastal landslide at high temporal and spatial resolutions using Sentinel-1 radar images acquired on descending and ascending modes every 12 days between 2014 and 2020. Modelling with elastic dislocations suggests that the KBG landslide was accommodated mostly by a shallow basal decollement with a nearly horizontal listric slip plane. Moreover, our analysis reveals week-long accelerating slip events at changing amplitudes that occur seasonally with slow, lateral spreading rather than sudden catastrophic motion. A strong correlation between the episodic slip events and seasonal water-level changes in the KBG lagoon suggests a causative mechanism for the transient accelerating slip events. Although water-level changes are widely acknowledged to trigger transient motion on a land mass, such movement, which is similar to a silent earthquake, has not been observed thus far at this mega scale; on an extremely low-angle detachment planes at <5 degrees with modulation by sea-level changes. This study suggests that present-day sea-level changes can reactivate giant landslides that originated 40-25 ka.