The research project that I am working on has to do with assessing landslide hazards in Costa Rica. The study of landslides is important because they are a type of natural disaster and how much damage they can cause depends on the size and magnitude of the slide, the type, and where it occurs. When landslides occur in urbanized areas there are more repercussions as they can negatively affect the longevity of existing infrastructure, jeopardize public safety, and can put a strain on traffic flows. Costa Rica in particular is prone to landslide formation due to the fact that they have the perfect ingredients to create them. The country is constantly experiencing earthquakes because it’s surrounded by different active plate tectonic boundaries which increases seismic activity. They also receive heavy amounts of rain during the rainy season which over saturates the soil and makes landmasses more unstable. And lastly, their terrain is not flat meaning they have gorgeous mountain ranges which produces drastic height elevations and steep slopes.
Earthquakes coupled with an excess of rain and steep slopes is the recipe for landslides. Because we are aware of these triggers these landslides then have some level of predictability to them which is where the Lanamme team led by Dr. Paulo Ruiz Cubillo comes in. I am responsible for making a landslide hazard density map along route 27, which means that the map will indicate what areas either already have or are prone to landslide formation. Hazard maps serve as an early detection and prevention tool and to create them I’ve had to become detail oriented and an expert at recognizing geographical characteristics using LiDAR images captured via helicopter in addition to the different GIS tools that I have to my disposal, namely Global Mapper and Surfer.
My mentor, Paulo, chose route 27 to be the focus of this research project because it is currently experiencing landslide issues that is threatening the stability of the road specifically at the 44-45 km mark. Route 27 is a busy national route responsible for the exportation of goods out of San Jose, the country’s capital, meaning that it’s an important part of the economy and being able to detect a landslide and intervene before catastrophe strikes is of value. Given these conditions, studying route 27 and being able to produce viable results and maps would be beneficial for the country as well as encourage surrounding central american countries, which have comparable issues due to the similar topography and location, to use hazard maps as a tool for landslide prevention too.
To create these maps we only have to take into consideration a few factors like geology, slope angles, and land characteristics but because it’s a route that is 76 km long and manually inspecting each individual kilometer takes up time and energy, this becomes a lengthy and slow process. In the end we should have a hazard map of the route that accurately assesses and reflects the current and actual landslide situation.