Probabilistic frequency ratio (PFR) model for quality improvement of landslide susceptibility mapping from LiDAR-derived DEMs
© The Author(s). 2017
Received: 20 February 2017
Accepted: 20 June 2017
Published: 10 July 2017
This paper expands the previous efforts by other researchers to present a quantitative and deterministic approach for terrain analysis. This study evaluates both spatial and temporal factors contributing landslides utilizing Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) point clouds in conjunction with the frequency ratio model (PFR) than has previously been used in the Alborz Mountains. The study area is Marzan Abad of the Alborz Mountain in Iran. The significance of this study is the performance of a high-resolution digital elevation model (DEM) derived from LiDAR point clouds in order to provide detailed information in improving landslide susceptibility evaluation. This study discusses how we improve the quality of landslide susceptibility evaluation. We apply the PFR model to consider the effect of landslide-related factors associated with Google Earth’s high-resolution images and field observations. The LiDAR point cloud data and GIS-based analysis have allowed performing high quality ways of landslide hazard assessments using inventory dataset as compared to previous studies. We contributed an improved landslide inventory map of the Mazandaran Province. We used image elements interpretation from the available ASTER DEM (30 m), LiDAR-DEM (5 m), and the Google Earth high spatial resolution images in conjunction with the field observations. This study evaluates factors such as geology, geomorphology, landuse, soil, slope, and distance from roads and drainage to represent, manipulate, and analyze factors. Also, we evaluated the performance success of the rate curve of landslides susceptibility. The results have indicated an improved landslide susceptibility map from LiDAR-derived DEMs implementing the PFR model with 92.59% of accuracy performance as compared to the existing data and previous studies in the same region. Furthermore, this study reveals that all considering factors have relatively positive effects on the landslides susceptibility mapping in the study, however, the most effective factor on the landslide occurrence is the lithology with 13.7%.
KeywordsLandslide susceptibility LiDAR ASTER GIS Google Earth high-resolution images Probabilistic frequency ratio Alborz mountains
Landslides are one of the most common deformation scenarios in the real-world environment. Almost every year catastrophic landslides cause loss of lives and result in billions of dollars in property damage around the world. Landslide-prone areas reconnaissance is playing a major role for decision makers to prepare a loss reduction plan. Identification and spatial distribution of landslides require knowledge of not only geologic and geomorphic processes, but also of state-of-the-art technologies including geographical information system (GIS). Moreover, LiDAR and Unmanned Airborne Vehicle (UAV) techniques have become excellent tools to improve landslide recognition processes for mapping (Haugerud et al. 2003; Eeckhaut and Van, 2007; Liu et al. 2012; Pirasteh and Li 2016).
Numerous research have been attempted on landslide hazards to study slope instability hazards mapping (Carrara et al. 1991; Carrara et al. 1999; Guzzetti et al. 1999; Barredo et al. 2000; Pack and Tarboton 2004; Guzzetti et al.2005; Roering et al. 2009; Pirasteh et al. 2011; Su et al. 2015). Also, some researchers applied deterministic models for landslide susceptibility mapping and modelling (Binaghi et al. 1999; Westen and Terlien 1996; Watts 2004; Sarkar and Kanungo 2004; Pradhan and Pirasteh, 2010; Zhou et al. 2003; Lee and Dan 2005; Lee et al. 2004; Westen et al. 2008; Jebur et al. 2014). Moreover, they have applied the logistic regression model to landslide hazard mapping (Lee and Pradhan 2006; Choi et al. 2012). Recently, landslide hazard evaluation carried out by using fuzzy logic, and artificial neural network models (Lee et al. 2004; Yilmaz 2010; Lee et al. 2014). During the last decade, researchers indicated that landslide susceptibility and deformation measurement have extensively performed particularly for the landslides assessment (Luzi et al. 2000; Schulz 2004; Su and Bork 2006; Streutker and Glenn 2006; Schulz 2007). They have integrated traditional and advanced methods such as classical geodetic surveying techniques (i.e. theodolites, photogrammetry, Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS)), LiDAR, satellite based observation systems, and the GIS technology by applying stochastic and deterministic models. However, the weakness is that the points collected from theodolites, photogrammetry, levels and GNSS, satellite imageries, perform quite low in density. For example, McKean and Roering (2003) studied the low-density digital elevation model (DEM) to determine the potential to differentiate morphologically components within a landslide (Lee and Dan 2005; Glen et al. 2006; Lee and Pradhan 2006; Yilmaz 2010; Niculită 2016). They explored how to provide insight into the material type and activity of the slide. As a result, the literature review indicated that these techniques and low pixel resolutions of DEM and satellite imageries could not provide sufficient enough accuracy to visualize the objects extracting an informative description of the landslide locations and to predict the probability of the landslides occurrence.
In this study, a high-resolution LiDAR DEM (5 m) has associated with the ASTER DEM (15-m spatial resolution). The Google Earth high-resolution images were used in conjunction with the existing spatial distribution inventory landslides map (1:25,000 scale, Natural Resources of Iran) to apply the PFR model. This approach can contribute a new potential method to research scholars improving landslide evaluation and the quality of susceptibility mapping prediction. Therefore, we collected the existing inventory spatial distribution of landslides data, Google Earth’s images, LiDAR point clouds, and ASTER data to study landslides probability prediction of the Alborz Mountains in Iran.
The Iranian plateau has potential to earthquakes and of various kinds of landslides (Ali et al. 2003a; Ali et al. 2003b; Ali and Pirasteh 2004; Pirasteh et al. 2009; Jaboyedoff et al. 2012; Pirasteh et al. 2015; Niculită 2016) because of a high tectonic activity, rugged topography, geological setting, and climatologic variety. Most of these landslides occur within two main mountain ranges. They are a) Alborz range with NE-NW trend and b) the Zagros range with NW-SE trend. Landslides risk in Alborz range, particularly in the Central Alborz, has a higher risk than other regions (Shoaei et al. 2005). In the last decades, the study area has experienced landslides in the Central Alborz for example, the Hajiabad- Oshan Road in 2003, Fasham-Meygon road in 2006, and Atashgah-e-Karaj in 2008. Moreover, several landslides and rock fall occurred in the Chalus–Tehran road that was induced by Baladeh-Kojour earthquake on 28th May 2004. These catastrophic landslides have proven that a significant attention with an improved method such as LiDAR high-resolution DEM associated with the PFR approach requires evaluating landslides susceptibility mapping. Therefore, we have selected the Marzan Abad area from the Central Alborz, as it is highly populated area and susceptible to landslides, particularly those of which are triggered by earthquakes.
The objectives of this study are a) to use the LiDAR point clouds of a high-resolution DEM to associate with contributing factors, and b) to improve the quality performance of the PFR model in assessing and predicting landslide susceptible areas in the Central Alborz by evaluating LiDAR point clouds of a high-resolution DEM and other influencing factors. Nevertheless, this study contributes the effectiveness of the LiDAR point clouds on improving the performance of landslide susceptible assessments, and how it increases the quality of the PFR model outcomes. In order to satisfy the above objectives, landslide susceptibility analysis techniques have been applied and verified in the study area using the previous research outcomes. We have also assessed landslide-related factors in the GIS software (ArcGIS 10.4) by implementing the analysis tools for spatial management and data manipulation. Finally, we had achieved an acceptable accuracy of landslide susceptibility map by applying the PFR model when we used a high-resolution of DEM.
The elevation of the study area decreases from the south (about 4000 m) to the north, in runoff Chalus River. Chalus River is one of the most important rivers in the Central Alborz and cuts the area in the northeast, and is forming a deeply incised valley. This river transfers water from high-lands with annual precipitation less than 400 mm to the lowlands in the south of the Caspian with annual precipitation of above 1000 mm.
Data collection and preparation
Data collection and preparation are the first fundamental and essential step to the landslide hazard analysis. In this study, we composed the GIS database into five parts: 1) Generating of a high-resolution (5 m) LiDAR DEM and 15 m spatial resolution of the ASTER DEM (VNIR), 2) Google Earth’s images, 3) landslide inventory map, 4) landslide predisposing factor maps and topography maps, and 5) Global Positioning System (GPS) data collection from field observations.
The landslide susceptibility evaluation requires knowledge of factors leading to landslide analyses. We have determined the influencing factors of the landslides (Varnes 1978; Anbalagan 1992; Brunsden, 1996; Guzzetti et al. 1999; Donati and Turrini 2002; Zhou et al. 2002; Jebur et al. 2014). The reviewed literature and field investigations have identified that the most influencing factors in the study area are: Topography, lithology, soil, geomorphology, steepness of slopes, land use, and distance from road networks and drainage (Nichol and Wong 2005; Metternicht et al. 2005). We have subdivided each category into different classes by its value or feature. All influencing factors have obtained or created in the form of maps, and they are representing large quantities of spatial data. The preparation of a susceptibility mapping involves manipulating, analyzing, and presenting data in the GIS.
Predisposing factors and GIS data in for the study area
GIS Data Type
Point and polygon coverage
5 × 5 m
15 × 15 m
roads and drainage
Poly line coverage
30 × 30 m
30 × 30 m
Processing of LiDAR point cloud data
In spatial analysis measurements, the high-resolution DEM and its derivatives such as slope have been considered for the landslide susceptibility mapping. The high-resolution DEM of the Central Alborz is the most useful representation of terrain in the GIS for spatial analysis. A high-resolution DEM is the raster representation, in which each grid cell records the elevation of the earth’s surface, and reflects a view of terrain as a field of elevation values. In this study, a resolution of 5 m in the pixel was applied for grids to generate the high-resolution DEM.
LiDAR point cloud data in LAS format were collected for the Marzan Abad from the Central of Alborz Mountain. We used LAS data to generate a DEM in ArcGIS software. To process the data we used a semi-automated method to remove the noise and classify the objects (Evans et al. 2009). This semi-automated method allowed us to detect and interpret particular objects in the study area. The pre-processing technique has been applied to the point cloud data to achieve the certain level of quality data before it uses for a landslide susceptibility mapping. We extracted the bare-earth (i.e. segregating objects such as trees from the surface and extracting the earth’s surface). This process has a direct impact on the quality of the DEM and landslide investigations. During last decades, various solutions and algorithms for the classification of the LiDAR data were published (Glenn et al. 2006; Derron and Jaboyedoff 2010; Su et al. 2015). The method was based on the surface interpolation and the DEM was generated based on the X,Y,Z points of the whole study area (Pfeifer et al. 1998). To determine the relationship and influence of each individual grid of factors such as landuse etc. within the whole DEM of the study area in the GIS, we are required to consider the whole DEM and the individual factor to identify the number of pixel/grid’s contribution to a landslide. We used Hierarchical Robust Filtering (HRF) method and ArcGIS 10.4 software to develop the high-resolution DEM and TIN of the study area (Fig. 3). The HRF method is originally designed for laser data in the vegetated and rugged topography areas such as Central Alborz Mountains.
PFR model approach
Performance of the effect analysis
One of the fundamental steps in the FR approach and the landslide susceptibility mapping process is validation. We have applied the authentic process to determine the reliability of the previous data and parameters that involve in the present study. We obtained the data from the Geological Survey of Iran and the National Geoscience Database of Iran. We have verified the performance of our result by comparing the existing landslide inventory geospatial distribution map with the landslide susceptibility map (a cross-validation technique). Previous studies (Dietrich et al. 1995; Duan and Grant 2000; Lee and Dan 2005; Liu et al. 2012; Jebur et al. 2014) used “success rate” to evaluate the model performance. The success rate is defined as a ratio of how many actual landslide sites are successfully predicted and allow us to estimate the goodness of the fit of the predictive models with actual landslide sites.
Nevertheless, a far less conventional procedure in conjunction with the state-of-the-art technologies such as LiDAR high-resolution data and PFR method results in a much more satisfying outcome for all concerned. The calculated index values of cells sorted in descending order to obtain the success rate of the curve. We divided the ordered cell values into hundred classes and accumulated 1% intervals to present the percentage of landslides in the study area. Also, some landslide occurrence in each Index value are representing as a percentage of total landslides cumulatively. Effect analysis studies have associated with the high-resolution of DEM and landslide influencing factors indicated how a solution could change when the input factors are changed. This analysis quantifies the uncertainty of each factor. In this study, the effect analyses have been conducted by the exclusion of each factor in turn during the summation stage using Eq. 1. However, the effect of each contributed factor evaluates the related success rates by using the area under the curve calculation.
Results and discussion
PFR model and factors analysis: an improved landslides susceptibility map
Different formations and lito-units in the study area
Salty shale, sandstone, minor dolomite, quartzite
Thick bedded to massive light-colored dolomite, locally with chert bands
Micaceous variegated siltstone and shale, cherty dolomite intercalations
Red arkosic sandstone
Sandstone, shale, limestone, marl phosphatic layers
Black limestone, dolomitic limestone, marl intercalations
Sandstone, shale, limestone intercalatoins, quartzite, siltstone
Basic flows, pyroclastics, sandstone
Fusulina limestone, dolomitic limestone
Cherty limestone, marly limestone, marl and sandy shale
Thin-bedded limestone, calcareous shale, quartzitic sandstone
Shale, sandstone, siltstone, claystone, quartzite, conglomerate, locally limestone intercalations: coal seams and lenses
Limestone, locally dolomitic limestone
Orbitolina limestone (Apian - Cenomanian)
Limestone (Berriasian - Valanginian)
Alkali basalt, spilitic basalt conglomerate, tuff braccia, tuff
Trachyandesitic basalt, tuff breccia, pyroclastics, tuffite
Globotruncana limestone, marl limestone
Marl, calcareous marl, marly limestone
Alternations of limestone and marl
Conglomerate, sandstone, siltstone, siltymarl
Undifferentiated young & old alluvial fans, traces, colluvium, residual soils, fill valley sediments lake deposits
Landslide and rock stream
river and lake
Water body, terraces, colluvium, residual soil
Frequency ratio of factors to landslide occurrence
Total number of pixel
Landslide occurrence pixel
Medium soil form alluvial
Thin soil over rock
Medium soil over the rock
Medium soil over colluvial
Deep soil from alluvial
Fine alluvial soils
Thin sandy soils
Distance from drainage (m)
Total number of pixel
Landslide occurrence pixel
Distance from road (m)
These groups are mainly including marl, marl limestone, limestone, shale associated with old landslides, and rock stream traces which mostly are fissile, soluble and easily weathered materials. The lowest FR values (FR = 0) belong to geological groups including J1, TR3Js, Pd, Ed, E1, O1, P1q, and PEe. FR values are showing a very low correlation with landslide occurrence (Table 3). Thus, we predict a very low susceptibility of landslide occurrence in these classes. The strata mostly contain dolomite, cherty dolomite sandstone, siltstone, and quartzite. We identified that they are among the resistance and hard fracturing litho units in the study area.
Landuse map has indicated that the most hazardous classes are in the lake area (coastal landslides), agricultural lands, and grasslands (FR value 3.8, 2.6, and 1.3, respectively). It is because of geological characteristics (K1M2 and Q1) and water influences in the coastal area. Thus we expect a higher FR values than other locations. In the study area, the agricultural lands are controversial because the landuse and landcover situation of Marzan Abad area at the time of failure is unknown. Moreover, it is not possible to know whether the presence of agricultural lands was a cause of failure or consequence. In fact, it is also possible to possibly say the changes in steepness are due to the evolution of the scarps that may have favored with agricultural lands. This study shows that deep soils from alluvial and fine alluvial soils are the most susceptible groups for landslide occurrence with FR > 2. Geomorphologically, deep valleys and debris lands are the most susceptible classes with FR > 2. Alluvial fan and alluvial plain area have the lowest susceptibility of landslide occurrence with FR = 0 that we have not expected.
The relationships between landslide occurrences and the slope show that gentle slopes have a low frequency of landslides because they have a lower shear stress. We found that at a slope of 10° or less, the frequency ratio was below 1. It is indicating a low probability of landslide occurrence. However, slopes above 11° have a ratio of >1 are showing a higher likelihood of landslide occurrence. The areas with slope steepness of more than 40° and cover a less than 4% of the area are mostly covered by bedrocks (i.e. volcanic rocks). However, this part of the study area with slope steepness of more than 40° have a lower probability of a landslide.
This study reveals that road networks have a strong relationship with landslide occurrence because of cut-slope creations through roads construction. We found that the closer distance to the road, the greater the chances of a landslide occurring. The distance of <100 m, are the most susceptible class with FR > 3, and areas with a distance of >800 m from the road network show a minor relationship with landslide occurrence (FR < 1).
Statistics of the LSI value for all cases
This study reveals that by using the effect analysis, we can know the influence of factors on the landslide susceptibility map, qualitatively. However, the selection of positive factors associated with the PFR and a high-resolution DEM and its derivatives can improve the prediction accuracy of the landslide susceptibility map. Table 4 shows that geology of the area is the most important and the most effective factor on landslide analysis (AUC ratio = 0.789) in Marzan Abad area. In addition to geology, the roads network (AUC ratio = 0.909) and soil (AUC ratio = 0.915) have the most influencing factors on the evaluation of landslide susceptibility mapping. Despite from the mentioned factors, all other effective factors are showing a relatively small and a positive effect on landslides analysis (AUC ratio < 0.926). It can be concluded that all selected factors have some positive influence on the landslide hazards analysis and improved landslides prediction.
Conclusion and suggestion
This study can motivate the Iranian Government to capture the LiDAR point cloud data for development of big data and geodata analytics for the landslide inventory of Iran. We concluded that how LiDAR DEM high-resolution impacts the PFR model outcomes and increases the precision and quality of the susceptibility mapping as compared with the ASTER DEM with 15 m in resolution. As an advanced technique, LiDAR could provide a good set of three-dimensional data with X, Y and Z axis of Marzan Abad area. The PFR model applies on the high-resolution DEM, and its derivative such as slope has provided an improved quality of outcomes of landslide susceptibility mapping in conjunction with the ASTER DEM and Google Earth’s images. This study provides detailed information such as color, geologic, and geomorphic using LiDAR data to generate an improved quality of DEM’s derivatives to assess and predict landslides.
This study concluded that movements and landslide predisposing factors such as topography are similar to those verified landslides in the past. Therefore, this enables us to predict the future slides occurring in a non-specified time span. This study constructs acceptable relationships between improved landslide inventory (Fig. 9) spatial distribution and influencing factors for landslide susceptibility mapping utilizing PFR model and LiDAR approach extracted a high-resolution DEM. The PFR was applied to study the influence of different earth surface factors on the landslide occurrence and evaluating the landslide susceptibility. This model has advantages such as simplicity, and moreover, inputs, outputs, and calculation process are understandable. Also, a large amount of data can be processed in the GIS environment quickly and easily. Based on the qualitative studies, the influencing factors on the landslide susceptibility map were evaluated to select positive factors and to improve the prediction accuracy of the landslide susceptibility map. It means that the selection of factors is significant to landslide susceptibility mapping. This study emphasizes that the most significance causative factor is geology, soil, and roads network. However, we have identified that other factors have positive influences on the landslide susceptibility analysis.
Nevertheless, this study concluded that the most sensitive classes to landslides in the Central Alborz are: a) Quaternary deposits, b) Chalus Formation, and c) Nesen Formation. In addition to the above, we have evaluated that areas below 100-m distances to the roads with more than 10° slope are predictable to landslides. Also, this study brings attentions to decision makers because we have determined the most landslide susceptible areas in deep alluvial soils, deep valleys, debris lands, and the area near water. This study prepared improved landslide susceptible map and it is showing recent landslides on the map. Thus, decisions makers can use it for future operations. However, the information provided by this map can help citizens, planners, and engineers for loss reduction that might have caused from existing and future landslides. This study suggests that factors such as tectonic activities, seismicity, the vulnerability of buildings to be considered for evaluating the PFR model when researchers use LiDAR point cloud data and satellite images. It is because high tectonic activities and earthquakes can trigger landslides.
We identified potential susceptible areas for landslides in Marzan Abad, the Central Alborz Iran. We also improved the quality of landslide evaluation by using the high-resolution of DEM, and we could identify new landslides in the study areas. LiDAR remote sensing data are useful for landslide investigations, particularly when we acquire a high-resolution digital elevation model (DEM). Authors estimate the operational use of the LiDAR technology associated with analytical approaches for landslide studies more often shortly.
This article is a part of the Ph.D. thesis that delivers an integration method of LiDAR data associated with the ASTER DEM and Google Earth’s images by applying the PFR model to evaluate landslide analysis, and to increase the quality of susceptibility mapping in Alborz Mountains.
This work does not have any funding.
SP organized and structured the full manuscript. He collected the data and evaluated them for use in the GIS environment for analyzing and mapping. He also developed an improved susceptibility map and the inventory dataset. SP did the ground truth and field observation. JL contributed to discussions and structuring the body of the manuscript. He was also responsible for SP's supervision of the Ph.D. thesis. Both authors read and approved the final manuscript.
The authors declare that they have no competing interests.
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