7 August 2018

Amrita University’s real-time landslide warning system to save lives in the Himalayan region

The United Nations Academic Impact (UNAI), as part of its outreach efforts about the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, including disaster risk management, shares this story submitted by Amrita University, a UNAI member institution. 

7 August 2018 - Amrita University (India), a member institution of the United Nations Academic Impact (UNAI), is leading a project co-funded by the Indian Government to save lives in mountainous regions by installing state-of-the-art systems that give advance warnings of landslides so that people can be safely evacuated before disaster strikes. After commissioning India’s first such system in the Western Ghats mountains of the state of Kerala, it is now readying a second installation in the state of Sikkim to guard against rainfall-induced landslides.

According to Maneesha Sudheer, Director of the Center for Wireless Networks and Applications, who spearheads landslide research at the university, landslides are the third most deadly natural disasters, killing over 300 people every year globally. A report by Indian Roads Congress estimates that 15% of India’s landmass is prone to landslide hazard. Actually, the world’s top two landslide hotspots exist in India. Landslides can be triggered by natural causes like vibrations from earthquakes and the build-up of water pressure between soil layers.

In recent decades though, man-made causes have become significant in triggering landslides, including removal of vegetation from the slopes, interference with natural drainage, leaking water or sewer pipes, modification of slopes by construction, overloading slopes, and vibrations from traffic. The greater risk lies in areas of steep slopes and those having tectonic activity and hilly terrains with heavy rainfall. This is the main reason why Amrita University initiated this project, following the success of the unique system deployed by the institution in 2009.

This system has been actively monitoring the area for landslides and has issued several successful warnings to date. Now Amrita University is deploying a similar system for the Sikkim-Darjeeling region which is very active geologically and is vulnerable to rainfall-induced landslides. Amrita’s new IoT (Internet of Things) system for landslides, being installed in the state of Sikkim, is custom developed for Himalayan geology. It consists of over 200 sensors that can measure geophysical and hydrological parameters like rainfall, pore pressure and seismic activity. It will monitor a densely populated area spanning 150 acres around the Chandmari Village in Sikkim’s Gangtok District. This area has seen landslides in the past, the first one being reported in 1997.

The system collects real-time, continuous data from the sensors, performs basic analysis at the Field Management Center located on the site in the state Sikkim, and relays it to the Data Management Center at Amrita University. The university researchers are using this data to characterize and learn the geological and hydrological nature and response of the hill with respect to the dynamic and real-time meterological variations to develop the Landslide Early Warning Model for that area. To improve the system’s reliability and enhance the early warning duration, a three-level Landslide Early Warning Model has been developed. “This project shows Amrita’s commitment to serve the world", says Venkat Rangan, Vice Chancellor of the university.