Development of smart boulders to monitor mass movements via the Internet of Things: A pilot study in Nepal

Benedetta Dini, Georgie Bennett, Aldina Franco, Andreas Senn

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12 Citations (Scopus)
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Boulder movement can be observed not only in rockfall activity, but also in association with other landslide types such as rockslides, soil slides in colluvium originating from previous rockslides, and debris flows. Large boulders pose a direct threat to life and key infrastructure in terms of amplifying landslide and flood hazards as they move from the slopes to the river network. Despite the hazard they pose, boulders have not been directly targeted as a mean to detect landslide movement or used in dedicated early warning systems. We use an innovative monitoring system to observe boulder movement occurring in different geomorphological settings before reaching the river system. Our study focuses on an area in the upper Bhote Koshi catchment northeast of Kathmandu, where the Araniko highway is subjected to periodic landsliding and floods during the monsoons and was heavily affected by coseismic landslides during the 2015 Gorkha earthquake. In the area, damage by boulders to properties, roads, and other key infrastructure, such as hydropower plants, is observed every year. We embedded trackers in 23 boulders spread between a landslide body and two debris flow channels before the monsoon season of 2019. The trackers, equipped with accelerometers, can detect small angular changes in the orientation of boulders and large forces acting on them. The data can be transmitted in real time via a long-range wide-area network (LoRaWAN®) gateway to a server. Nine of the tagged boulders registered patterns in the accelerometer data compatible with downslope movements. Of these, six lying within the landslide body show small angular changes, indicating a reactivation during the rainfall period and a movement of the landslide mass. Three boulders located in a debris flow channel show sharp changes in orientation, likely corresponding to larger free movements and sudden rotations. This study highlights the fact that this innovative, cost-effective technology can be used to monitor boulders in hazard-prone sites by identifying the onset of potentially hazardous movement in real time and may thus establish the basis for early warning systems, particularly in developing countries where expensive hazard mitigation strategies may be unfeasible.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)295–315
Number of pages21
JournalEarth Surface Dynamics
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 15 Apr 2021

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