Landslide monitoring using seismic refraction tomography – The importance of incorporating topographic variations

J.S. Whiteley, J.E. Chambers, S. Uhlemann, J. Boyd, M.O. Cimpoiasu, J.L. Holmes, C.M. Inauen, A. Watlet, L.R. Hawley-Sibbett, C. Sujitapan, R.T. Swift, J.M. Kendall

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

16 Citations (Scopus)


Seismic refraction tomography provides images of the elastic properties of subsurface materials in landslide settings. Seismic velocities are sensitive to changes in moisture content, which is a triggering factor in the initiation of many landslides. However, the application of the method to long-term monitoring of landslides is rarely used, given the challenges in undertaking repeat surveys and in handling and minimizing the errors arising from processing time-lapse surveys. This work presents a simple method and workflow for producing a reliable time-series of inverted seismic velocity models. This method is tested using data acquired during a recent, novel, long-term seismic refraction monitoring campaign at an active landslide in the UK. Potential sources of error include those arising from inaccurate and inconsistent determination of first-arrival times, inaccurate receiver positioning, and selection of inappropriate inversion starting models. At our site, a comparative analysis of variations in seismic velocity to real-world variations in topography over time shows that topographic error alone can account for changes in seismic velocity of greater than ±10% in a significant proportion (23%) of the data acquired. The seismic velocity variations arising from real material property changes at the near-surface of the landslide, linked to other sources of environmental data, are demonstrated to be of a similar magnitude. Over the monitoring period we observe subtle variations in the bulk seismic velocity of the sliding layer that are demonstrably related to variations in moisture content. This highlights the need to incorporate accurate topographic information for each time-step in the monitoring time-series. The goal of the proposed workflow is to minimize the sources of potential errors, and to preserve the changes observed by real variations in the subsurface. Following the workflow produces spatially comparable, time-lapse velocity cross-sections formulated from disparate, discretely-acquired datasets. These practical steps aim to aid the use of the seismic refraction tomography method for the long-term monitoring of landslides prone to hydrological destabilization.
Original languageEnglish
JournalEngineering Geology
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2020


  • Seismic refraction
  • Geophysical monitoring
  • Active landslides
  • Topographic change
  • Hydrogeophysics


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