SYDNEY, Aug. 16 (Xinhua) -- Australian researchers on Thursday said they have developed a software tool that uses applied mathematics and big data analytics to analyze intricate ground motion patterns and track not just the location of landslides but also when they will occur, up to two weeks in advance.
There are always "warning signs" in the leadup to a collapse or slope "failure" but the tricky part is identifying what they are, University of Melbourne researcher Professor Antoinette Tordesillas said in a statement.
"These warnings can be subtle. Identifying them requires fundamental knowledge of failure at the microstructure level - the movement of individual grains of earth," said Tordesillas.
"Of course, we cannot possibly see the movement of individual grains in a landslide or earthquake that stretches for kilometers, but if we can identify the properties that characterize failure in the small-scale, we can shed light on how failure evolves in time, no matter the size of the area we are observing."
The early clues include motion patterns that change over time and become synchronized. The movement can initially be "highly disordered ... But as we get closer to the point of failure - the collapse of a sand castle, crack in the pavement or slip in an open pit mine - motion becomes ordered as different locations suddenly move in similar ways," she said.
"Our model decodes this data on movement and turns it into a network, allowing us to extract the hidden patterns on motion and how they are changing in space and time. The trick is to detect the ordered motions in the network as early as possible, when movements are very subtle."
The new software focuses on turning algorithms and big data into risk assessment and management actions that can save lives, said the university's Professor Robin Batterham.
"We're able to do things that were just unimaginable in a mathematical sense 30 years ago.
"We can now predict when a rubbish landfill might break in a developing country, when a building will crack or the foundation will move, when a dam could break or a mudslide occur. This software could really make a difference."