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New monitors aim to help detect landslides in Sitka

A landslide buried a home under construction in Sitka on August 18, 2015. (Anchorage Daily News archive)

SITKA - New technology distributed in an Alaska community is expected to help detect and study conditions that lead to landslides, a researcher said.

The landslide detection system in Sitka will monitor soil moisture levels and help residents and scientists understand landslide patterns, the Sitka Sentinel reported Thursday.

University of Oregon postdoctoral researcher Annette Patton introduced the system at a Sitka Chamber of Commerce event Wednesday.

Patton helped install the system funded through a $2.1 million grant from the National Science Foundation. The project was initiated after heavy rainfall in 2015 triggered a landslide that struck a Sitka subdivision and killed three men, she said.

The monitoring stations at three locations in Sitka will transmit data every five minutes and produce a body of information over time.

A goal is to study the relation of landslides to different types of storms, including "a really long, low intensity storm" or a small storm that precedes a large storm, Patton said.

She said she hopes the detectors will provide a better understanding of “when landslides will happen and how much rain is too much.”