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A landslide near Cusco, Peru in 2018. Landslide in Cusco, Peru - 2018.jpg
A landslide near Cusco, Peru in 2018.
A NASA model has been developed to look at how potential landslide activity is changing around the world.

The term landslide or less frequently, landslip, [1] refers to several forms of mass wasting that include a wide range of ground movements, such as rockfalls, deep-seated slope failures, mudflows, and debris flows. Landslides occur in a variety of environments, characterized by either steep or gentle slope gradients, from mountain ranges to coastal cliffs or even underwater, in which case they are called submarine landslides. Gravity is the primary driving force for a landslide to occur, but there are other factors affecting slope stability that produce specific conditions that make a slope prone to failure. In many cases, the landslide is triggered by a specific event (such as a heavy rainfall, an earthquake, a slope cut to build a road, and many others), although this is not always identifiable.



The Mameyes Landslide, in the Mameyes neighborhood of barrio Portugues Urbano in Ponce, Puerto Rico, which buried more than 100 homes, was caused by extensive accumulation of rains and, according to some sources, lightning. Mameyes.jpg
The Mameyes Landslide, in the Mameyes neighborhood of barrio Portugués Urbano in Ponce, Puerto Rico, which buried more than 100 homes, was caused by extensive accumulation of rains and, according to some sources, lightning.

Landslides occur when the slope (or a portion of it) undergoes some processes that change its condition from stable to unstable. This is essentially due to a decrease in the shear strength of the slope material, to an increase in the shear stress borne by the material, or to a combination of the two. A change in the stability of a slope can be caused by a number of factors, acting together or alone. Natural causes of landslides include:

Landslides are aggravated by human activities, such as:

The landslide at Surte in Sweden, 1950. It was a quick clay slide killing one person. Landslide in Sweden (Surte) 1950, 2.jpg
The landslide at Surte in Sweden, 1950. It was a quick clay slide killing one person.


Debris flow

Slope material that becomes saturated with water may develop into a debris flow or mud flow. The resulting slurry of rock and mud may pick up trees, houses and cars, thus blocking bridges and tributaries causing flooding along its path.

Debris flow is often mistaken for flash flood, but they are entirely different processes.

Muddy-debris flows in alpine areas cause severe damage to structures and infrastructure and often claim human lives. Muddy-debris flows can start as a result of slope-related factors and shallow landslides can dam stream beds, resulting in temporary water blockage. As the impoundments fail, a "domino effect" may be created, with a remarkable growth in the volume of the flowing mass, which takes up the debris in the stream channel. The solid–liquid mixture can reach densities of up to 2,000 kg/m3 (120 lb/cu ft) and velocities of up to 14 m/s (46 ft/s). [9] [10] These processes normally cause the first severe road interruptions, due not only to deposits accumulated on the road (from several cubic metres to hundreds of cubic metres), but in some cases to the complete removal of bridges or roadways or railways crossing the stream channel. Damage usually derives from a common underestimation of mud-debris flows: in the alpine valleys, for example, bridges are frequently destroyed by the impact force of the flow because their span is usually calculated only for a water discharge. For a small basin in the Italian Alps (area 1.76 km2 (0.68 sq mi)) affected by a debris flow, [9] estimated a peak discharge of 750 m3/s (26,000 cu ft/s) for a section located in the middle stretch of the main channel. At the same cross section, the maximum foreseeable water discharge (by HEC-1), was 19 m3/s (670 cu ft/s), a value about 40 times lower than that calculated for the debris flow that occurred.


The Costa della Gaveta earthflow in Potenza, Italy. Even though it moves just some mm/a and is hardly visible, this landslide causes progressive damage to the national road, the national highway, a flyover and several houses that were built on it. The Costa della Gaveta earthflow.jpg
The Costa della Gaveta earthflow in Potenza, Italy. Even though it moves just some mm/a and is hardly visible, this landslide causes progressive damage to the national road, the national highway, a flyover and several houses that were built on it.
A rock slide in Guerrero, Mexico Slide-guerrero1.JPG
A rock slide in Guerrero, Mexico

An earthflow is the downslope movement of mostly fine-grained material. Earthflows can move at speeds within a very wide range, from as low as 1 mm/yr (0.039 in/yr) [4] [5] to 20 km/h (12.4 mph). Though these are a lot like mudflows, overall they are more slow moving and are covered with solid material carried along by flow from within. They are different from fluid flows which are more rapid. Clay, fine sand and silt, and fine-grained, pyroclastic material are all susceptible to earthflows. The velocity of the earthflow is all dependent on how much water content is in the flow itself: the higher the water content in the flow, the higher the velocity will be.

These flows usually begin when the pore pressures in a fine-grained mass increase until enough of the weight of the material is supported by pore water to significantly decrease the internal shearing strength of the material. This thereby creates a bulging lobe which advances with a slow, rolling motion. As these lobes spread out, drainage of the mass increases and the margins dry out, thereby lowering the overall velocity of the flow. This process causes the flow to thicken. The bulbous variety of earthflows are not that spectacular, but they are much more common than their rapid counterparts. They develop a sag at their heads and are usually derived from the slumping at the source.

Earthflows occur much more during periods of high precipitation, which saturates the ground and adds water to the slope content. Fissures develop during the movement of clay-like material which creates the intrusion of water into the earthflows. Water then increases the pore-water pressure and reduces the shearing strength of the material. [11]

Debris slide

Goodell Creek Debris Avalanche, Washington, USA Goodell Creek Debris Avalanche.jpg
Goodell Creek Debris Avalanche, Washington, USA

A debris slide is a type of slide characterized by the chaotic movement of rocks, soil, and debris mixed with water and/or ice. They are usually triggered by the saturation of thickly vegetated slopes which results in an incoherent mixture of broken timber, smaller vegetation and other debris. [11] Debris avalanches differ from debris slides because their movement is much more rapid. This is usually a result of lower cohesion or higher water content and commonly steeper slopes.

Steep coastal cliffs can be caused by catastrophic debris avalanches. These have been common on the submerged flanks of ocean island volcanos such as the Hawaiian Islands and the Cape Verde Islands. [12] Another slip of this type was Storegga landslide.

Debris slides generally start with big rocks that start at the top of the slide and begin to break apart as they slide towards the bottom. This is much slower than a debris avalanche. Debris avalanches are very fast and the entire mass seems to liquefy as it slides down the slope. This is caused by a combination of saturated material, and steep slopes. As the debris moves down the slope it generally follows stream channels leaving a v-shaped scar as it moves down the hill. This differs from the more U-shaped scar of a slump. Debris avalanches can also travel well past the foot of the slope due to their tremendous speed. [13]

Blockade of Hunza river Hunza River.jpg
Blockade of Hunza river

Rock avalanche

A rock avalanche, sometimes referred to as sturzstrom, is a type of large and fast-moving landslide. It is rarer than other types of landslides and therefore poorly understood. It exhibits typically a long run-out, flowing very far over a low angle, flat, or even slightly uphill terrain. The mechanisms favoring the long runout can be different, but they typically result in the weakening of the sliding mass as the speed increases. [14] [15] [16]

Shallow landslide

Hotel Panorama at Lake Garda. Part of a hill of Devonian shale was removed to make the road, forming a dip-slope. The upper block detached along a bedding plane and is sliding down the hill, forming a jumbled pile of rock at the toe of the slide. Limone sul Garda Hotel 001.JPG
Hotel Panorama at Lake Garda. Part of a hill of Devonian shale was removed to make the road, forming a dip-slope. The upper block detached along a bedding plane and is sliding down the hill, forming a jumbled pile of rock at the toe of the slide.

A landslide in which the sliding surface is located within the soil mantle or weathered bedrock (typically to a depth from few decimeters to some meters) is called a shallow landslide. They usually include debris slides, debris flow, and failures of road cut-slopes. Landslides occurring as single large blocks of rock moving slowly down slope are sometimes called block glides.

Shallow landslides can often happen in areas that have slopes with high permeable soils on top of low permeable bottom soils. The low permeable, bottom soils trap the water in the shallower, high permeable soils creating high water pressure in the top soils. As the top soils are filled with water and become heavy, slopes can become very unstable and slide over the low permeable bottom soils. Say there is a slope with silt and sand as its top soil and bedrock as its bottom soil. During an intense rainstorm, the bedrock will keep the rain trapped in the top soils of silt and sand. As the topsoil becomes saturated and heavy, it can start to slide over the bedrock and become a shallow landslide. R. H. Campbell did a study on shallow landslides on Santa Cruz Island, California. He notes that if permeability decreases with depth, a perched water table may develop in soils at intense precipitation. When pore water pressures are sufficient to reduce effective normal stress to a critical level, failure occurs. [17]

Deep-seated landslide

Deep-seated landslide on a mountain in Sehara, Kiho, Japan caused by torrential rain of Tropical Storm Talas Kihotown Sehara Miepref No,3.jpg
Deep-seated landslide on a mountain in Sehara, Kihō, Japan caused by torrential rain of Tropical Storm Talas
Landslide of soil and regolith in Pakistan Landslide 2.jpg
Landslide of soil and regolith in Pakistan

Deep-seated landslides are those in which the sliding surface is mostly deeply located below the maximum rooting depth of trees (typically to depths greater than ten meters). They usually involve deep regolith, weathered rock, and/or bedrock and include large slope failure associated with translational, rotational, or complex movement. This type of landslide potentially occurs in an tectonic active region like Zagros Mountain in Iran. These typically move slowly, only several meters per year, but occasionally move faster. They tend to be larger than shallow landslides and form along a plane of weakness such as a fault or bedding plane. They can be visually identified by concave scarps at the top and steep areas at the toe. [18]

Causing tsunamis

Landslides that occur undersea, or have impact into water e.g. significant rockfall or volcanic collapse into the sea, [19] can generate tsunamis. Massive landslides can also generate megatsunamis, which are usually hundreds of meters high. In 1958, one such tsunami occurred in Lituya Bay in Alaska. [12] [20]

Landslide prediction mapping

Landslide hazard analysis and mapping can provide useful information for catastrophic loss reduction, and assist in the development of guidelines for sustainable land-use planning. The analysis is used to identify the factors that are related to landslides, estimate the relative contribution of factors causing slope failures, establish a relation between the factors and landslides, and to predict the landslide hazard in the future based on such a relationship. [21] The factors that have been used for landslide hazard analysis can usually be grouped into geomorphology, geology, land use/land cover, and hydrogeology. Since many factors are considered for landslide hazard mapping, GIS is an appropriate tool because it has functions of collection, storage, manipulation, display, and analysis of large amounts of spatially referenced data which can be handled fast and effectively. [22] Cardenas reported evidence on the exhaustive use of GIS in conjunction of uncertainty modelling tools for landslide mapping. [23] [24] Remote sensing techniques are also highly employed for landslide hazard assessment and analysis. Before and after aerial photographs and satellite imagery are used to gather landslide characteristics, like distribution and classification, and factors like slope, lithology, and land use/land cover to be used to help predict future events. [25] Before and after imagery also helps to reveal how the landscape changed after an event, what may have triggered the landslide, and shows the process of regeneration and recovery. [26]

Using satellite imagery in combination with GIS and on-the-ground studies, it is possible to generate maps of likely occurrences of future landslides. [27] Such maps should show the locations of previous events as well as clearly indicate the probable locations of future events. In general, to predict landslides, one must assume that their occurrence is determined by certain geologic factors, and that future landslides will occur under the same conditions as past events. [28] Therefore, it is necessary to establish a relationship between the geomorphologic conditions in which the past events took place and the expected future conditions. [29]

Natural disasters are a dramatic example of people living in conflict with the environment. Early predictions and warnings are essential for the reduction of property damage and loss of life. Because landslides occur frequently and can represent some of the most destructive forces on earth, it is imperative to have a good understanding as to what causes them and how people can either help prevent them from occurring or simply avoid them when they do occur. Sustainable land management and development is also an essential key to reducing the negative impacts felt by landslides.

A Wireline extensometer monitoring slope displacement and transmitting data remotely via radio or Wi-Fi. In situ or strategically deployed extensometers may be used to provide early warning of a potential landslide. SlideMinder Extensometer.png
A Wireline extensometer monitoring slope displacement and transmitting data remotely via radio or Wi-Fi. In situ or strategically deployed extensometers may be used to provide early warning of a potential landslide.

GIS offers a superior method for landslide analysis because it allows one to capture, store, manipulate, analyze, and display large amounts of data quickly and effectively. Because so many variables are involved, it is important to be able to overlay the many layers of data to develop a full and accurate portrayal of what is taking place on the Earth's surface. Researchers need to know which variables are the most important factors that trigger landslides in any given location. Using GIS, extremely detailed maps can be generated to show past events and likely future events which have the potential to save lives, property, and money.

Prehistoric landslides

Rhine cutting through Flims Rockslide debris, Switzerland Rhine cutting through Flims Rockslide debris.jpg
Rhine cutting through Flims Rockslide debris, Switzerland

Historical landslides

Extraterrestrial landslides

Before and after radar images of a landslide on Venus. In the center of the image on the right, the new landslide, a bright, flow-like area, can be seen extending to the left of a bright fracture. 1990 image. Venus-Landslide.jpg
Before and after radar images of a landslide on Venus. In the center of the image on the right, the new landslide, a bright, flow-like area, can be seen extending to the left of a bright fracture. 1990 image.
Landslide in progress on Mars, 2008-02-19 Avalanche on Mars February 19th 2008 01.jpg
Landslide in progress on Mars, 2008-02-19

Evidence of past landslides has been detected on many bodies in the solar system, but since most observations are made by probes that only observe for a limited time and most bodies in the solar system appear to be geologically inactive not many landslides are known to have happened in recent times. Both Venus and Mars have been subject to long-term mapping by orbiting satellites, and examples of landslides have been observed on both planets.

Landslide mitigation

See also

Related Research Articles

Erosion Processes which remove soil and rock from one place on the Earths crust, then transport it to another location where it is deposited

In earth science, erosion is the action of surface processes that removes soil, rock, or dissolved material from one location on the Earth's crust, and then transports it to another location. This natural process is caused by the dynamic activity of erosive agents, that is, water, ice (glaciers), snow, air (wind), plants, animals, and humans. In accordance with these agents, erosion is sometimes divided into water erosion, glacial erosion, snow erosion, wind (aeolic) erosion, zoogenic erosion, and anthropogenic erosion. The particulate breakdown of rock or soil into clastic sediment is referred to as physical or mechanical erosion; this contrasts with chemical erosion, where soil or rock material is removed from an area by its dissolving into a solvent, followed by the flow away of that solution. Eroded sediment or solutes may be transported just a few millimetres, or for thousands of kilometres.

Megatsunami A very large wave created by a large, sudden displacement of material into a body of water

A megatsunami is a very large wave created by a large, sudden displacement of material into a body of water.

Slump (geology)

A slump is a form of mass wasting that occurs when a coherent mass of loosely consolidated materials or a rock layer moves a short distance down a slope. Movement is characterized by sliding along a concave-upward or planar surface. Causes of slumping include earthquake shocks, thorough wetting, freezing and thawing, undercutting, and loading of a slope.

Soil liquefaction Soil material that is ordinarily a solid behaves like a liquid

Soil liquefaction occurs when a saturated or partially saturated soil substantially loses strength and stiffness in response to an applied stress such as shaking during an earthquake or other sudden change in stress condition, in which material that is ordinarily a solid behaves like a liquid.

Engineering geology Application of geology to engineering practice

Engineering geology is the application of the geology to engineering study for the purpose of assuring that the geological factors regarding the location, design, construction, operation and maintenance of engineering works are recognized and accounted for. Engineering geologists provide geological and geotechnical recommendations, analysis, and design associated with human development and various types of structures. The realm of the engineering geologist is essentially in the area of earth-structure interactions, or investigation of how the earth or earth processes impact human made structures and human activities.

Geologic hazards adverse geologic conditions capable of causing damage or loss of property and life

A geologic hazard is one of several types of adverse geologic conditions capable of causing damage or loss of property and life. These hazards consist of sudden phenomena and slow phenomena:

Mass wasting Geomorphic process by which soil, sand, regolith, and rock move downslope

Mass wasting, also known as slope movement or mass movement, is the geomorphic process by which soil, sand, regolith, and rock move downslope typically as a solid, continuous or discontinuous mass, largely under the force of gravity, frequently with characteristics of a flow as in debris flows and mudflows. Types of mass wasting include creep, slides, flows, topples, and falls, each with its own characteristic features, and taking place over timescales from seconds to hundreds of years. Mass wasting occurs on both terrestrial and submarine slopes, and has been observed on Earth, Mars, Venus, and Jupiter's moon Io.

Rockslide type of landslide caused by rock failure

A rockslide is a type of landslide caused by rock failure in which part of the bedding plane of failure passes through compacted rock and material collapses en masse and not in individual blocks. While a landslide occurs when loose dirt or sediment falls down a slope, a rockslide occurs only when solid rocks are transported down slope. The rocks tumble downhill, loosening other rocks on their way and smashing everything in their path. Fast-flowing rock slides or debris slides behave similarly to snow avalanches, and are often referred to as rock avalanches or debris avalanches.


A mudflow or mud flow is a form of mass wasting involving "very rapid to extremely rapid surging flow" of debris that has become partially or fully liquified by the addition of significant amounts of water to the source material.

Sturzstrom type of landslide consisting of soil and rock

The term sturzstrom, a German word composed of Sturz (fall) and Strom (stream), indicates some large landslides consisting of soil and rock which travel a great horizontal distance when compared to their initial vertical drop — as much as 20 or 30 times. The term is used as a synonym to rock avalanche. Sturzstroms have similarities to the flow of glaciers, mudflows, and lava flows. They flow across land fairly easily, and their mobility increases when volume increases. They have been found on other bodies in the Solar System, including the Moon, Mars, Venus, Io, Callisto, Iapetus, and Phobos.

2006 Southern Leyte mudslide 2006 major landslide in the Philippines

On February 17, 2006, a massive rock slide-debris avalanche occurred in the Philippine province of Southern Leyte, causing widespread damage and loss of life. The deadly landslide followed a 10-day period of heavy rain and a minor earthquake. The official death toll was 1,126.

Debris flow

Debris flows are geological phenomena in which water-laden masses of soil and fragmented rock rush down mountainsides, funnel into stream channels, entrain objects in their paths, and form thick, muddy deposits on valley floors. They generally have bulk densities comparable to those of rock avalanches and other types of landslides, but owing to widespread sediment liquefaction caused by high pore-fluid pressures, they can flow almost as fluidly as water. Debris flows descending steep channels commonly attain speeds that surpass 10 m/s (36 km/h), although some large flows can reach speeds that are much greater. Debris flows with volumes ranging up to about 100,000 cubic meters occur frequently in mountainous regions worldwide. The largest prehistoric flows have had volumes exceeding 1 billion cubic meters. As a result of their high sediment concentrations and mobility, debris flows can be very destructive.

There have been known various classifications of landslides and other types of mass wasting.

A natural hazard is a natural phenomenon that might have a negative effect on humans or the environment. Natural hazard events can be classified into two broad categories: geophysical and biological. Geophysical hazards encompass geologic


An earthflow is a downslope viscous flow of fine-grained materials that have been saturated with water and moves under the pull of gravity. It is an intermediate type of mass wasting that is between downhill creep and mudflow. The types of materials that are susceptible to earthflows are clay, fine sand and silt, and fine-grained pyroclastic material.

Submarine landslide Landslides that transport sediment across the continental shelf and into the deep ocean

Submarine landslides are marine landslides that transport sediment across the continental shelf and into the deep ocean. A submarine landslide is initiated when the downwards driving stress exceeds the resisting stress of the seafloor slope material causing movements along one or more concave to planar rupture surfaces. Submarine landslides take place in a variety of different settings including planes as low as 1° and can cause significant damage to both life and property. Recent advances have been made in understanding the nature and processes of submarine landslides through the use of sidescan sonar and other seafloor mapping technology.

Slope stability refers to the condition of inclined soil or rock slopes to withstand or undergo movement. The stability condition of slopes is a subject of study and research in soil mechanics, geotechnical engineering and engineering geology. Slope stability analyses include static and dynamic, analytical or empirical methods to evaluate the stability of earth and rock-fill dams, embankments, excavated slopes, and natural slopes in soil and rock. The analyses are generally aimed at understanding the causes of an occurred slope failure, or the factors that can potentially trigger a slope movement, resulting in a landslide, as well as at preventing the initiation of such movement, slowing it down or arresting it through mitigation countermeasures.

River bank failure

River bank failure can be caused when the gravitational forces acting on a bank exceed the forces which hold the sediment together. Failure depends on sediment type, layering, and moisture content.

2017 Sichuan landslide

A landslide occurred at about 5:38 am local time on 24 June 2017 in Diexi Town, Mao County, Sichuan Province in south-western China. It destroyed 40 homes in Xinmo Village and killed 10 people, with a further 73 people missing, as of 27 June. A second smaller landslide at around 8:15 pm impeded rescue efforts.

2010 Mount Meager landslide

The 2010 Mount Meager landslide was a large catastrophic debris avalanche that occurred in southwestern British Columbia, Canada, on August 6 at 3:27 a.m. PDT (UTC-7). More than 45,000,000 m3 (1.6×109 cu ft) of debris slid down Mount Meager, temporarily blocking Meager Creek and destroying local bridges, roads and equipment. It was one of the largest landslides in Canadian history and one of over 20 landslides to have occurred from the Mount Meager massif in the last 10,000 years.


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