The International Information Center for Geotechnical Engineers

Landslides: Slope stability, triggers, failure dynamics, and morphology

 Katherine Lowe

Department of Earth and Environmental Science
University of Michigan
CEE 544: Rock Mechanics
Professor: Dimitrios Zekkos

           This report provides a brief overview of the physics of landslides and overviews many types of landslides and triggers, with a focus on landslides triggered by earthquakes. I focus only on terrestrial landslides and do not consider subaqueous landslides.

Why Study Landslides?

            The economic and human losses related to landslides are significant. In the United States alone, 25 to 50 lives are lost each year due to landslides and repairs after landslides occur require 1 to 3 billion dollars to repair (National Academies, 2004). A harsh reminder of the devastating effects of landslides occurred in Oso, Washington in 2014 when a hillside collapsed, destroying a neighborhood and killing 43 people. However, the effects of an extensive landsliding event, such as one triggered by an earthquake dwarf the detrimental effect of a single landslide. Between 1968 and 2008, earthquake induced landslides were responsible for over 70,000 deaths (Marano, 2009). The landslides triggered by the 2008 Wenchuan earthquake alone were responsible for more than 20,000 of these fatalities (Chuan Tang, 2011).

            While some potential slides can be predicted and stabilized, the majority cannot. Widespread stabilization is not feasible, especially on a global scale. Instead, we rely on hazard mapping to identify vulnerable areas. Accurate hazard maps depend on knowledge of landslide dynamics, physical conditions, and forcings (such as increased precipitation or shaking from an earthquake). 

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