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Landslides and Mudflows

Landslides are a serious geologic hazard common to almost every state in the United States. It is estimated that nationally they cause up to $2 billion in damages and from 25 to 50 deaths annually. Globally, landslides cause billions of dollars in damage and thousands of deaths and injuries each year. Individuals can take steps to reduce their personal risk. Know about the hazard potential where you live, take steps to reduce your risk, and practice preparedness plans.

Some landslides move slowly and cause damage gradually, whereas others move so rapidly that they can destroy property and take lives suddenly and unexpectedly. Gravity is the force driving landslide movement. Factors that allow the force of gravity to overcome the resistance of earth material to landslide movement include: saturation by water, steepening of slopes by erosion or construction, alternate freezing or thawing, earthquake shaking, and volcanic eruptions. Landslides are typically associated with periods of heavy rainfall or rapid snow melt and tend to worsen the effects of flooding that often accompanies these events. In areas burned by forest and brush fires, a lower threshold of precipitation may initiate landslides. (More Information on Landslides)

Mudflows (or debris flows) are rivers of rock, earth, and other debris saturated with water. They develop when water rapidly accumulates in the ground, such as during heavy rainfall or rapid snowmelt, changing the earth into a flowing river of mud or 'slurry.' A slurry can flow rapidly down slopes or through channels, and can strike with little or no warning at avalanche speeds. A slurry can travel several miles from its source, growing in size as it picks up trees, cars, and other materials along the way.


About the Author

Federal Emergency Management AgencyFederal Emergency Management Agency

Further Reading
Landslides, Slumps, & Creep (First Books - Earth and Sky Science)
by Peter H. Goodwin

Related Web Links
Talking About Disasters

The Liquid Earth
by The Atlantic Online

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