18 January 2017

The Mount Sulzer avalanches: the amazing video

The Mount Sulzer avalanches: the amazing video

Yesterday I posted details of the four Mount Sulzer avalanches in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve in Alaska. Information about these landslides was provided by Mike Loso – he can be contacted at the following email address:- michael_loso@nps.gov . I noted that he had kindly sent to me a video of the fourth of these events, shot from the air by Luke Wassink, a National Park Service Ranger.  Luke and Mike have given permission for me to make this video available via Youtube, so I have uploaded it this morning.  The video, which is remarkable, should be accessible here, and I have embedded it below:


I very much appreciate the help and support of Michael and Luke in making this available.  The video is remarkable, not least because of the incredible power of the flow.  But note that this event was tiny compared with the two largest events.  Compare the deposit in this image with the trim lines left by the earlier flows in the image below, taken from the video:

Mount Sulzer avalanches

Still from the video of one of the Mount Sulzer avalanches, by Luke Wassink. Mote the trimlines that show how large the earlier events must have been


The materials involved in these Mount Sulzer avalanches is a complex mix of ice and debris. This image, taken by Mike Loso, shows the aftermath of the August 2016 event:-

Mount Sulzer avalanches

The aftermath of the August 2016 Mount Sulzer avalanche showing the complex mix of materials. Image by Mike Loso.


This type of landslide is poorly studied because of the difficulties in obtaining good data.  The video is a remarkable addition to the portfolio of information about these slides. It will now be very interesting to see if further Mount Sulzer avalanches occur in the coming summer.


Once again I would like to thanks Mike Loso and Luke Wassink of Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve in Alaska for making this material available.

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17 January 2017

Mount Sulzer – a series of dramatic, and extremely large, debris and ice avalanches

Mount Sulzer debris and ice avalanches

Mike Loso (contact via: michael_loso@nps.gov) of Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve in Alaska has kindly provided details of an amazing series of debris and ice avalanches that have descended from the flanks of Mount Sulzer in recent years. The Google Earth image below shows the location.  On the left is the site of these major landslides.  The next valley to the west (on the right in this image) has also suffered a glacier surge in the 2015-16 period, but that is not the focus here.

Mount Sulzer

Google Earth image of the Mount Sulzer debris and ice avalanches


In the couple of years before summer 2015 this site appears to have suffered at least two major debris and ice avalanche events.  The image below, the earliest in this sequence (from summer 2015) shows the aftermath of these flows:

Mount Sulzer

An image of Mount Sulzer from Summer 2015 showing the remarkable trim line caused by an earlier landslide events. Image by Jeff Trop.


A landslide deposit is very clear in the foreground, but note the removal of vegetation on the substantial hill on the inside of the bend in the river, including the creation of a clear trim line marking the edge of the flow as it crossed the topography. The very obvious deposit in the foreground, shown below, does not appear to be the major landslide that caused this trim line; this appears to be a second, smaller, event that is sitting on the sheet-like deposit of the larger first landslide:

Mount Sulzer

The deposit left by the second Mount Sulzer landslide, sitting on top of the earlier event. Image by Jeff Trop.


Later in summer 2015 there was a further (the third in this sequence) very large landslide event. This appears to have run over the hill in the foreground once more, removing even more of the vegetation:

Mount Sulzer

Aerial shot of the aftermath of the summer 2015 landslide on Mount Sulzer. Image by Paul Claus


Then in summer 2016 a further slide occurred.  This landslide, which happened on 13th August 2016, was observed and videoed by one of the rangers. This video is now online. The image below shows the aftermath of the landslide:

Mount Sulzer

The aftermath of the August 2016 Mount Sulzer landslide, with remains of the flow in the channel (image by Michael Loso)


The source of these landslides is a steep glacier terminus that is clearly capable of discharges large ice-avalanches, but that also contains evidence of strongly altered, likely clay and ice-rich, unstable slopes beneath the active glacier face:

Mount Sulzer

The steep hanging glacier source of the Mount Sulzer landslides. Image by Mike Loso.


Ice-rich, highly altered sediments that represent the source of much of the debris for the Mount Sulzer landslides. Image by Michael Loso

Ice-rich, highly altered sediments that represent the source of much of the debris for the Mount Sulzer landslides. Image by Mike Loso.


Once again the incredibly dynamic landslide environment of the mountains of Alaska is clear.  Over the last three years it is become apparent that this area is the most active on Earth in terms of very large landslides.  That was not expected (by me at least).

Many thanks to Mike Loso (michael_loso@nps.gov) for providing this information, and to various others for the images.

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16 January 2017

Future shock – the failure to learn from the 2015 earthquake in Nepal

future shock

Future Shock: The exceptional vulnerability of buildings in Nepal to a future earthquake

Future shock – the failure to learn from the 2015 earthquake in Nepal

The Nepali Times had a large piece over the weekend entitled Future Shock, which was driven by National Earthquake day in Nepal.  In an accompanying editorial, the newspaper notes the disastrous failure of Nepal to learn lessons from the earthquake, noting that:

In Kathmandu Valley, the earthquake damage convinced many that cement buildings are safer. A stronger earthquake that lasted longer would have pancaked most concrete structures on 25 April 2015. As our special report in this edition  points out, scientists have warned of much more catastrophic earthquakes in the vicinity of Kathmandu Valley and in Western Nepal. Existing and new buildings are just not capable of withstanding the intensity of shaking we are bound to experience in the Central Himalaya at any time. 

And, most importantly:

We do not intend to spread panic, but the sad fact is that Nepal has squandered the lessons of 2015, and we are woefully unprepared for a disaster sure to come. This doesn’t just mean rehabilitating structures that came down two years ago, but also retrofitting buildings in western Nepal where a Big One is imminent. 

The delayed and ineffective response to 2015 and the lack of serious preparedness is a result of a larger failure of governance. As our report shows, the whole corrupt building permit process has to be overhauled so that safety comes before revenue. We cannot afford to wait for the politics to fix itself, our greatest concern now should be on pre-disaster preparedness and to learn from past experiences.

In my opinion, this hits the nail on the head.  The earthquake left many unstable slopes, and many exceptionally vulnerable people, in the mountainous areas to the north of Kathmandu.  There was an almost total lack of government-led preparedness for the 2016 monsoon, despite warnings that the situation was highly dangerous.  Since then, progress has been slow, even though the 2017 monsoon is just months away.  It is hard not to believe that Nepal is heading for an even greater disaster.

The full set of Future Shock articles – they are all worth a read:

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12 January 2017

Volcan, Argentina: massive mudflows cause major disruption

Volcan, Argentina: massive mudflows cause major disruption

Heavy rainfall in the extreme northwest of Argentina, close to the border with Chile, has caused major mudflows over the last few days.  Whilst the focus in the media has been on the disruption to the Dakar Rally, the impact on local people has been far more serious, especially in the town of Volcan.  Two fatalities have been reported.

Reuters has a nice image of the level of destruction caused by one of the landslides, which has affected the margins of the town:


One of the landslides on the margin of the town of Volcan in Argentina, via Reuters


Meanwhile AP has a view from a different perspective:


The level of damage caused by the landslides at Volcan in Argentina, via AP


The AP report indicates that there were at least two major landslides, affecting the towns of Volcan and Tumbaya, which lies a little to the north.  These appear to be highly mobile mudflows in very fine-grained materials, similar to lahars.  There is a major volcanic province reasonabley close to this area of the Andes, but I have not been able to ascertain whether this region consists of volcanic deposits (the name of the town is of course interesting in this respect).  About 1000 people have needed to be relocated.

A quick view of the Google Earth imagery for this area suggests that these are not the first landslides to affect Volcan by any means:


Google earth imagery of the town of Volcan.  Note north is to the right of the image.


There are some pretty interesting landslides in this image.  The event of the last few days appears to have come down to the valley to the north of the town (on the right side in the image above). The location of the town makes it vulnerable to these high mobility flows.

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11 January 2017

The 1906 Haverstraw landslide

The 1906 Haverstraw landslide

This week marked the 111th anniversary of the disastrous Haverstraw landslide in Rockland County, New York, which killed 19 people.  The disaster was caused by the folly of humans, chasing wealth to be made from the excavation of glacial blue clay, ideal for brick making.  At the height of the industry there were an estimated 3,000 labourers making 350 million bricks per year in Haverstraw.  Over time the quarries opened to exploit the clay moved closer to the town, and excavation was also undertaken in tunnels that ran beneath the settlement.  There is some evidence that local people were raising concerns about the potential for landslides, but of course these were dismissed.

On 8th January 1906 an existing large crack, which had appeared a couple of years earlier, on Rockland Street started to widen.  Some concern was raised, and it does appear that many people left their homes, but others reportedly stoked their coal fires and retired to bed.

The first landslide occurred at 11 pm, when of course it would have been dark and many would have been asleep.  The landslide damaged a number of houses, but also started fires as stoves and lamps were upset.  This was followed by a second landslide at 11:20 pm, and a final one at 11:31 pm.  Several fires developed, but it proved difficult to fight them due to the cold temperatures and the loss of pressure in the pipes as they ruptured in the landslide.  As noted above, 19 people lost their lives.  Three of the bodies were not recovered.

In total about six blocks of the town, including 21 buildings, were lost. There are some amazing photographs of the aftermath of the disaster.  The Rockland Times has a nice article that includes some of them, including this one:

Haverstraw landslide

The aftermath of the 1906 Haverstraw landslide, via the Rockland Times


This postcard from the time provides a remarkable overview of the damage across the town:

Haverstraw landslide

A postcard providing a view of Landslide Haverstraw, NY


Today the town has of course been rebuilt, but the Google Earth image shows the extraordinary landslide scar:

Haverstraw landslide

Google Earth image showing the scar of the 1906 Haverstraw landslide


Haverstraw Library has a nice web page of resources providing reports and detail about the Haverstraw landslide, whilst Brick Collecting has a good newspaper article about the event.

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9 January 2017

Naxal, Kathmandu: a landslide apparently caused by poor construction management

Naxal, Kathmandu: a landslide caused by poor construction management

At 7 am yesterday morning a section of the Bhagwati Bahal-Bal Mandir road in Naxal, Kathmandu collapsed into a deep excavation, closing this busy highway.  Ekantipur has the best image of the site that I have seen so far:


The collapsed road section in Naxal, Kathmandu, via eKantipur


The site is an excavation for a new 5 star hotel, provisionally planned to be Hilton Doubletree.  The Kathmandu Post has a good description of the situation:

The crumbling of the road section between Bhagwati Bahal Temple and Bal Mandir, an orphanage, swallowed up one lane of the street, opening a cavity measuring around 25 meters deep, according to the Department of Roads.

“The developers had dug a big hole around two to three storeys deep to lay the foundation of the proposed hotel. Use of heavy equipment too played a catalytic role in causing the accident,” Roads Department Spokesperson Dayakanta Jha said.

The damage caused to the road segment severely affected vehicular movement in area throughout Sunday. The department has said it would take at least two to three days to repair the segment.

A preliminary assessment carried out by Roads Department officials revealed that the incident occurred “despite taking proper precautionary measures”. “Pile foundation, which is required for such construction, is right in place,” Jha said.

The last statement is decidedly odd.  I question whether the issue here is pile foundations; the problem is more likely to be with the retaining structure on the margin of the excavation.  There are many techniques to allow this to be conducted safely; in this case something has clearly not worked as planned.

An example of what is possible appeared on Twitter last night, this is apparently the excavation for a new hotel from Iran:


An excavation for a new hotel in Iran, via Twitter

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6 January 2017

Collapsing Arctic coastlines

Collapsing Arctic coastlines

In a commentary just published in Nature Climate Change, Michael Fritz from the Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research in Potsdam, and colleagues, have highlighted the potential physical and socioeconomic impacts of the collapse of coastlines in the Arctic.  The article has also been covered in a piece published today in the International Business Times, which is accompanied by some startling images of the coastal landslides that are a primary mechanism for this loss of land:

Arctic coastlines

The eroding coastlines of the Arctic – image by Michael Krautblatter via IBT


The article highlights that the materials that form these Arctic coastlines consist primarily of thick, organic-rich permafrost (frozen soils).  The rate of erosion of these coastlines has increased dramatically as global warming drives an increasing impact in high latitude areas.  The effects are a triple whammy on arctic coastlines, as noted by Fritz et al. (2017):

Fluxes from coastal erosion are expected to drastically increase due to the combined effect of declining summer sea-ice cover on the Arctic Ocean, longer and warmer thawing seasons, and the rising sea level allowing waves to hit the coast higher and longer during the ice-free season.

The upshot is rates of erosion that can reach 25 metres per year, as shown in the image below, and huge increases in the rate of organic release.


Arctic Coastlines

A landslide on Herschel Island, illustrating the rate of loss of Arctic coastlines. Image by Boris Radosavljevic via IBT


Fritz et al. (2017) note that the impact of such large releases of carbon to the local and global environment are poorly understood, and urge an increased research effort to understand these processes.  They note that these landslides that are causing such rapid degradation of Arctic coastlines are likely to have impacts on Arctic marine biodiversity, food security of high latitude people and cultural heritage.  These impacts are being seen across the Arctic – 34% of the Earth’s coasts consist of permafrost soils – so the need for increased understanding is clear.


Fritz, M., Vonk, J.E. and Lantuit, H. 2017. Collapsing Arctic CoastlinesNature Climate Change, 7, 6–7, doi:10.1038/nclimate3188

Other posts about the impacts of rapid climate change in the high latitudes




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1 January 2017

Tumpat-Kuala Lipis: A landslide induced train derailment in Malaysia

Tumpat-Kuala Lipis: A landslide induced train derailment in Malaysia

Heavy rainfall in Malaysia over the last few days has triggered at least nine landslides on the Tumpat-Kuala Lipis railway line in Malaysia.  The line will be closed for at least a week.  One of these landslides derailed a train, fortunately travelling at a low speed.  The 1Malaynews blog has a report in Malay, although as ever Google Translate does a fine job:

…commenting on the landslide that resulted in an intercity train from Tumpat to Kuala Lipis derailed this morning, Zaid said the incident occurred near Station Kuala Gris, Dabong.

“The train departed from Tumpat station at 4.30am heading to Kuala Lipis. When arriving in a tunnel, the train driver noticed landslides and stopped the train.  However, while reversing the train, sudden landslides and struck the train, causing it to slide off the track,” he said.  He said, however, that all 33 passengers and 4 crew were unhurt.  “All the passengers and 4 crew was then walk 2 kilometers to Kuala Gris Station before being transferred by bus to Dabong Station.

The same site has a couple of images of the incident and the landslides:

Tumpat-Kuala Lipis railway line

One of the landslides on the Tumpat-Kuala Lipis railway line, via the 1Malaynews blog


Tumpat-Kuala Lipis railway line

The derailed train on the Tumpat-Kuala Lipis railway line in Malaysia, via the 1MalayNews blog


Examples of other landslides on railway lines

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30 December 2016

Jharkhand and Hpakant: two deadly mine waste landslides in the last two days

Jharkhand and Hpakant: two deadly mine waste landslides in the last two days

In the last two days there have been two deadly mine waste landslides, in Jharkhand in India and Hpakant in Burma (Myanmar), killing substantial numbers of people:-

A mine waste landslide at Jharkhand, India

News reports indicate that a substantial landslide occurred at the Rajmahal coal mine in Godda district, Jharkhand at 7:30 pm local time on 29th December.  The reports and image indicate that this was a large landslide in a waste pile that covered a number of excavators and other machines working at the pit bottom.  The number of people buried is slightly unclear, but the best estimate appears to be about 22.  At the time of writing nine bodies have been recovered.  The likelihood of survivors appears to be remote.

There are several images of the landslide on various news reports, although none provides a decent perspective as yet.  The best image I have found is this one:-

Jharkhand landslide

The coal mine landslide at Jharkhand, India on 29th December. Image from Manob Chowdhury via scroll.in


Yet another deadly Jade mine landslide in Hpakant, Burma

Meanwhile, the deadly toll of mine waste landslides in Burma continues, an issue that I have described with depressing regularity over the last two years.  Yet again a large dump collapsed, burying at least 20 people, on 28th December.  Vietnam Plus has a brief report with a photograph of the site:

Jharkhand landslide

The site of a landslide at a jade mine in Kachin State, Myanmar (Photo via Vietnam Plus and the New York Times)


As I have noted in my recent article in New Civil Engineer, we have both the knowledge and the skills to avoid these types of landslides from causing loss of life.  In developed countries mine waste landslides do occur occasionally, but rarely cause deaths (although an exception might be tailings dam failures).  That these landslides wreak such havoc in poor countries remains a scandal.

Previous post about the depressing toll of mine waste landslides in Burma:

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27 December 2016

The Safeland project reports on landslide hazard and risk management


The Safeland Project reports

The Safeland project reports

Safeland was an EU funded project that ran from 2010 to 2012 that sought to develop quantitative risk assessment and management tools and strategies for landslides across Europe at a range of scales.  Coordinated by the NGI in Norway and including a glittering cast of landslide research organisations from across Europe, it was a highly successful collaborative programme.  I do not think there has been a project like it before or after.  Whilst the project is now complete, the research continues to have a significant impact.

One of the legacies of Safeland is a set of project reports that are singularly impressive documents for the most-part.  Sadly, for some time these were not available online as the original Safeland project site was hacked.  I am delighted to say though that a new portal has been established, and all of these reports are available for download once more.

This is the full set of reports with embedded links to the PDF document:

Work Area 1:

Improving knowledge on landslide hazard (triggering and run-out models)

Deliverable 1.1: Landslide triggering mechanisms in Europe – Overview and State of the Art

Deliverable 1.2: Geomechanical modelling of slope deformation and failure processes driven by climatic factors: shallow landslides, deep landslides and debris flows

Deliverable 1.3: Analysis of the results of laboratory experiments and of monitoring in test sites for assessment of the slope response to precipitation and alidation of prediction models

Deliverable 1.4: Guidelines for use of numerical codes for prediction of climate-induced landslides

Deliverable 1.5: Statistical and empirical models for prediction of precipitation-induced landslides

Deliverable 1.6: Analysis of landslides triggered by anthropogenic factors in Europe

Deliverable 1.7: Landslide runout: Review of analytical/empirical models for subaerial slides, submarine slides and snow avalanche. Numerical modelling. Software tools, material models, validation and enchmarking for selected case studies

Deliverable 1.8: Guidelines: recommended models of landslide triggering processes and run-out to be used in QRA

Deliverable 1.9: Recommendations for run out models for use in landslide hazard and risk mapping


Work Area 2:

Quantitative risk assessment (QRA)

Deliverable 2.1: Overview of landslide hazard and risk assessment practices

Deliverable 2.2a: Examples of international practice in landslide hazard and risk mapping. Assessing the state of art of landslide hazard and risk assessment in the P.R. of China

Deliverable 2.2b: Harmonisation and development of procedures for quantifying landslide hazard

Deliverable 2.3: Overview of European landslide databases and recommendations for interoperability and harmonisation of landslide databases

Deliverable 2.4: Guidelines for landslide susceptibility, hazard and risk assessment and zoning

Deliverable 2.5: Physical vulnerability of elements at risk to landslides: Methodology for evaluation, fragility curves and damage states for buildings and lifelines

Deliverable 2.6: Methodology for evaluation of the socio-economic impact of landslides (socio-economic vulnerability)

Deliverable 2.7a: Case studies of environmental and societal impact of landslides – Part A: Rev. Case studies for environmental (physical) vulnerability

Deliverable 2.7b: Case studies of environmental and societal impact of landslides – Part B: Case studies for socio-economic vulnerability

Deliverable 2.8: Recommended Procedures for Validating Landslide Hazard and Risk Models and Maps

Deliverable 2.9: Toolbox for landslide quantitative risks assessment

Deliverable 2.10: Identification of landslide hazard and risk “hotspots” in Europe

Deliverable 2.11: QRA case studies at selected “hotspots”. Synthesis of critical issues


Work Area 3:

Quantying global change scenarios (climatic and anthropogenic) and their impact on landslide hazard and risk in the future

Deliverable 3.1: Overview on and post-processing of available climate change simulations for Europe on a spatial scale of 25km with a special focus on meteorological extreme events

Deliverable 3.2: REMO climate change simulations with 10km horizontal resolution for case study sites in Southern Italy, the Alps, Southern Norway, and Romania

Deliverable 3.3: Analysis of selected extreme precipitation events with the COSMO-CLM model on a spatial scale of 2.8 km

Deliverable 3.4: Report on projected changes in meteorological extreme events in Europe with a focus on Southern Italy, the Alps, Southern Norway, and Romania:  Synthesis of results

Deliverable 3.5: Overview and interpretation of available data and information on human activity and demographic evolution

Deliverable 3.6: Database of human activity factors affecting the local landslide risk at selected sites (including maps of controlling factors and changes in these factors; land cover, demographic and economic scenarios; trajectory of key indicator of changes)

Deliverable 3.7: Expected changes in climate-driven landslide activity (magnitude, frequency) in Europe in the next 100 years

Deliverable 3.8: Changing pattern in climate-driven landslide hazard at selected sites in Europe (focus on Southern Italy, the Alps and Southern Norway) in the next 50 years

Deliverable 3.9: Methodology for predicting the changes in the landslide risk during the next 50 years at selected sites in Europe. Changing pattern of landslide risk in hotspot and evolution trends in Europe according to global change scenarios.


Work Area 4:

Development of monitoring technology, especially early warning systems and remote sensing techniques, and applications

Deliverable 4.1: Review of Techniques for Landslide Detection, Fast Characterization, Rapid Mapping and Long-Term Monitoring

Deliverable 4.2: Short-term weather forecasting for shallow landslide prediction – Methodology, evaluation of technologies and validation at selected test sites

Deliverable 4.3: Creation and updating of landslide inventory maps, landslide deformation maps and hazard maps as input for QRA using remote-sensing technology

Deliverable 4.4: Guidelines for the selection of appropriate remote sensing technologies for monitoring different types of landslides

Deliverable 4.5: Evaluation report on innovative monitoring and remote sensing methods and future technology

Deliverable 4.6: Report on evaluation of mass movement indicators

Deliverable 4.7: Report on the development of software for early warning based on real-time data

Deliverable 4.8: Guidelines for landslide monitoring and early warning systems in Europe – Design and required technology


Work Area 5:

Risk management, including toolbox or appropriate hazard and risk mitigation measures and stakeholder process for risk management

Deliverable 5.1: Compendium of tested and innovative structural, non-structural and risk-transfer mitigation measures for different landslide types

Deliverable 5.2: Toolbox of landslide mitigation measures

Deliverable 5.3: Quantitative risk-cost-benefit analysis of selected mitigation options for two case studies

Deliverable 5.4: Quantification of uncertainties in the risk assessment and management process

Deliverable 5.5: Five scoping studies of the policy issues, political culture and stakeholder views in the selected case study sites – description of methodology and comparative synthesis report

Deliverable 5.6: Development and testing of spatial multi-criteria evaluation for selected case sites

Deliverable 5.7: Design and testing: a risk communication strategy and a deliberative process for choosing a set of mitigation and prevention measures


Work Package 6:

Demonstration sites and case studies for verification/calibration of models and scenarios

Deliverable 6.1: Validation form and monograph of monitored sites and case studies


Work Package 8:

Project management and co-ordination

Deliverable 0.1: Living with landslides – European and international dimensions of the project

Deliverable 0.3: Dealing with uncertainties in modelling, prediction, and decision-making

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