18 January 2017
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:- email@example.com . 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:
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:-
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.
17 January 2017
Mount Sulzer debris and ice avalanches
Mike Loso (contact via: firstname.lastname@example.org) 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.
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:
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:
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:
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:
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:
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 (email@example.com) for providing this information, and to various others for the images.
16 January 2017
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:
- ‘Not out of danger yet’, Sonia Awale
- Stirred, not shaken, Kunda Dixit
- Cashing in on politics, Shreejana Shrestha
- A concrete future, Sonia Awale
- A month that felt like a year, Kunda Dixit
- Preparing to be prepared, Kunda Dixit
12 January 2017
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:
Meanwhile AP has a view from a different perspective:
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:
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.
11 January 2017
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:
This postcard from the time provides a remarkable overview of the damage across the town:
Today the town has of course been rebuilt, but the Google Earth image shows the extraordinary landslide scar:
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.
9 January 2017
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 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:
6 January 2017
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:
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.
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 Coastlines. Nature Climate Change, 7, 6–7, doi:10.1038/nclimate3188
Other posts about the impacts of rapid climate change in the high latitudes
- The catastrophic loss of Arctic Sea Ice and its implications for landslides
- The Icy Bay landslide in Alaska: a nice video describing the link with glacial melting
- Slumps caused by thawing ground on Mars and Earth
1 January 2017
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:
Examples of other landslides on railway lines
- The Folkestone Warren landslide toe weight structure
- Landslide-induced train accident in China
- The location of the Italian train crash landslide
- Images of yesterday’s landslide-induced train incidents
- The train derailment on the West Highland line on Thursday
- Unbelievable – a video of a landslide striking and derailing a freight train in Everett, near Seattle, USA
30 December 2016
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:-
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:
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:
- Who was to blame for the Hpakant jade mine landslide?
- Hpakant – another serious Jade Mine landslide in Burma
- Mining in Burma and hydroelectric power in China: two major landslides with familiar causes this weekend
- Burma jade mine landslides: an annus horribilis
- Pharkant, Burma: a liquefaction landslide in mine tailings (with a stunning video)
- Disastrous mining related landslide in Burma / Myanmar
27 December 2016
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 1.6: 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
Work Area 2:
Quantitative risk assessment (QRA)
Deliverable 2.1: Overview of landslide hazard and risk assessment practices
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 3.6: 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 3.9: 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 4.6: Report on evaluation of mass movement indicators
Work Area 5:
Risk management, including toolbox or appropriate hazard and risk mitigation measures and stakeholder process for risk management
Deliverable 5.2: Toolbox of landslide mitigation 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