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March 22, 2023

Simple lateral spread landslide models made with glass microbeads and shaking

An illustrative, and entirely dry, lateral spread model can be made using glass microbeads beneath a cohesive sandpack, which I make by combining sand and flour. During shaking, the microbeads behave like a viscous fluid and deform the overlying sandpack. Lateral spread models made in this way are entirely conceptual and illustrative, but they look cool and do reproduce details of ground deformation above a seismically liquefying horizon. Deformation to the cohesive sandpack above the microbeads is visually interesting, with complex arrays of scarps and rotated blocks, as seen below.


December 18, 2022

Another track left by huge sandstone boulders visible with lidar, Big South Fork National River, Kentucky

An interesting aspect of the boulders is that very few have been known to slide or roll into place since folks started recording such things, and they very, very rarely show visible tracks or paths downslope in lidar-derived imagery. The question of how the boulders got to their resting place is legitimate (more on this below), but sometimes, lidar serves up a nice answer, as in the case of the two huge (115 ft or 35 m long) McCreary County, Kentucky, boulders shown below. The boulders and their track are highlighted in the lower image for comparison to the bare lidar.


December 2, 2022

What’s under that anticline? Fold-thrust belt interpretation ideas from geologic sandbox models

Complex structures like this are common in Earth’s sedimentary fold-thrust belts and are tough to fully interpret without seismic surveys or drilling through them, but field- and concept-based information can be gathered to at least give some idea of what might be beneath an anticline like this one. I offer up a few of my own thoughts here, and there are undoubtedly many other possible strategies.


November 1, 2022

Blowout landslides, part 2: Material movement, and did anything actually “blow out?”

So, what actually happens when these slides occur? I have not personally witnessed one, but I think that a look at details of failure surface shape and the behavior of saturated soil during failure can be used to figure out why blowouts appear to “blow out” instead of just slide. Lack of disturbance of the slopes below blowouts was remarked upon by both Eisenlohr (1952) and Hack and Goodlett (1960), with Hack and Goodlett going to the length of determining just how small of a sapling tree could survive a blowout strike in their study area.


October 29, 2022

“Blowout” landslides and the lidar signature of extreme Appalachian rainfall events

On the night of June 27, 1995, the Albemarle County, Virginia, mountainside shown below received an exceptional amount of rainfall. No one knows how much, but a nearby rain gage recorded ~ 11 inches (28 cm) of rainfall with only 2 hours…the rain event continued for several more hours. Unsurprisingly, a tremendous number of landslides resulted. The slides are clearly visible in this lidar hillshade image, and those marked with yellow arrows are of particular interest in the context of the storm’s outrageous precipitation rate and total, which likely reached 30 inches (76 cm).


October 23, 2022

Sandbox models with high-displacement thrust faults compared to features of some Canadian Rockies sections

Sandbox models don’t always produce the geometry the modeler wants, but with properly scaled materials, a “failed” model run can still produce worthy analog structures. I recently came up short on attempts to model some details of the southern Appalachian Valley and Ridge, instead producing structures reminiscent of some well-known Canadian Rockies sections. Were the model a real thrust belt, drilling through the first anticline of the upper thrust sheet, through the thrust, and into the upturned footwall beds might be interesting, whether you’re into exploration or carbon storage. A hypothetical well is shown here…


July 29, 2022

This North Carolina boulder carved a satisfying track as it slid downhill, and you can see it with lidar imagery

By Philip S. Prince A few weeks ago, after years of “lidar surfing,” I finally encountered an Appalachian boulder that left clear evidence of its sliding path down a mountainside. Large boulders are common throughout all of topographically rugged Appalachia, but they typically reveal little or no evidence about their paths from upslope sources to their current resting places. This Macon County, North Carolina, boulder is a rare exception, as …


July 5, 2022

Lidar imagery reveals interesting details of debris flow movement in the eastern Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina

Lidar imagery provides a way to track downslope material movement of old flows that is otherwise difficult or impossible to see in the field, which is particularly significant in forested Appalachia. This post highlights some interesting debris flow styles and paths now hidden by vegetation in Pisgah National Forest in Transylvania County, North Carolina. The age of these failures is unknown, but they likely occurred in 1916 during an extreme tropical precipitation event in the area.


April 5, 2022

Real sandbox model meets “numerical sandbox” model…an interesting comparison of dry granular media and discrete element simulation

By Philip S. Prince Back in February, I saw several references to the CDEM discrete element modeling tool on Twitter. One of the example simulations reminded me of a “real” sandbox model I made a couple of years ago while experimenting with different material properties. The two results are shown below, with the CDEM example on the left and the real sand model on the right. The CDEM example above …


March 8, 2022

Lidar reveals geologic details of the “worst” coal mine in the Valley of Virginia

Despite its apparently good location, all was not well at the Altoona Mine. Coal seams in the mine were too distorted and mixed with surrounding rock to be easily extracted, leading to its ultimate failure. Early 20th century geologist Marius Campbell addresses this issue at length in the 1925 report The Valley Coal Fields of Virginia, twice calling Altoona’s location “the worst” in the general area and the obvious reason for the mine’s closure.