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Chapter Three

Landslide Types and Processes

David J. Varnes3

It is the purpose of this chapter to re- geology, and hence lie outside the prov-
view the whole range of earth move- ince of the committee.
ments that may properly be regarded as
landslides and to classify these move- Types of Landslides
ments according to factors that have
some bearing on prevention or control. CLASSIFICATION
As defined for use in this volume the
term "landslide" denotes downward and Many classifications have already been
outward movement of slope-forming ma- proposed for earth movements, based
terials composed of natural rock, soils, variously on the kind of . material, type
artificial fills, -or combinations of these of movement, causes, and many other
materials. The moving mass may pro- factors. There are, in. fact, so many such
ceed by any one of three principal types schemes embedded with varying degrees
of movement: falling, sliding, or flowing, of firmness in geological and engineering
or by their combinations. Parts of a literature that the committee has ap-
landslide may move upward while other proached the question of a "new" classi-
parts move downward. The lower limit fication with considerable misgivings. As
of the rate of movement of landslide ma- Terzaghi has stated (1950, p. 88), "A
terial is restricted in this book by the phenomenon involving such a multitude
economic aspect to that actual or po- of combinations between materials and
tential rate of movement which provokes disturbing agents opens unlimited vistas
correction or maintenance. Normal sur- for the classification enthusiast. The re-
ficial creep is excluded. Also, most types sult of the classification depends quite
of movement due to freezing and thaw- obviously on the classifier's opinion re-
ing (solifluction), together with ava- garding the relative importance of the
lanches that are composed mostly of many different aspects of the classified
snow and ice, are not considered as land- phenomenon." Each classification, in-
slides in the sense here intended, al- cluding the one proposed in this volume,
though they often pose serious problems is best adapted to a particular mode of
to the highway engineer. Such move- investigation, and each has its inherent
ments are not discussed because they advantages and disadvantages. However,
appear to depend on factors of weather, as pointed out by Ward (1945, p. 172),
ice physics, and thermodynamics, rather "A classification of the types of failure
is necessary to the engineer to enable
than on principles of soil mechanics or
him to distinguish and recognize the
'' Publication authoricecl by the Director, U. S. different phenomena for purposes of de-
Geological Survey. sign and also to enable him to take the

appropriate remedial or safety measures (b) the type of movement, which usu-
where necessary. The geographer, and ally may be determined by a short period
geologist need a classification so that of observation or by the shape of the
they may interpret the past and predict slide and arrangement of debris. In its
the present trends of topography as re- emphasis on type of movement the classi-
vealed by their observations." fication resembles, more than any other,
The classification adopted there is that proposed by Sharpe (1938) for
shown in Plate 1 and is further described landslides 'and other related movements.
in the following paragraphs. Definitions The chart (P1. 1) shows examples of
of the parts of a landslide appear in slides by small drawings. The type of
Plate 1-t. An abbreviated version, with- material involved is indicated by the
out diagrams and explanatory txt, is horizontal position of the drawing with-
shown in Figure 5. In prepaiing' this in the chart; the type of movement is
classification of landslides, a deliberate indicated by the vertical position of the
effort has been made to set it up ac- drawing. Water content of flow-type
cording to features that may be observed landslides is indicated by the relative
at once or with a minimum of investi- vertical position of the drawing within
gation, and without reference to the the flow group. Each drawing also has a
causes of the slides. Two main variables note giving the general range of velocity
are considered: ('a) the type of material of movement of the landslide type, ac-
involved, which usually is apparent oii cording to the scale of velocities at the
inspection or preliminary boring; and bottom of the chart (P1. 1-u).











Figure 5. Classification of landslides, abbreviated version (see plate 1 for complete chart with drawings and
explanatory text).

.J Limestone, sandstone,
- lava or other bed
resistant to erosion.

Shale, tuff,
volcanic ash or
I other easily
weathered bed

A. Differential weathering B. Frost wedging in jointed

homogeneous rock




C. Jointed homogeneous rock. D. Homogeneous jointed rock.

Hydrostatic pressure acting Blocks left unsupported or
on loosened blocks. loosened by overbreakage
and blast fracture.

E. Either homogeneous jointed F. Either homogeneous jointed

rock or resistant bed rock or resistant bed
underlain by easily eroded underlain by easily eroded
rock. Wave Cut cliff, rock. Stream Cut cliff.
Figure 6. Examples of rockfalls.

Figure 7. Rockfall due to undercutting along shore of Las Vegas Bay, Lake Mead. Nev. The rock is the
Muddy Creek formation (Pliocene?) consisting here of siltstone overlain by indurated breccia. The move-
ment is straight down by gravity, in contrast to rockslide. which slides on a sloping surface. (Photograph
by U. S. Hureau of Reclamation. February 24, 1949)

Materials are classed, for falls and TYPE I - FALLS

slides, into bedrock and soils. The term
"soils" is used in the engineering sense Falls are very common. In rockfall and
and includes elastic material, rock frag- soilfall, the moving mass travels mostly
ments, sheared or weathered bedrock, through the air by free fall, leaping,
and organic matter. Falls and slides in- bounding, or rolling, with little or no
volving bedrock are shown in the upper interaction between one moving unit and
left part of the chart; those involving another (P1. 1-a, b). Movements are very
soils are shown in the upper right part rapid to extremely rapid (see rate of
of the chart. The materials of flows are movement scale, P1. 1-u) and may or may
grouped into various categories. Material not be preceded by minor movements.
is classified according to its state prior Several varieties of rockfall are illus-
to initial movement, or, if the type of trated in Figures 6 and 7.
movement changes, according to its state
at the time of the change to the new TYPE II - SLIDES
type of movement.
Types of movement are divided into In true slides, the movement results
three principal groups - falls, slides, from shear failure along one or several
and flows. A fourth group, complex surfaces, which are either visible or may
slides, is a combination of any or all of reasonably be inferred. Two subgroups
the other three types of movement. There of slides may be distinguished according
may be, of course, variations in the type to the mechanics of movement - those
of movement and in the materials from in which the moving mass is not great-
place to place, or from time to time, in ly deformed (Type hA), and those
an actual landslide, so that a rigid classi- which are greatly deformed or consist of
fication is neither practical nor desir- many small units (Type JIB). The Type
able. hA group includes the familiar slump

or rotational shear types of slides; it in- slope (see Fig. 9). In slumps the move-
cludes also undeformed slides along more ment is more or less rotary about an axis
or less planar surfaces, for which the that is parallel to the slope. The top sur-
term "block glides" is here proposed.
Type JIB slides include most rockslides,
debris slides, and failures by lateral

A - Relatively Uncle formed Material

Type IIA slides are made up of one or

a few moving units. The maximum di-
mension of the units is greater than the
relative displacement between units and
is comparable to or greater than the dis-
placement of the center of gravity of the
whole mass. Movement may be structural- Figure 9. Rotational shear on cylindrical surface.
ly controlled by surfaces of weakness,
such as faults, bedding planes, or joints.
Slumps. - The commonest examples of face of each unit tilts backward toward
Type hA or undeformed glides are the slope (see Figs. 9, 10, 11, and 12,
slumps. Slumps, and slumps combined and P1. 1-c and 1-h).
with other types of movement, make up Figure 10 illustrates some of the com-
a high proportion of the landslide prob- moner varieties of slump failure in va-
lem facing the highway engineer. The rious kinds of material. Figure 12 shows
movement in slumps takes place only th'e backward tilting of strata exposed
along internal slip surfaces. The exposed in a longitudinal section through a small
cracks are concentric and concave to- slump in lake beds. Although the sur-
ward the direction of movement. In many face of rupture of slumps is a concave-
slumps the underlying surface of rup- upward curve, it is seldom a circular arc
ture, together with the exposed scarps, of uniform curvature. Often the shape
is spoon-shaped (see Fig. 8). If the slide of the curve is greatly influenced by
faults, joints, bedding, or other pre-
existing discontinuities in the material.
The influence of such structures must be
considered very carefully when the en-
gineer makes a slope stability analysis
that assumes a certain configuration for
the surface of rupture. Figures 12 and
13 illustrate how the surface of rupture
may follow bedding planes for a consid-
erable part of its length. Upward thrust-
ing and slickensides along the lateral
margin of the toe of a slump are s'hown
in Figure 14.
Figure 8. Spoon-shaped slope failure. Slope failures
are often spoon-shaped, as in this sketch, or cylindri-
The scarp at the head of a slump may
cal as shown in Figure 9. be almost vertical. If the main mass of
the slide moves down very far, the steep
extends for a considerable distance along scarp is left unsupported and the stage
the slope perpendicular to the, direction is set for a new failure at the crown of
of movement, much of the rupture sur- the slide similar to the original slump.
face may approach the shape of a sector- Occasionally the scarps along the lateral
of a cylinder whose axis is parallel to the margins of the upper part of the slide

A. Slope failure in honsv- B. Slope failure in non- -

geneous material. Circo homogeneous material.
tar arc. Surface of rupture follows
I. Slide wholly on slope. diping weak bed.
2. Surface of rupture
intersects toe of slope.




C. Base failure in
genevus cloy. Slip circle homogeneous material
tangent to firm base, Surface of rupture follows
center on vertical bisect-
I or of slope.

V4IT graben

_ Soil - E. Slide beneath side

F. Failure within a side hilt
kill fill. Slip controlled



6. Failure of enrbenbment. H. Slide in a fill insotvieg

Gravel counterweight on undertheusting of firm
left side prevents slide. surface material down
slope. See Chapter 4.
Grovel or slog -


Figure 10. Some varieties of slump.


backward tilt of the unit blocks or by

other irregularities in topography, so
that the slide is kept wet constantly. By
the successive creation of steep scarps
and trapping of water, slumps often be-
come self-perpetuating areas of instabil-
SIpOuI*S of
ity and may continue to move and en-
fl ff55case confrcl;ed large intermittently until a stable slope
e fl orfledyn Sod
by fath,,
of very low gradient is attained. Material
Figure 11. Slump. "Slipout" of fill; in this case con- in the lower parts of slumps may become
trolled by failure in underlying soil. so greatly broken or churned up that
the toe advances as an earthflow or debris
may also be so high and steep that slump slide with a type of motion distinct from
blocks break off along the sides and move slumping at the head. The combination
downward and inward toward the middle of slump and earthfiow, as illustrated in
of the main slide. Figure 15 shows, in Figures 16, 28, and 47, and Plate 1-h,
plan, such an unusual type of slump occurs frequently. Slumping movement
units along the upper margins of a slide; does not generally proceed with more
the longest dimensions of these units than moderate velocity unless the toe is
are parallel with, rather than perpendicu- in water or unless flowing movements
lar to, the direction of movement of the remove material as fast as it is brought
main slide. down from above.
Any water that finds its way into the Block Glides. - Not all Type hA
head of a slump may be ponded by the slides have the characteristic form and




, 5,;

5 v. S


Figure 12. Slump in thinly bedded lake deposits of silt and clay in the Columbia River valley. Note back-
ward tilting of beda above surface of rupture. (Photograph by F. 0. Jones, U. S. Geological Survey)


* lii


surtace ,
tore '-


X Aik
w ffip~w

Figure 12. Note Iios the surface o f rup-

Figure 13. Slump in bedded lake deposits similar to those shown in
ture follows a horizontal bedding plane for part of its length. (Photograph by F. 0. Jones, U. S. (eologicnl

rotary movement of a slump. In some, however, may progress indefinitely if the

the mass progresses out, or clown and surface on which it rests is sufficiently
out, as a unit along a more or less planar inclined and as long as the shear re-
surface, without the rotary movement sistance along this surface remains low-
and backward tilting characteristic of er than the more or less constant driv-
slump. The moving mass may even slide ing force. Several examples of block
out on the original ground surface. The glides are illustrated in Figures 17, 18,
term "block glide" is here applied to 19, and 38, and Plate 1-cl, e, 1, and g.
Type hA slides of this kind. The need Plate 1-g is an example suggested by
for distinguishing this type of slide from the Iowa State highway Commission.
slump arises partly from restriction of Block glides, alone or in combination
sl um p to movement that is only along with other types of movement, are prob-
internal slip surfaces that are generally ably quite common, although they seem
concave upward. But the distinction is to have attracted little attention in the
useful also in planning control measures, literature.
The rotary movement of a slump, if the
surface of rupture dips into the hill at B Greatly Deformed Material
the foot of the slide, tends to restore
equilibrium in the unstable mass; the Type JIB landslides comprise those in
driving moment, therefore, decreases and which the movement is by sliding but
the slide stops moving. A block glide, the material is deformed or breaks up


[5. -- .''.-.

:- 01 :
-- :


z. -5-- S

- -

;' --


Figure 14. UpWard and fors, a rsl slsspiaeemen t at the Intern I margin of the toe of a slump, right hank of the
Columbia River downstream from Grand Coulee Dam, Wash. Slickensides are on the active toe, which con-
sists of clay and silt overlain by river gravel. Arrow shows movement of toe relative to stable area in fore-
ground. (Photograph by U. S. Rureau of Reclamation)

into many more or less independent ture, so that parts of the mass may
units. With continued deformation and slide out over the original ground sur-
disintegration, especially if the water face. Rate of movement ranges within
content or velocity - or both - in- wide limits among the several varieties
creases, a Type IIB slide may change to of Type JIB slides and may vary greatly
a Type III flow. All gradations exist. The from one time to another in the develop-
maximum dimension of the units is com- ment of a single slide.
parable to or less than the relative dis- Rockslides and Debris Slides. Loose
placement between them, and generally rockslides are a common variety of Type
much smaller than the displacement of JIB slide consisting of many units (see
the center of gravity of the whole mass. Figs. 20, 41, and 94, and P1. 14). Vari-
Movement is controlled, perhaps more ous kinds of slides involving natural
frequently than in slumps, by pre-exist- soil, unconsolidated sedimentary materi-
ing structural features, such as faults, al, and rock detritus are included as
joints, bedding planes, or variations in debris slides under Type IIB. Examples
shear strength between layers of detri- of these are illustrated in Figures 21, 22,
tus. Movement often progresses beyond and 23, and Plate 1-j. These slides are
the limits of the original surface of rup- often limited by the contact between loose

Zone A. Movement chiefly by large-scale slumping

along slip surfaces.
a', all Principal slump units.
b' Narrow slump units with axes perpendicular
to axes of main slump units and parallel with
the length of the main slide.
c "Islnd" remaining after downward movement
of unit d from area e.

Zone B. Zone of earthflow. Movement chiefly by


Zone C. Toe of slide area. Original form altered by c.

railroad reconstruction work.


Figure 15. Ames slide near Telluride, Cob. This slump-

material and underlying firm bedrock. earthflow landslide occurred in glacial till that over-
With increase in water content or with lies Mancos shale. Repeated slumping took place along
increasing velocity, debris slides grade the upper margins after the main body of material
had moved down. Note that the long axes of slump
into the flowing movement of debris blocks b and b' are parallel with rather than perpen-
avalanches. dicular to the direction of movement of the main part
Failures by Lateral Spreading. - The of the slide. Blocks b and b', however moved toward
slide shown in Plate 1-k is due to lateral the left, rather than toward the observer. (See Varnes,
Helen U., 1949)
spreading of soft clay from beneath
firmer material. Related types of failure
are described by Newland (1916) and by
Terzaghi and Peck (1948, pp. 368-369,
401-404). In most places the failures ing, and some liquefaction and flow.
take place along zones of high pore- These failures are arbitrarily classed
water pressure in homogeneous clay or with deformed slides rather than with
along partings of sand or silt in clay. flows because the material in motion
The movement in these types of slides generally slides out on a more or less
is usually complex, involving translation, planar surface, and in doing so it may
breaking up of the material, some slump- break up into a number of semi-inde-

F: -.---

,. -. ..t----


Figure 10....ri:Ll luauI the Cedar (reek slide near Miiritrose, Colo. The landslide in the foreground is zoos-
ing to the right and consists of slumps with earthilows at the toe. The material is Mancos shale os'erlain by
10 to 20 feet of gravel, which caps the mesa on the left. The original railroad alignment is completely des-
troyed and the new alignment is being covered by earthflows. (See Varnes, helen D.. 1949) (Photograph by
R. W. Fender. Montrose. Cola.)

pendent units. The dominant movement as grabens, not necessarily with back-
is translation rather than rotation. If ward rotation, and there may be upward
the underlying mobile zone is thick, the and outward extrusion and flow at the
blocks at the head may sink downward toe. Movement generally begins sudden-
ly, without appreciable warning, and
proceeds with a rapid to very rapid ve-
locity; but there are also some cases of
slow movement (see Fig. 115), or of
slow movement preceding sudden failure.
These kinds of slides appear to be
memLers of a gradational series of land-
slide types in surficial materials extend-
ing from block glides at one extreme, in
which the zone of Ilowage beneath the
sliding mass may be very thin, to earth-
flows or completely liquefied mudflows at
Figure 17. Block glide. Slide at a quarry face. the other extreme, in which the zone of

flowage includes the whole mass. The

form taken depends upon local factors.
Most of the larger landslides in glacial
sediments of northern North America
and Scandinavia lie somewhere within
this series (see Fig. 3). Figure 18. Block glide. Body of sliding bedrock at
The large and sometimes disastrous Point Fermin, Calif. (see also Figure 19). Maximum
landslides in Sweden and Norway have average rate of movement 0.1 foot per week. (From
Miller. 1931)
stimulated much excellent study. in a
recent summary, W. Kje]lman (1955)
states that lateral spreading, although in the opposite direction (headward) is
possible, has not been proved for any called "retrogressive." Kjellman gives a
Swedish landslide. The slides are suc- step-by-step analysis of progressive fail-
cessive, however, in that they grow rap- ure. He discounts the statements that
idly while moving. If the slide grows in quick or sensitive clay - that is, a clay
the direction of its own motion it is which loses practically all its shear
termed "progressive." One that grows strength if disturbed is a main cause.


Figure 19. Block glide at Point Ferm in near Los A ngeles, Calif. tile I' holograph indicates rn xi or si u mix ng
into the gap at the rear xxi the main mass and imminent rockialls at the sea-cliff. The principal motion, how-
ever, is by gliding along gently seaward dipping strata. (Photograph by Spence Air l'hotos)

failure is not successive but instantane-

ous over the whole sliding surface.
All investigators would agree that
failures in glacial and marine sediments
of Pleistocene age present some common
and characteristic features. Among these
are: sliding, which often exists for no
apparent external reason; generally sud-
(len failure (see Fig. 3); instability of
very gentle slopes; doniinant movement
by translation; and importance of pore-
water pressure in creating instability.
All degrees of disturbance of the masses
have been observed; some slides consist
almost entirely of one large slab or
"flake," others liquefy almost entirely to
small chunks or mud.

TYPE 111FLows

In flows, the movement within the dis-

placed mass is such that the form taken
by the moving material or the apparent
distribution of velocities and displace-
ments resembles those of viscous fluids.
Slip surfaces within the moving mass are
usually not visible or are short-lived,
and the boundary between moving and
stationary material may be sharp or it
Figure 20. Small rocksllde on dipping sandstone strata
near (!enwood Springs, Cob. Slide rontrolled primari- may be a zone of plastic flow. The ma-
ly by dip of beds toward road. (Photograph by D. J. terial is, by necessity, unconsolidated at
Varnes, U. S. Geological Survey) the time of flow but may consist of rock
fragments, fine granular material, mixed
Odenstad (1951 gives an analysis of debris and water, or plastic clay. As in-
retrogressive failure in the landslide at dicated in Plate 1, there is a continuous
Skottorp on the Lidan River (see Fig. sequence from debris slide through
24). debris avalanche to debris flow as solid
In a sunirnai'y of Norwegian investi- material composed of mixed rock, soil,
gations, L. Bjerrum (1955) re-empha- or detritus takes on more water. Earth-
sizes the importance of sensitivity in flows in plastic or predominantly fine-
leached marine clay and concludes that grained material become mudflows at
higher water content.
Dry Flows. - The word "flow" natur-
ally brings water to mind, and some con-
tent of water is necessary for most types
of flow movement. But there have been
a surprising number of large and catas-
trophic landslides, which flowed accord-
ing to the foregoing definition yet were
nearly or quite dry. Therefore, the classi-
fication of flows on the chart indicates
Figure 21. Debris slide of the soil disintegrating sip the complete range of water content
variety. (Af(er Kesseli, 1913) from dry at the top to liquid at the hot-

0 500 I000f..t

Figure 22. Debris slide, Moutier Court Gorges, Switzerland. Slide is composed of weathered blue clay marl.
talus, and older slide material. (After Buxtorf and Vondersclimitt in Peter, A., 1938)

I) , slide along the G real Northern Rail way near Kettle Falls, Wash. The slide involved Un-
consolidated sediments and talus and was limited by the contact between light-colored materials, exposed
in the scarp at center of photo, and darker firm bedrock. The slide passed over the highway at the base of
the slope and into Lake Roosevelt, creating a destructive wave. The slide has been corrected, at least
temporarily, by clearing the roadway of fallen material; that is, partial excavation of the toe. (Photo-
graph by F. 0. Jones, U. S. Geological Survey)

\ ,/
(b) H
\ \ , /,
J _L
\ ,


Figure 24. Retrogressive failure, landslide at Skottorp, Sweden, according to Odenstad (1951). Failure in
sensitive clay began at the river bank and spread landward along a particularly weak surface BG at a
depth H below ground surface. At the stage shown in drawing (a), a secondary slip surface has developed
along AC, but the block to the left of A is still stable, being supported in part by the material to the right
of A. Height h decreases as the material to the right of A moves out; also the failure surface continues to
spread to the left, as in drawing (b). When height h has decreased to a critical value h', complementary
slip surfaces develop along CD and ED and wedge CDA moves to the right, drawing (c). Wedge E'C'DD'
deforms and moves down and to the right. The process is repeated when the height h" of wedge E'C'DD"
decreases to the critical value h'.

torn. The horizontal position within the amples of rock fragment flows resulting
chart indicates the type of unconsoli- from volcanic explosion are not known
dated material, whether it is mostly in North America. The "glowing cloud"
rock fragments, sand, silt, or nonpiastic or "nue ardente" eruptions of very hot
material, mixed rock and soil, or mostly ash are not regarded as landslides. The
plastic. Blank spaces within this part remarkable flow at Bandaisan, Japan
of the chart indicate incompatible com- (Sekiya and Kikuchi, 1889, p. 109), ap-
binations, such as dry plastic material, pears to be, however, a true example of
or combinations for which there are no a volcanic rock fragment flow. The land-
known examples of flows. slide that occurred in 1925 along the
Dry flows that consist predominantly Gros Ventre Valley in Wyoming (Alden,
of rock fragments are here termed rock 1928) is an example of a rockslide that
fragment flows. They may originate in turned into a flow.
two ways - by volcanic explosion, or by R'ockfall avalanches are most common
a large rockslide or rockfall turning into in rugged mountainous regions. The
a flow. The latter two varieties are disaster at Elm, Switzerland (Heim,
termed rockslide avalanche and rockfall 1932, pp. 84, 109-112), which took 115
avalanche, respectively. Clear-cut ex- lives, started with small rockslides at


: , -.;-'c
d 4 A

Figure 2. I)ry flow of silt. Material is lake bed silt of Pleistocene age from a high bluff on the right bank
of the Columbia River. 2 1/2 miles downstream from Belvedere, Wash. Flow was not ohserved while in
motion, but is believed to result from blocks of silt falling down slope, disintegrating, forming a single
high-density solid-in-air suspension, and flowing out from the t,ase of the cliff. (Photograph by F. 0 .Jones,
U. S. (;cologiral Survey)

each side of a quarry on the mountain- internal interaction between the rock
side. A few minutes later the whole fragments and between them and en-
mass of rock above the quarry crashed trapped highly compressed air, so that
down and shot across the valley. The the whole mass became a density cur-
movement of the rock fragments, which rent of high gravity and unusual velocity.
had to this moment been that of rock- A similar and even largei' rockfall ava-
slide and roekfall, now took on the char- lanche occurred at Frank, Alberta, in
acter of a flow. The mass rushed up the 1903, also with great loss of life and
other side of the small valley, turned property (McConnell and Brock. 1904).
and streamed into the main valley and Such flows probably cannot be produced
flowed for nearly a mile at high velocity by a few thousand or a few hundred
before stopping (see l'l. 1-1). About thousand cubic yards of material. Many
13,000,000 cubic yards of rock descended in illions of tons are required, and when
-in average of 1,450 feet vertically, in a that much material is set in motion,
total elapsed time of about 55 seconds. perhaps even slowly, Predictions of be-
The kinetic energy involved must have havior based on past experience with
been enormous. The flowing motion can small failures become very questionable.
perhaps be explained by assuming much Perhaps the best way to study such

detail (see Fig. 25). The well-known

fluidlike motion of dry sand, as illus-
trated in Plate 1-rn and Figure 26, needs
no comment.
Wet Flows. - Other types of flows,
shown in Plate 1-o to s, require water in
various proportions. The gradations be-
tween debris slide and debris flow re-
flect very largely the differences in wa-
ter content, although material of a giv-
en water content may slide on a gentle
slope but flow on a steeper slope. Debris
slides and, less commonly, debris ava-
lanches may have slump blocks at their
heads. In debris slides, the moving mass
breaks up into smaller and smaller parts
as it advances toward the foot, and the
movement is usually slow. In debris ava-
lanches, progressive failure is more rap-

l"igure. 26. Saud run. Material is sand over lake bed

silt. Columbia River salley. Dry sand from upper
part of terrace flowed like a liquid through notch in
more compact sand and silt below. (Photograph by
F. 0. Jones, U. S. Geological Survey)

failures is by models, which are small

enough to comprehend with the eye and
mind, and constructed with due regard
for the great decrease in the strength
and other physical properties of the ma-
terials as required by scale factors de-
termined through dimensional analysis.
From the meager accounts available,
somewhat the same mechanism as oper-
ated at Elm produced the bess flows that
followed the 1920 earthquake in Kansu
Province, China (Close and McCormick,
1922), ShOwn in Plate 1-n. Apparently, (
the normal fairly coherent internal struc-
ture of the porous silt was destroyed by
earthquake shock, so that, for all prac-
Figure 27. l)ebris ova lanche or debris flow. Fran-
tical purposes, the bess became a fluid
conia Notch, N. H. This landslide occurred June 24,
suspension of silt in air and flowed clown 1910. after several (lays of heavy rainfall. Only soil
into the valleys, filling them and over- mantle. 10 to 15 feet thick, which lay over bedrock
whelming villages. Small flows of dry on a slope of about 1:1, was involved. The slide scar
silt, powdered by impact on falling from is about 1,500 feet long. Note natural levees along
sides of flow.U. S. Route 3 is in the foreground.
a cliff, have been recognized; but as far (Photograph courtesy of New Hampshire l)epart-
as is known, none have been studied in ment of Public Works and Highways)

F iur' 2'. lar(ItI frn 'Iup neak lic,kek'. Calif. h G. I'.. (.Ihert. V. S.
(e.,Iogical Survey)

id and the whole mass, either because it l'late 1-r often occurs during torrential
is quite wet or is on a steep slope, flows runoff following cloudbursts. It is fav-
and tumbles downward, commonly along orecl by the presence of deep soil on
a stream channel, and advances well be- mountain slope.- from which the vege-
yond the foot of the slope. Debris ava- tative cover has been removed by fire or
lanches are generally long and narrow other means; but the absence of vege-
and often leave a serrate or V-shaped tation is not a necessary prerequisite.
scar tapering uphill at the head, as Once in motion, a small stream of water
shown in Figure 27, in contrast to the heavily laden with soil has transporting
horseshoe-shaped scarp of a slump (see l)Owel' out of all proportion to its size;
Fig. 104). and as more material is added to the
Debris flows, called mudilows jO sonic stream by sloughing its size and power
other classifications, are here distiti- increase. These flows commonly follow
guished from the latter on the basis of pre-existing drainage ways, incorporat-
particle size. That is, the term "del)ris ing trees and bushes, and removing
flow" as used here denotes material that everything in their paths. Such flows are
contains a relatively high percentage of of high density, perhaps GO to 70 percent
coarse fragments, whereas the term solids by weight, so that boulders as big
"mudflow" is reserved for material with as an automobile may be rolled along.
at least 50 percent sand, silt, and clay- If such a flow starts on an unbroken hill-
size particles. Debris flows almost in- side it will quickly cut a V-shaped chan-
variably result from unusually heavy nd. Some of the coarser material will
precipitation or from sudden thaw of be heaped at the side to form a natural
frozen soil. The kind of flow shown in levee, while the more fluid part moves

Figure 21. I phi rust toe of a si u nip-cart litlo iv resulting from failure of it canal levee on Middle Rio G rande
Project, N. Mex. The raised toe is about 5 feet high and 200 feet long. (Photograph by 11. S. Bureau of

down the channel (see Fig. 27). Flows crease in shearing resistance. If rela-
may extend many miles, until they drop tively wet, the front of the mass bulges
their loads in a valley of lower gradient and advances either in more or less fluid
or at the base of a mountain front. Some tongues or, if less wet, by a gradual
debris flows and mudflows have been tumbling or rolling-over motion under
reported to proceed by a series of pulses the steady pressure of material behind
in their lower parts; these pulses pre- and above. Many slowly moving earth-
sumably are caused, in part, by periodic flows form the bulbous or spreading toe
damming and release of debris. of slump slides (see Fig. 16 and P). 1-h).
An earthilow is a flow of slow to very Figure 29 shows the spreading, bulbous.
rapid velocity involving mostly plastic upheaved toe of a slump-earthflow re-
or fine-grained nonplastic material. The sulting from failure in a canal embank-
slow earthtlow shown in Figure 28 and ment.
Plate i-p may be regarded as typical of Earthflows may continue to move slow-
an earthflow resulting from failure of a ly for many years under apparently small
slope or embankment. The failure fol- gravitational forces, until stability is
lows saturation and the building up of reached at nearly flat slopes. At a higher
pore-water pressure so that part of the water content the movement is faster,
weight of the material is supported by and what are here considered to he true
interstitial water, with consequent de- mudflows are the liquid "end member"

of the slump-earthfIow series in domi- dreds or even thousands of feet on an

nantly fine-grained material. almost horizontal surface. . . . During
The rapid type of earthflow illustrated the flow [at Riviere Blanche, Quebec]
in Figure 30 and Plate 1-q, called earth- a roughly rectangular area having a
flow by Sharpe (1938, p. 50) and clay length of 1,700 feet parallel to the
flow by Terzaghi and Peck (1948, p. river and 3,000 feet perpendicular to
362), is different from the foregoing and the river subsided 15 to 30 feet. With-
is not easily classified because it shows in several hours, 3,500,000 cubic yards
of the underlying silty clay moved into
some similarity to failure by lateral
the river channel through a gap 200
spreading. These flows usually take place
feet wide. The channel was blocked
in sensitive materials; that is, in those
for over two miles, and the upstream
materials whose shear strength is de-
water level was raised 25 feet.
creased to a very small fraction of its
Similar flows have occurred in
former value on remolding at constant
other parts of Canada, in the state
water content. Terzaghi and Peck state
of Maine, and in the Scandinavian
(1948, p. 361): countries. The index properties of the
soils which flow in this manner are
During a slide in such a clay the
not yet reliably known. The few data
moving mass breaks up into chunks
that are lubricated by the remolded which are available indicate that the
portion of the clay. The mixture of soils arc either very fine rock flours
chunks and matrix is so mobile that or very silty clays of glacial origin
it may flow like a stream for hun- with a natural water content high

rigu re .30. Earth flow flea r Greensboro, Flu. Materiii flu t-Iy lug O rtly indurated ela Cy sa fid of tie
Hawthorn formation (Miocene). The length of the slide is 900 feet from scarp to edge of trees in fore-
ground. Vertical distance from top to base of scarp is 45 feet and from top of scarp to toe is 60 feet. The
slide occurred in April 1945 after a year of unusually heavy rainfall, including 16 inches during the 30
days preceding the slide. (Photograph from R. If. Jordan. 1949)

Figure 31. Reed Terrace area, right bank of Lake Roosevelt reservoir on Columbia River. near Rettle
Falls. Wash., on May 15, 1951. The slide of April 10, 1952, involving about 15.000.000 cubic yards, took
i,lace by progressive slumptng. liquefaction, anti flowing Out of glaeio-fluvial sediments through a narrow
orifice into the bottom of the reservoir. (Photograph by F. 0. Jones, U. S. Ceoogieal Surrey)

above the liquid limit....The ex- 15.000,000 cubic yards. According to

cessive water content, which seems F. 0. Jones of the U. S. Geological Sur-
to constitute a )t'erequisite, indicates vey, who has made a study of slides
a very high degree of sensitivity and along the Columbia River Valley,t it
possiblY a well-developed skeleton
seems likely that the initial failure took
stiuctu re.
place by lateral spreading of the fine-
The large slide on the Reed Terrace grained saturated sediments below wa-
near Kettle Falls, Wash., shown in Fig- ter level. The sliding that followed the
tires 31 and 32, resembles in some re- initial failure, however, was similar to
spects the earthilow at Riviere Blanche slump-earthIlow (P1. 1-h), earthfiow. and
shown in Plate 1-q. The lower part of mudilow. Repeated sliding developed a
the exposed section of the Reed Terrace group of interlocking alcoves, enlarging
slide is composed of laminated silty clays, the slide laterally and landward and sev-
similar to those described by Terzaghi ering three roads. The slide had cut back
and Peck in the foregoing. The terrace 2,000 feet from the original shore by
is capped by sand and gravel. The slide
of April 10, 1952, involved about Jones, F. 0., writlen co,nmunication.

Figure 32. Reed Terrace area, Lake Roosevelt, Wash., after slide of April 10. 1952. (Photograph taken
August 1, 1952. by F. 0. Jones. U. S. Ceologiral Survey)

April 13. A notable feature is the narrow torn, and, by repeated sloughing, the
orifice, which during the major move- slide eats into the bank and enlarges the
ment was only 75 yards wide, and cavity. Sometimes the scarp produced is
through which the slide material flowed -in are, concave toward the water; some-
out under water along the reservoir bot- times it enlarges greatly, retaining a
tom. narrow neck or nozzle through which
Liquid sand or silt flows, such as ii- the sand flows.
lustrateci in Plate 1-s, occur mostly along
l)anks of noncohesive clean ,and or silt. TYPE TV - COMPLEX LANDSLIDES
They are especially common along tidal
estuaries in the coastal provinces of Hol- More often than not, any one land-
land, where banks of sand are subject slide shows several types of movement
to scour and to repeated fluctuations in within its various parts or at different
pore-water pressure due to rise and fall times in its development. Most slides are
of the tide (Koppejan, Van Wamelon, therefore complex. Several shown on the
and Weinberg, 1948; and Muller, 1898). chart, for example those drawn largely
When the structure of the loose sand from actual slides (P1. 1-h, k, and I), are
breaks down along a section of the bank, complex, but each illustrates a dominant
the sand flows out rapidly upon the hot- and characteristic type of movement and

so can be fitted into the classification trigger that set in motion an earth mass
without too much difficulty. that was already on the verge of,failure.
Because the ose of classifying Calling the final factor the cause is like
landslides is to provide better data for calling the match that lit the fuse that
isein controlling or avoiding them, it is detonated the dynamite that destroyed
of the:greatest importance that for com- the building the cause of the disaster."
plex slides the classification be made at In this connection, however, the deter-
the time control or preventive measures mination of all the geologic causes of a
are to be taken. landslide should not be confused with
determination of legal responsibility (see
Landslide Processes Chapter Two).
The interrelations of landslide causes
The process of landsliding is essen- are very lucidly and graphically pre-
tially a. continuous series of events from sented by Terzaghi (1950, p. 105-110).
cause to effect. An engineer faced with a His work and that of Sharpe (1938, p.
landslide is primarily interested in cur- 83-87), Ladd (1935, p. 14-18), Bendel
ing the harmful effects of the slide. In (1948, P. 268-337), and many others re-
many instances the principal cause of ferred to elsewhere have been used ex-
the slide cannot be removed, so it may tensively in the preparation of this sec-
be more economical to alleviate the ef- tion (see also Varnes, 1950).
fects continually or intermittently with- All true slides (excluding falls) in-
out attempting to remove the cause. volve the failure of earth materials un-
Some slides occur in a unique environ- der shear stress. The initiation of the
ment and may be over and done with in a process can therefore be reviewed ac-
few seconds.. The damage can be re- cording to (a) the factors that con-
paired, and the cause may be -of only tribute to high shear stress and (b) the
academic interest unless legal actions factors that contribute to low shear
are to be taken. More often, however, strength. A single action, such as addi-
landslides take .place under the influence tion of water to a slope, may contribute
of geologic, topograjhic, or climatic fac- both to an increase in stress and to de-
tors that are common to large areas. rease in strength. But it is helpful to
These factors, these causes, must then separate mentally the various physical
be underst&od if other similar slides results of such an action.
are to be avoided or controlled. The principal factors contributing to
Very seldom, if ever, can a slide be the instability of earth materials are
attributed to a single definite cause. The outlined in the following. The operation
process leading to the development of of many factors is self-evident and needs
the slide has its beginning with the form- no lengthy description; some factors are
ation of the rock itself, when its basic briefly discussed or reference is made to
physical properties are determined, and literature that gives examples or treats
includes all the subsequent events of the subject in detail.
crustal movements, erosion, and weather-
ing, until some action, perhaps trivial, FACTORS THAT CONTRIBUTE TO HIGH
sets a mass of it in motion downhill. The SHEAR STRESS
last action cannot be regarded as the
one ani only cause, even though it was A. Removal of lateral support
necessary in the chain of events. As Sow- This is the commonest of all factors
ers and Sowers (1951, p. 228) point out, leading to instability and includes the
"In most cases a number of causes exist actions of:
simultaneously, and so attempting to de- 1. Erosionby:
cide which one finally produced failure is a. Streams and rivers in the pro-
not only difficult but also incorrect. Often duction of most natural slopes.
the final factor is nothing more than a The literature on this subject

is vast. For introductici see 105); Skempton and Golder

Terzaghi (1936, 1950), Ter- (1948).
zaghi and Peck (1948), Taylor Wastepiles. From strip mining,
(1948), Ladd (1935), Sharpe Savage (1950).
(1938), Ward (1945); bibliog- Weight of buildings and other
raphies in these references and structures and trains.
in Tompkin and Britt (1951). Weight of water from leaking
Glacier ice. Many valleys in pipelines, sewers, canals, reser-
mountainous regions were deep- voirs, etc.
- ly cut by glaciers; when the
ice retreated, landslides oc- Transitory earth stresses
curred on a large scale. See Earthquakes have triggered a great
Howe (1909). many landslides, both small and 'very
Waves, and longshore or tidal large and disastrous. Their action-is com-
currents. See the following: plex, involving both increase in shear
slides along coast of England, stress, and, in some examples, decrease
Ward (1945, 1948) ; coastal in shear strength. They produce hori-
bluff at Santa Monica, Calif., zontal accelerations that may greatly
Hill (1934) ; flow slides in Hol- modify the state -of stress -within slope-
land, Koppejan et al. (1948) forming material. In the case of poten-
and Muller (1898) ; along Mis- tial circular-arc failure, horizontal ac-
sissippi River, Fisk (1944), celeration causes, a moment about the
Senour and Turnbull (1948). center of the arc '(Terzaghi, 1950,' p. 89-
Subaerial weathering, wetting 91, and Taylor, 1948, p. 452), which when
and drying, and frost action. directed toward the free slope adds to
Creation of new slope by previous its instability. Vibrations from blasting,
rockfall, slide, subsidence, or 'large- machinery, and traffic also produce tran-
scale faulting. sitory earth stresses.
Human agencies: Regional tilting -
Cuts, quarries, pits, and canals. Progressive increase in slope angle
Panama Canal, Binger (1948) through regional tilting has been sus-
MacDonald (1942?); National pected as a contributing cause to some
Academy of Sciences (1924) landslides (Terzaghi. 1950, p. 94). The
Wolf and Holtz (1948). slope must obviously be on the point of
Removal of retaining walls, failure for such a small and slow-acting
sheet piling, etc. change to be effective.
Draining of lakes or draw-
down of reservoirs. See also Removal of underlying support
seepage pressure under "Fac- Undercutting of banks by rivers
tors Contributing to Low and waves.
Shear Strength." Subaerial weathering, wetting and
drying, 'and frost action.
B. Surcharge Subterranean erosion.
1. Natural agencies: Removal of soluble material
Weight of rain, hail, snow, and such as carbonates, sait, or
water from springs. gypsum; collapse of caverns.
Accumulation of talus overrid- See Messines (1948), Buisson
ing landslide material. (1952).
2. Human agencies: Washing out of granular ma-
Construction of fill. terial beneath firmer material.
Stockpiles of ore or rock. Hud- Terzaghi (1931), Ward (1945,
son Valley, Terzaghi (1950, p. p. 189-191).

Human agencies, such as mining. 2. Texture

Loss of strength in underlying ma- "Loose" arrangement of indi-
terial. - vidual particles in sensitive
Large masses of limestone over clays, marl (von Moos and
shale. At Frank, Alberta, and Rutsch, 1944), bess, sands of
at Pulverhrndl in the Alps. low density, and porous organ-
Terzaghi (1950, p. 95-96). ic matter.
Compact till over clay. Ter- Roundness of grains. See Chen
zaghi (1950, p. 96-97). (1948) on increase in com-
Failure by lateral spreading. pressibility and internal fric-
Newland (1916), Odenstad tion with increase in angular-
(1951), Ackermann (1948). ity.
3. Gross structure
F. Lateral pressure due to Discontinuities such as faults,
Water in cracks and caverns. bedding' planes, foliation in
Freezing of water in cracks. schist, cleavage, joints, and
Swelling. brecciated nones. The effect of
Hydration of clay. joints in rcck is self.'evident;
Hydration of anhydrite. See the mechanism of progressive
also Messines (1948). softening of stiff fissured clays
is well described by Skempton
Low SHEAR STRENGTH Massive beds over weak (or
plastic materials.
The factors that contribute to low Strata inclined , toward free
shear strength of rock or soil may be face.
divided into two groups. The first group Alternation of permeable beds,
includes factors deriving from the initial such as sandstone, and weak
state or inherent., characteristics of the impermeable beds, such as
material. They are part of the geologic shale or clay.
setting that may be favorable to land-
sliding, and they change little or not at B. Changes due to weathering and
all during the useful life of a struc- other physico-chemical reactions
ture. They may exist for a long period
without failure occurring. The second Physical disintegration of granular
group (B, C, and D hereafter) includes rocks such as granite or sandstone
the changing or variable factors that under action of frost, thermal ex-
tend to lower shear strength of the ma- pansion, etc. Decrease of cohesion.
terial. Hydration of clay minerals. Ab-
sorption of water by clay minerals
A. The initial state and decrease of cohesion of all
clayey soils at high water contents.
1. Composition.
Inherently weak materials, or those Swelling and loss of cohesion of
which may become weak upon change montmorillonitic clays. Marked con-
in water content or other changes as solidation of bess upon saturation
described in B, C, and D. Included es- due to destruction of clay bond be-
pecially are sedimentary clays and tween silt' particles (see American
shales; decomposed rocks; rocks com- Society for Testing Materials, 1951,
posed of volcanic tuff, which may p. 9-34).
weather to clayey material; materials Base exchange in clays. Influence of
composed dominantly of soft, platy exchangeable ions on physical prop-
minerals, such as mica, schist, talc, erties of clays. See Grim (1949),
or serpentine; organic material. Rosenqvist (1953), Proix-Noe

(1946), Tchourinov (1945), and ing of Soils." Am. Soc. Testing Ma-
American Society for Testing Ma- terials Spec. Tech. Pub. 126, 1951.
terials (1952). American Society for Testing Materials,
Drying of clays. Results in cracks "Symposium on Exchange Phenome-
and loss of cohesion and allows na in Soils." Am. Soc. Testing Ma-
terials Spec. Tech. Pub. 142, 1952.
water to seep in. - Bendel, Ludwig, "Ingenieur-geologie, em
Drying of shales. Creates cracks Handbuch fr Studium und Praxis."
on bedding and shear planes. Re- v. 2, Springer-Verlag, Vienna, 1948.
duces shale to chips, granules, or Binger, W. V., "Analytical Studies of Pan-
smaller particles. ama Canal Slides." Proc. of 2d
Removal of cement by solution. Re- Internat. Con!. on Soil Mech. and
Found. Eng., Rotterdam, v. 2, p. 54-
moval of cement from sandstone re-
60, 1948.
duces internal friction. Bjerrum, L., "Stability of Natural Slopes
in Quick Clay." Geotechnique, v. 5,
C. Changes in intergranular forces due no. 1, p. 101-119, 1955.
to pore water (see especially Taylor, Buisson, M. M., "Les Glissements de la
1948, Chap. 16) Falaise de Sainte-Adresse." Annales
Buoyancy in saturated state de- de L'Institut Technique du Batiment
creases effective intergranular pres- et des Travaux Publics, no. 59, p.
1131-1146, 1952. Translation No. 33
sure and friction. by Sverine Britt available from U.
Intergranular pressure due to cap- S. Geol. Survey.
illary tension in moist soil is de- Chen, Liang-Sheng, "An Investigation of
stroyed upon saturation. Stress-Strain and Strength Charac-
Seepage pressures of percolating teristics of Cohesionless Soils by Tn-
ground water result from viscous axial Compression Tests." Proc. of 2d
drag between liquid and solid Internat. Conf. on Soil Mech. and
Found. Eng., Rotterdam, v. 5, p. 43,
Close, U., and McCormick, E., "Where the
D. Changes in structure Mountains Walked." Nat. Geog. Mag.,
Fissuring of preconsolidated clays v. 41, p. 445-464, 1922.
due to release of lateral restraint in Fisk, H. N., "Geological Investigation of
a cut (Skempton, 1948). the Alluvial Valley of the Lower
Effect of disturbance or remolding Mississippi River." Mississippi River
on sensitive materials such as bess Comm., Corps of Eng., U. S. Army,
and dry or saturated loose sand. The Vicksburg, Miss., 1944.
great loss of shear strength of sen- Grim, R. E., "Mineralogical Composition in
sitive clays has been tentatively at- Relation to the Properties of Cer-
tributed to breakdown of a loose tain Soils." Geotechnique, v. 1, no. 3,
p. 139-147, 1949.
structure (Rosenqvist, 1953), but
Heim, A., "Bergsturz und Menschenleben."
this, has not been demonstrated. See
Fretz and Wasmuth, Zurich, 1932.
also Skempton and Northey (1952).
Hill, R. A., "Clay Stratum Dried Out to
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