Can major landslides and debris flows happen in all areas of the U.S.?

Landslides can and do occur in every state and territory of the U.S.; however, the type, severity and frequency of landslide activity varies from place to place, depending on the terrain, geology, and climate. Major storms have caused major or widespread landslides in Washington state, Oregon, California, Colorado, Idaho, Hawaii, Virginia, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, North Carolina, Puerto Rico, and elsewhere. Rapid snowmelt has caused landslides in Colorado, Nevada, Utah, Wyoming, and Washington State, as well as other mountainous states. The Appalachian Mountains, the Rocky Mountains, the Pacific Coastal Ranges, and some parts of Alaska and Hawaii have moderate to severe landslide problems. Any area of weak or fractured materials resting on a steep slope can and will likely experience landslides.

Although the physical causes of many landslides cannot be removed, geologic investigations, good engineering practices, and effective enforcement of land-use management regulations can reduce landslide hazards.

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What should I know about wildfires and debris flows?

Wildland fires are inevitable in the western United States. Expansion of human development into forested areas has created a situation where wildfires can adversely affect lives and property, as can the flooding and landslides that occur in the aftermath of the fires. There is a need to develop tools and methods to identify and quantify the...

How do landslides cause tsunamis?

Tsunamis are large, potentially deadly and destructive sea waves, most of which are formed as a result of submarine earthquakes. They can also result from the eruption or collapse of island or coastal volcanoes and from giant landslides on marine margins. These landslides, in turn, are often triggered by earthquakes. Tsunamis can be generated on...

Under what circumstances do U.S. Geological Survey landslide personnel conduct field work in landslide-prone areas?

USGS landslide researchers have ongoing field projects in several areas of the United States, including parts of the Pacific coastal ranges, Rocky Mountains, and the Appalachians. USGS scientists also respond to major landslide events, including some that result in federally-declared disasters. In some cases, USGS scientists respond to landslides...

Is there a list of the largest landslides in the world?

See the list of Catastrophic Landslides of the 20th Century - Worldwide . The five largest Worldwide Landslides are: 1911 - Tadzhik Republic - 2,000,000,000 cubic meters of material - 54 killed 1919 - Indonesia - 185 square kilometers of material - 5,110 killed 1920 - China - unknown volume - 100,000 killed 1921 - Kazakh Republic - unknown volume...

How many deaths result from landslides each year?

An average of 25-50 people are killed by landslides each year in the United States. The worldwide death toll per year due to landslides is in the thousands. Most landslide fatalities are from rock falls, debris-flows, or volcanic debris flows (called lahars). Twenty three people were killed, at least 167 injured, and more than 400 homes were...

Do human activities cause landslides?

Yes, in some cases human activities can be a contributing factor in causing landslides. Many human-caused landslides can be avoided or mitigated. They are commonly a result of building roads and structures without adequate grading of slopes, poorly planned alteration of drainage patterns, and disturbing old landslides. Detailed on-site...

Why study landslides?

Landslides are a serious geologic hazard common to almost every State in the United States. As people move into new areas of hilly or mountainous terrain, it is important to understand the nature of their potential exposure to landslide hazards, and how cities, towns, and counties can plan for land-use, engineering of new construction and...

What is a landslide and what causes one?

A landslide is defined as the movement of a mass of rock, debris, or earth down a slope. Landslides are a type of "mass wasting," which denotes any down-slope movement of soil and rock under the direct influence of gravity. The term "landslide" encompasses five modes of slope movement: falls, topples, slides, spreads, and flows. These are further...
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Date published: March 20, 2019

Five Years Later - The Oso (SR 530) Landslide in Washington

The Oso (SR 530) Landslide in Washington - Five Years Later 

The following is an updated version of a story first published in March of 2015.

Date published: July 20, 2017

Landslide Assistance from the Air

The USGS uses cutting edge technologies to investigate and forecast landslides and other natural hazards.

Date published: May 27, 2017

USGS helping to monitor and assess huge Big Sur landslide

USGS is collecting and analyzing air photos to help monitor a huge landslide that occurred May 20 on California’s Big Sur coast.

Date published: November 4, 2016

Imagery Reveals More Landslides in Western Columbia Gorge

New mapping in the western portion of the Columbia Gorge in Skamania County, Washington, shows previously unrecognized landslides beneath dense forest cover.

Date published: September 16, 2016

EarthView–Landslide Spreads 6 Miles Across Glacier Bay National Park

Two snapshots from Landsat show the extent of a landslide in an Alaska National Park.

Date published: June 25, 1999

Landslides Will Continue to Impact U.S. - Tumbling Rocks Cost Dollars and Lives

Scenic rock cliffs falling to valley floors, rocks ripping out mountainsides, mud and debris moving down valleys at deadly speeds, mines and caves collapsing, and ocean and river bluffs sliding into the water -- all describe one of the nation’s most underestimated hazards -- landslides.

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Aerial photograph looking from an airplane down on the Big Sur Landslide in California.
July 7, 2017

Big Sur Landslide, July 7, 2017

USGS scientists continue to monitor the slide by collecting imagery every couple of weeks, weather permitting. Pilot Bob Van Wagenen, contracted through the Department of the Interior’s Office of Aviation Services, takes air photos for Jon Warrick’s Big Sur Landslide team, flying out of the Watsonville Municipal Airport in a Cessna 182R. He uses a camera-plus-GPS system

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2014 Landslide in Washington State
January 4, 2017

2014 Landslide in Washington State

Photograph from aerial survey showing the upper parts of the 2014 landslide in northwest Washington. Photograph credit: Jonathan Godt, USGS

October 27, 2016

PubTalk 10/2016 — Rockfalls in California's Sierra Nevada

Rock falls in California’s Sierra Nevada - Pursuing explanations for exfoliation and seemingly spontaneous fracture of rock
 

Landsat image showing the landslide in Glacier Bay
August 7, 2016

Landslide Spreads 6 Miles Across Glacier Bay National Park

On June 28, 2016, a 4,000-foot-high mountainside in Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve collapsed, sending rocky debris equivalent to 60 million mid-size SUVs tumbling onto nearby Lamplugh Glacier.  Almost 6 weeks later, on August 7, the Operational Land Imager sensor aboard Landsat 8 captured the black stain of the landslide in the image on the right. No such

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Oso landslide. Huge swath of mountain missing.
December 31, 2014

Oso landslide

Oso landslide 2014

Attribution: Natural Hazards
May 9, 2012

Volcano Web Shorts 2: Debris Flows

Debris flows are hazardous flows of rock, sediment and water that surge down mountain slopes and into adjacent valleys. Hydrologist Richard Iverson describes the nature of debris-flow research and explains how debris flow experiments are conducted at the USGS Debris Flow Flume, west of Eugene, Oregon. Spectacular debris flow footage, recorded by Franck Lavigne of the

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Attribution: Volcano Hazards
Landslide monitoring station with the San Gabriel mountains in the background, post wildfire with no vegetation
December 31, 2009

Landslide monitoring site

Original rainfall and telemetry station established after the 2009 Station Fire, CA.

Image: 2007 Landslide in La Jolla, California
October 4, 2007

2007 Landslide in La Jolla, California

This event occurred on October 4, 2007 in La Jolla, California. A landslide, perhaps first indicated in July by cracks appearing in pavement and homes along Soledad Mountain Road, struck suddenly when a massive slab of hillside broke loose, sending tons of dirt cascading toward streets below.

Attribution: Natural Hazards
Image: 2005 Landslide in La Conchita, CA
January 10, 2005

2005 Landslide in La Conchita, CA

On January 10, 2005, a landslide struck the community of La Conchita in Ventura County, California, destroying or seriously damaging 36 houses and killing 10 people. For a USGS rerpot on this event, please see USGS Open-file report, "Landslide Hazards at La Conchita, California."

Attribution: Natural Hazards
Aerial view of the Mill Creek landslide blocking Highway 50.
January 24, 1997

Mill Creek landslide

Photo 1: Aerial view of the Mill Creek landslide blocking Highway 50.