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Landslides in the Western Columbia Gorge, Skamania County, WA, Scie...

1905 (approx.)

Detailed Description

Recent light detection and ranging (lidar) imagery has allowed us to identify and map a large number of previously unrecognized landslides, or slides, in heavily forested terrain in the western Columbia Gorge, Skamania County, Washington, and it has revealed that the few previously recognized areas of instability are actually composites of multiple smaller landslides. The high resolution of the imagery further reveals that landslides in the map area have complex movement histories and span a wide range of relative ages. Movement histories are inferred from relative landslide locations and crosscutting relations of surface features. Estimated age ranges are based on (1) limited absolute dating; (2) relative fineness of landscape surface textures, calibrated by comparison with surfaces of currently active and dated landslides as interpreted from interferometric synthetic aperture radar (InSAR), global positioning system (GPS), and historical records; (3) sharpness and steepness of larger-scale surface morphologic features, calibrated by comparison with similar dated features in other regions; (4) degree of surface erosion; and (5) evidence of erosion or deposition by late Pleistocene (15-22 ka) Missoula floods at or below 200 m altitude. The relative age categories are recent (0 to ~1,000 years old), intermediate-age (~1,000 to ~15,000 years old), and old (>~15,000 years old). Within the 221.5 km2 map area, we identified 215 discrete landslides, covering 140.9 km2 (64 percent of the map area). At least 12 of the recent landslides are currently moving or have moved within the last two decades. Mapping for this study expanded the area of previously recognized unstable terrain by 56 percent. Landslide geometries suggest that more than half (62 percent) of these slope failures are translational landslides or composite landslides with translational elements, with failure occurring along gently sloping bedding planes in zones of deeply weathered, locally clay rich volcaniclastic sedimentary units. Approximately two-thirds of the mapped landslide area comprises landslides that have remobilized parts of older slides, and 37 percent of these reactivated slides have involved reactivation of material from two or more older slides. The largest two recent landslides have volumes of about 1 km3 and runouts of about 6 km. One of these, the Bonneville landslide, temporarily dammed the Columbia River almost 600 years ago, and subsequent dam-break flooding inundated downstream areas. The other, the Red Bluffs landslide, slid into the river adjacent to the Bonneville landslide but apparently did not form a landslide dam. Another such landslide rapidly sliding into the Columbia River today could have a catastrophic impact on downstream communities and on the transportation and energy-distribution infrastructure of the Pacific Northwest.