USGS CoreCast: Landslide Hazards

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Detailed Description

Landslides occur in all 50 states and U.S. territories, and cause $1-2 billion in damages and more than 25 fatalities on average each year. USGS scientists aim to improve our understanding of landslide hazards to help protect communities and reduce associated losses.




Video Sections:

  • Types of Landslides
  • USGS Science
  • Did You See It?
  • Debris Flow Early Warning System (NOAA Partnership)
  • Tips for Homeowners
  • Conclusion


Episode Number: 178

Date Taken:

Length: 00:06:12

Location Taken: Washington, DC, US



Peter Lyttle: Almost every citizen in the United States could potentially experience a landslide. 

Types of Landslides

Peter Lyttle: Landslides come in quite a few different flavors, and even with our small group of 20 here at the USGS, we have some of the world experts in each of the different kinds of landslides. There are very slow-moving, deep-seated landslides, which don’t threaten lives too often, but they can do a huge amount of damage to property. If you imagine your house slowly moving down a hill. We have very fast moving landslides, which are a danger to human beings. These are called debris flows. These move at 30 miles an hour, and if you imagine sort of a consistency of concrete with huge boulders in it rushing at you at 30 miles an hour, you’re not going to get out of the way. These kill a few people around the world every year. And finally there are rock falls, which probably are the kind of landslide that most people are familiar with, when huge boulders fall off of a cliff along the side of a highway and smash a car.

USGS Science

Sue Cannon: Within the Landslides Hazards Program we have three specific tasks. One is developing tools and methodologies that can be used to characterize landslide hazards. The second is to respond to landslide disasters, to provide expertise and assessments. And then the third is outreach to try to educate the public about landslides and landslide hazards as best we can.

Did You See It?

David Applegate: The Landslide Program is looking at an application called, “Did You See It?,” in which members of the public can come to our website and give descriptions of the landslide and the characteristics of it. They hopefully will even be able to post photographs of it and we’ll start to build a database that will be very useful to us scientifically.

Peter Lyttle: Hundreds of thousands of landslides occur in the United States every year, of every imaginable scale. We would like to ultimately someday have an inventory of all of those landslides.

Debris Flow Early Warning System

David Applegate: In the area of landslides, we’ve been working with partners in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Weather Service on a Debris Flow Early Warning System.

Pedro Restrepo: I’m really proud of how this joint collaboration between NOAA and the USGS has resulted in a warning system that is helping the people in the communities that are susceptible to debris flows, like in southern California, to be safer and to be more resilient.

Sue Cannon: Within this warning system, the Weather Service takes the role of issuing the forecasts and measuring what sort of rainfall is occurring. And then they have the system for disseminating watches and warnings. The USGS brings to the table our knowledge about what sort of rainfall conditions will lead to the landslides and what areas would be the most susceptible.

Pedro Restrepo: The Debris Flow Warning System involves the National Weather Service to use models developed by the U.S. Geological Survey, and in combination with our own observations using high-resolution radar and weather forecasts, to tell the community and emergency managers what are the areas that are at imminent risk of having a debris flow, which is a mudslide or mudflow as they are commonly known.

Tips for Homeowners

Peter Lyttle: A number of USGS scientists produced a book in association with the American Planning Association just a few years ago. This takes you step-by-step through some very simple procedures that you can do to make your family safer and your community safer.

A National Hazard

Peter Lyttle: This is truly a national problem. It’s a problem that’s affecting our economy. It’s causing billions of dollars in damage every year. And like many other natural hazards, they actually do endanger people’s lives occasionally, and we need to sit up and pay attention.

Sue Cannon: The Landslide Program has a website where we provide information about our research or our ongoing projects, and that is