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Unstable ground in western North Dakota is mainly the result of mass-wasting processes. The units most affected are mudstones, siltstones, and sandstones of the Fort Union Formation. Ground instability generally is indicated by landslides, soil slides, or subsidence.
Landslides are mostly of the slump-earthflow type and are localized along the flanks of the high buttes in southwestern North Dakota, including HT (Black) Butte, Chalky Buttes, Sentinel Butte, and East and West Rainy Buttes, and along parts of the valleys of the Des Lacs, Missouri, Little Missouri, and Heart Rivers. Landslides are sparse elsewhere.
Soil slides are common in the areas south and southwest of the maximum position of the Pleistocene glacial ice margin on slopes of 15 degrees or more, and have taken place on some slopes as gentle as five degrees. The weathered, exposed surface of the Fort Union Formation seems to be especially susceptible to soil slides. Soil slides constitute the major type of ground instability in southwestern North Dakota.
Subsidence is of two types: (1) subsidence over old underground mine workings, and (2) subsidence over naturally ignited and burned underground coal beds. Major subsidence has taken place over old, underground workings near Beulah, Wilton, Lehigh, Haynes, and Belfield, and lesser subsidence near Scranton, and west and north of Bowman. Thickness of overburden above the coal in all these areas is believed to be less than 30 m (100 ft). Subsidence has not taken place over old underground workings along the Des Lacs and-Souris valleys northwest of Minot, where the thickness of overburden is more than 60 m (200 ft).
Spectacular subsidence has occurred over a burning underground coal bed at Burning Coal Vein Park near the Little Missouri River, northwest of Amidon.