Landslides are ubiquitous along the Oregon coast. Many are large, deep slides in sedimentary rock and are dormant or active only during the rainy season. Morphology, observed movement rates, and total movement suggest that many are at least several hundreds of years old. The offshore Cascadia subduction zone produces great earthquakes every 300–500 years that generate tsunami that inundate the coast within minutes. Many slides and slide-prone areas underlie tsunami evacuation and emergency response routes. We evaluated the likelihood of existing and future large rockslides being triggered by pore-water pressure increase or earthquake-induced ground motion using field observations and modeling of three typical slides. Monitoring for 2–9 years indicated that the rockslides reactivate when pore pressures exceed readily identifiable levels. Measurements of total movement and observed movement rates suggest that two of the rockslides are 296–336 years old (the third could not be dated). The most recent great Cascadia earthquake was M 9.0 and occurred during January 1700, while regional climatological conditions have been stable for at least the past 600 years. Hence, the estimated ages of the slides support earthquake ground motion as their triggering mechanism. Limit-equilibrium slope-stability modeling suggests that increased pore-water pressures could not trigger formation of the observed slides, even when accompanied by progressive strength loss. Modeling suggests that ground accelerations comparable to those recorded at geologically similar sites during the M 9.0, 11 March 2011 Japan Trench subduction-zone earthquake would trigger formation of the rockslides. Displacement modeling following the Newmark approach suggests that the rockslides would move only centimeters upon coseismic formation; however, coseismic reactivation of existing rockslides would involve meters of displacement. Our findings provide better understanding of the dynamic coastal bluff environment and hazards from future subduction-zone earthquakes.
Additional publication details
Evidence for earthquake triggering of large landslides in coastal Oregon, USA