Control of landslide volume and hazard by glacial stratigraphic architecture, Northwest Washington state, USA

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Landslide volumes span many orders of magnitude, but large-volume slides tend to travel farther and consequently can pose a greater hazard. In northwest Washington State, USA, a landscape abounding with landslides big and small, the recent occurrence of the large-volume and tragically deadly State Route 530 (Oso) landslide is a stark reminder of the hazards associated with glacial terraces lining valleys of the western Cascade Range. What controls the differences in location and size of these slope failures? Here, we examine the control on landslide volume and failure style by terrace sedimentary architecture. We analyze lidar topographic data in three nearby valleys and find significant variation in landslide deposit volumes, morphology, and relative mobility in each valley. Geologic data show that each site differs in the thickness and position of outwash, tills, and glaciolacustrine clays. Combining a three-dimensional limit-equilibrium slope-stability analysis (Scoops3D) with simulations of variably saturated groundwater flow (VS2Dt), we show that landslide volumes are highly sensitive both to the distribution of material strength as well as the location of perched water tables. Modeled landslides match observed failure sizes and depths in all valleys when the effects of variably saturated groundwater flow are included. The position and thickness of low-strength strata act as first-order controls on landslide volume, with peak volumes for stratigraphic geometries similar to that of the valley containing the Oso landslide. Knowledge of feedbacks between lithology and hydrology is therefore critical to assess the landslide hazard and evolution of landscapes composed of stratigraphically layered units.

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Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Control of landslide volume and hazard by glacial stratigraphic architecture, Northwest Washington state, USA
Series title Geology
DOI 10.1130/G39691.1
Volume 45
Issue 12
Year Published 2017
Language English
Publisher Geological Society of America
Contributing office(s) Geology, Minerals, Energy, and Geophysics Science Center
Description 4 p.
First page 1139
Last page 1142
Country United States
State Washington
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