Dendrogeomorphic Assessment of the Rattlesnake Gulf Landslide in the Tully Valley, Onondaga County, New York

Scientific Investigations Report 2009-5134

Prepared in cooperation with Onondaga Lake Partnership and Onondaga Environmental Institute
and ORCID iD



Dendrogeomorphic techniques were used to assess soil movement within the Rattlesnake Gulf landslide in the Tully Valley of central New York during the last century. This landslide is a postglacial, slow-moving earth slide that covers 23 acres and consists primarily of rotated, laminated, glaciolacustrine silt and clay. Sixty-two increment cores were obtained from 30 hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) trees across the active part of the landslide and from 3 control sites to interpret the soil-displacement history. Annual growth rings were measured and reaction wood was identified to indicate years in which ring growth changed from concentric to eccentric, on the premise that soil movement triggered compensatory growth in displaced trees. These data provided a basis for an 'event index' to identify years of landslide activity over the 108 years of record represented by the oldest trees. Event-index values and total annual precipitation increased during this time, but years with sudden event-index increases did not necessarily correspond to years with above-average precipitation. Multiple-regression and residual-values analyses indicated a possible correlation between precipitation and movement within the landslide and a possible cyclic (decades-long) tree-ring response to displacement within the landslide area from the toe upward to, and possibly beyond, previously formed landslide features. The soil movement is triggered by a sequence of factors that include (1) periods of several months with below-average precipitation followed by persistent above-average precipitation, (2) the attendant increase in streamflow, which erodes the landslide toe and results in an upslope propagation of slumping, and (3) the harvesting of mature trees within this landslide during the last century and continuing to the present.

Study Area

Additional publication details

Publication type:
Publication Subtype:
USGS Numbered Series
Dendrogeomorphic Assessment of the Rattlesnake Gulf Landslide in the Tully Valley, Onondaga County, New York
Series title:
Scientific Investigations Report
Series number:
Year Published:
U.S. Geological Survey
Contributing office(s):
New York Water Science Center
iv, 17 p.