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Landslides Hazards in Utah

Landslides Hazards in Utah

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Published by State of Utah
for more information, please visit http://geology.utah.gov
for more information, please visit http://geology.utah.gov

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Published by: State of Utah on Aug 25, 2011
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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By Gregg Beukelman
Slide SurfaceTensionCracksToe
   F   l  a  n   k 
Minor ScarpMain Scarp
Translational landslide
Rotational landslide
Rockfall ToppleCreepDebris avalanche EarthflowBlock slideDebris flow
ll ll ll
Diagram of an idealized landslide showing commonly used nomenclature for its parts.Major types of landslides and their physical characteristics (from U.S. Geological Survey Fact Sheet 2004-3072 http://pubs.usgs.gov/fs/2004/3072/fs-2004-3072.html  ]).
Landslides: Serious and CommonGeologic Hazards
According to the U.S. Geological Survey,landslides are a serious geologic hazardcommon to almost every state in our coun-try. Nationwide, estimated losses from dam-aging landslides exceed $2 billion annually.Annual losses from landslide damage inUtah vary, but are often in the millions ofdollars; documented losses in 2001 ex-ceeded $3 million and estimated losses in2005 exceeded $10 million.
Types of Landslides
The term “landslide” refers to a downslopemovement of rock, soil, and/or organic de-
bris under the inuence of gravity. Specictypes of landslides are classied by the ma
-terial involved and type of movement. Mate-rial in a landslide can be rock, soil, organicdebris or a combination of these materials,and movement types include fall, topple,
slide, and ow. Typical landslides in Utahinclude slides, rock falls, debris ows, andearth ows.
In Utah, many landslides move slowly, butsome move quickly with devastating results.
Debris ows, which are a type of landslide
having very high water content, can travel atspeeds greater than 30 to 50 miles per hour.
Causes of Landslides
Landslides can be naturally occurring orhuman-caused. Landslides often resultfrom a rise in groundwater levels causedby increased precipitation, rapid snowmelt,or by human causes such as landscape ir-rigation or leakage from water-conveyancestructures (reservoirs, ponds, pipelines).
Modication of a slope that results in over-
steepening of the slope, either byremoval of material from the lowerpart of the slope or addition of ma-terial near its crest, can also triggerlandslides. Development-related
slope modication can include
loading by construction of build-
ings or lls, or removal of material
during grading for building pads orroadways.
Landslide Distribution
The distribution of landslides inUtah is dependent on geology,topography, and climate. Land-slides are most numerous in azone stretching from the northernWasatch Front and back valleyssouthwestward to the St. Georgearea. This zone contains weak rocktypes, steep slopes, and the high-est annual precipitation in the state.
An intense rainfall-triggered debris ow that began in an area burned by a wildre owed through part of Santaquin in Utah County in 2002. The debris ow quickly inundated this Santaquin subdivision, leaving behind the dark, muddy deposits seen in this photo. (Photo credit: Dale Deiter, U.S. Forest Service)
In 1983, near the town of Thistle inUtah County, a landslide occurredwhen unseasonably warm weathercaused rapid snowmelt, saturating aslope, and triggering a landslide thatresulted in the greatest economic lossfrom any landslide in the history of theUnited States. The landslide destroyedU.S. Highway 89 and the adjacentDenver and Rio Grande Western rail-road tracks. It also dammed the Span-ish Fork River, causing inundation ofthe small town of Thistle. After the re-sulting lake was drained and sedimentwas shown to have partially buriedthe town, Thistle was abandoned. The
Thistle landslide resulted in Utah’s rst
U.S. Presidential Disaster. The eco-nomic loss associated with the Thistlelandslide was several hundred milliondollars (in 1984 dollars), which includedthe costs of rerouting the highway andrailroad and draining the lake.
View of the Thistle landslide, Utah County. The railroad tunnel at bottom center 
of photograph was built as part of mitigation measures after landsliding in 1983 
buried the original railroad grade. (Photo taken in 2005.)
Thistle Landslide—World-Class Landslide in Utah
Reducing Risk from Landslides
As the population base of Utah con-tinues to expand into areas that aresusceptible to landsliding, damageand economic costs of this naturalgeologic process increase. Rec-ognition of landslide risk prior todevelopment and implementationof appropriate land-use planningand landslide mitigation measuresare the most effective means toreduce their hazards. Many hill-slopes are prone to landsliding,particularly where development hastaken place on existing landslides
or where grading has modied a
slope and reduced its stability. InUtah, nearly all recent landslideshave occurred as reactivations ofpre-existing landslides. Therefore,historical landslides, prehistoriclandslides, and steep slopes proneto landsliding must be thoroughlyinvestigated prior to developmentactivities. When considering devel-opment on a hillslope or adjacentarea property, owners should con-sult with local planning and build-
ing ofcials, nearby property own
-ers, and geotechnical consultants
A 2010 generalized landslide map of Utah with more than 22,000 mapped 
landslides shown in red (Utah Geological Survey compilation).
Landslide Warning Signs
Early recognition of landslide move-ment can be critical in attempts toavoid and/or minimize damage toproperty and structures. The fol-lowing signs may indicate landslidemovement:
New cracks or unusual bulgesin the ground, street pavements,or sidewalks.
Soil moving away from founda-tions and other rigid objects.
Decks and patios tilting and/ or moving relative to the mainhouse.
Tilting or cracking of walls, con-
crete oors, and foundations.
Sticking doors and windows,and visible open spaces and/ or cracks, indicating jambs andframes out of plumb.
Leaning telephone poles, trees,retaining walls, or fences.
Sunken or down-dropped side-walks and pavements.
Springs, seeps, or saturatedground in areas that have nottypically been wet before.
Rapid increase in stream ow,
possibly accompanied by in-creased turbidity (cloudy water).
Sudden decrease in stream
ow, though rain is still falling or
 just recently stopped.

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