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Mass movement, according to geologists is the gravity driven down-slope movement of earth materials. Additionally, this down-slope movement phenomenon is caused loose uncemented rock and soil particles that cover the Earth’s surface. The force of gravity forces this with no aid of a transporting agent such as ice, wind or water. Virtually, there are a number of various types of mass wasting that are distinguished by the kind of earth material moving down-slope, the mechanics involved in the motion and sometimes by the speed with which it moves. Mass wasting is depicted to be part of a continuum of erosional procedures that occurs between stream and weathering. Overall, mass wasting cause regolith and rock down-slope where with time the loose particles are likely to be picked by another transporting medium and ultimately moved to an area of disposition such as a lake bed or an ocean basin. Usually, mass wasting processes occurring on slopes act differently; some act relatively suddenly while others act slowly often with hazardous effects.
According to geologists, some of the factors contributing to mass wasting include; the steepness of the slope; frequently the steeper the slope the more probable is it to fail. Other geologic factors include rock chemistry, the type of rock, joints, fractures, bedding planes in the rock and crystal growth (Calcaterra & Parise p.23). On the other hand, volcanoes eruptions and earthquakes are some of the geological processes that usually stimulate large wasting events. Historically, North America has witnessed a number of mass wasting events. Technically, this is because most parts of North America are mountainous.
Landslide regularly occurs in mountainous regions and can result in severe damages. Bridges, roads, and houses may be adversely destroyed as well as involving huge financial resources. In essence, landslides and slope instability lead to problems in many areas of the world, North America inclusive. Primarily, a landslide is a combination of many geological processes such as earth movements like extensive rock falling, slope failure, and debris flow. These changes can occur in offshore, coastal, or onshore environments.
Source: American Geology Survey, 2013
One of the largest landslides that occurred in North America is the Bingham Canyon Mine landslide. Bingham Canyon Mine, which is also known by the name Kennecott Copper Mine, is an open-pit mining that extracts vast deposits of porphyry copper (McMaster & Palmer p.42). Bingham Canyon Mine is located at Salt Lake City, Utah, USA within the Oquirrh Mountains. The mine witnessed an enormous landslide in April 2013 and again a smaller landslide in September of the same year. Bingham Canyon Mine is situated in a place with a dense network of acoustic and seismic sensors used by the University of Utah that frequently targeted at locating, detecting and analyzing regional earthquakes.
A photo of Bingham Canyon Mine before the landslide; Source: American Geology Survey, 2013.
It is postulated that the landslide is the largest non-volcanic landslide in North American history. Furthermore, it is estimated that almost 65 to 70 million cubic meters of rock and dirt boomed down the site of the mine. The fact that the walls of the mine were relatively steep made it one of the high-risk landslides. Prior to the event, an interferometric radar system was mounted to regulate the stability of the ground. Due to early warnings obtained from this system, the operations of the mine came to a halt, a day prior in anticipation of the landslide.
Basing on environmentalists’ point of view, the landslide that occurred produced massive particles of dust. This according to them implicates the environment in various ways; the dust and rock particles resulting from the landslide destroys the habitats of different biodiversity lives. The U.S. Geological Survey estimated that the avalanche tumbled approximately 150 million tons of dirt and rock down the northeastern pit. In addition, it is estimated that the landslide unleashed 128 million cubic yards of dirt and rock into a pit that was almost a mile deep about two-thirds of the material excavated for the construction of the Panama Canal (Vogt & Tucholke p.43). Perhaps, this came with massive destructions both to the surrounding community and to the environment. The landslide also caused air pollution, polluting the atmosphere of the community, as well as the atmosphere at large. Water pollution was also apparent as most particles from the process entered into waterways; thus destroying and disturbing the aquatic life.
One of the most notable effects of the landslides is that most workers were rendered jobless. It not only instilled fear to the employees, but it also deprived them of getting their daily bread obtained from working inside the mines. Moreover, the attitudes of the workers towards the mine changed as most of them never returned to the mines fearing for their safety. Nevertheless, the company operating in the mines had put in place safety measures by fixing interferometers sensors in the mine for early detection of earthquakes and landslides, and it worked.
Furthermore, the landslides significantly influenced transport system within Utah. Primarily, the Bingham Canyon Mine covers a large area and after the landslide the rock and dirt particles covered nearby roads. Roads are relatively substantial as they boost in day-to-day operations (McMaster & Palmer p.31). The fact that the occurrence of the landslide destroyed the roads within the mine means that the activities in the area were altered. Additionally, tempering with roads also alters the economy is some way. For that matter, it is justified that the landslide that occurred in Bingham Canyon Mine had economic implications.
Debris flow can be described as fast-moving landslides that occur in a broad variety of environments in the entire globe. Virtually, debris flows are hazardous to property and life given the fact that they move fast; thus destroy anything in their paths and always striking without warning. Debris flows are depicted to be the most hazardous types of landslides in the world. Primarily debris flows are associated with rapid snowmelt or heavy rains. The most destructive debris flows occur in many regions of America. Debris flow usually starts on steep sides of the hills while the shallow landslides that accelerate and soften to speeds that are relatively about 10mph, nonetheless exceeds 35mph (Rose & Geological Society of America p.34). The frequency of debris flow ranges from thick, rock mud to watery mud with the ability to carry large objects such as trees, cars, and boulders. Essentially, debris flow from various different sources can combine in channels where there is severe power might be significantly increased. Additionally, they continue to flow down the hills through channels, growing in volume with the increased addition of water, mud, trees, sand as well as other materials. At canyon mouths, the flows or flatter ground the debris covers a broad area and accumulates in thick deposits that can easily wreak havoc in developed areas.
Effects of Debris flow, Source: American Geology Survey, 2013
In the context of North America, debris flows occurred Vargas, Vargas State of Venezuela in 1999. This was a period when torrential flash floods and rains struck Vargas killing thousands of people as well as destroying property. The coastal parts of Vargas have long remained to be a debris flow vulnerable place, experiencing several cases of flooding and mudslides. In essence, the geologically related phenomenon occurred with regularity.
This particular debris flow destroyed several homes and ultimately led to complete collapse of the state’s infrastructure. Basing on the report of relief workers, the entire neighborhood of Los Corales was buried under 9.8 feet of mud. Many homes were swept away to the ocean. Moreover, small towns such as Carmen de Uria and Cerro Grande full disappeared. Approximately 10% of the Vargas population perished during the event. Following this catastrophe, the several people died, property destroyed, many people were rendered homeless, many habitats destroyed as well as the destruction of crucial infrastructure among other adverse effects.
Overall, it is relatively paramount to learn about these mass wasting events in order to avoid such incidences from happening in future. For example, the lessons from the landslide event teach that it is important to put in place safety measures such as using sensor detective equipment for early detection of this hazardous phenomenon. The essence of learning about Debris and rockslides is essential especially in disaster planning and management. In this regard, people can take early measures such as building their homes in safe places and responding effectively in the case of any catastrophe.
The Frank Slide refers to the deadliest rockslide that took place in North America. This rockslide event took place at a mining town called Frank in the Northwest Territories of Canada. The rock slide occurred on the 29th of April of the year 1903 at around 4 am in the morning. The rockslide slide resulted from the rock slide of around 90 million tons of limestone rock flowing down from the Turtle Mountain within a period of 100 seconds. The down flow of rocks led to the destruction of the coal mine and the Canadian Pacific Railway (Calcaterra & Parise p.18). It was one of the major and deadliest mass wasting activity that occurred in North America. The rockslide buried property and residents of Frank town causing deaths due to the fatality of the rocks. The formation of Turtle Mountain and the coal mines at Frank instigated the] process of mass wasting and rock instability of the mountain.
The combined forces relating to the instability of the mountain and the coal mining activities contributed immensely to this terrible rock slide event in North America. The coal mining operations led to instability of the internal structures of Turtle Mountain leading to the down flow of limestone rocks. The cold snap and the wet winter also played a very crucial role in contributing to the down flow of limestone rocks from Turtle Mountain in North America. The down flow of rocks from Turtle Mountain reached opposing mountains within a short span of time due to the force from the mountain. The estimated speed of the rockslide was around 112 kilometers per hour. The section of the mountain that collapsed was 1000 meters wide, 150 meters deep and 425 meters high. The sound of the rockslide covered a distance of about 200 kilometers from Turtle Mountain.
Effects of rockslides on infrastructure; Source, National Geographic Dpt, 2012
Most parts of the Frank town survived the rockslide, but the limestone rocks buried the buildings and properties on the eastern outskirts of Frank town. The rockslide led to a complete destruction of the seven cottages, mine's buildings, several businesses, the cemetery, railroad track and a stretch of the railway. The actual number of the people killed by the rockslide at Frank ranged between 0 to 90 people. The death toll was uncertain because the rubble buried people and property making it difficult to identify the specific number of people killed by the disaster. Most of the victims of the rockslide remained buried under the enormous tonnage of limestone rocks making it a problem to determine the real number of dead people and worth of property destroyed by the rockslide. The seventeen miners survived the ordeal by passing through the coal seams (Sassa & Canuti p.32). The falling rocks made the event perilous for the people at the site of the Rock Slide. However, the survivors encountered numerous physical and health disorders like loss of sight due to the enormous dust and rocks from the down flow of limestone rocks from Turtle Mountain. The large amounts of dust from mass wasting of rocks caused tremendous physical injuries to the survivors of the rockslides.
Pollution from rockslides; Source: National Geographic Dpt, 2012
Additionally, the rockslide caused evacuation of the people who lived net to the Turtle Mountain in order to avoid the possible future rockslides. The removal aimed at securing both the property and lives of the people. The event scared people away due to the trauma and the loss of lives during the rockslide from Turtle Mountain. The evacuation of people aimed at promoting safety from future disasters related to mass wasting. The speculations treating to the volcanic activity of Turtle Mountain prompted the people to vacate most parts of Frank town. The people left the side of the mountain that was likely to experience future rockslides or other kinds of mass wasting such landslides and debris flow.
The rock slide at Frank also led to the termination of the coal mining activities and operations. It led to a prompt termination of the coal mining due to the high levels of risks associated with such activities in that region. The termination of coal mining aimed at mitigating future aspects that may further lead to destabilization of Turtle Mountain resulting terrible landslides. The authorities ordered the termination of the coal mining operations due to such a massive disaster and the negative consequences to the environment in general. The people also developed a lot of fear towards working at the coal mines due to the challenges risks of future rockslides from Turtle Mountain (Vogt & Tucholke p.43). The fear made the workers of the coal mines disappear and leave their jobs completely. The destruction or obliteration of the railway line also made the coal mines inaccessible leading to the termination of the entire coal mine operations as well as all activities. The use of trains also led to the termination of coal mining operations because it the train had the ability to instigate down the flow of the limestone rocks from Turtle Mountain. The fear of the people and the potential problems associated with the use of train led to the immediate termination of coal mining operations and activities in Frank town.
Several factors contributed to the Frank Slide disaster in North America. The unstable anticline formation of Turtle Mountain was the primary cause of the rock slide because limestone rocks rested on the top of soft materials. Erosion on the slopes of Turtle Mountain resulted in very steep cliffs that allowed the limestone rocks to slide down Turtle Mountain. The cracks or fissures allowed water to penetrate the limestone material making them unstable. The unusual winter conditions in North America led to frequent processes of freezing and thawing allowing the water to penetrate the fissures and cracks in the mountain. The penetration of water led to further destabilization of Turtle Mountain. The heavy snowfall also contributed immensely to weakening of the internal structure of Turtle Mountain (Calcaterra & Parise p.18). Rapid freezing and the cold snap led to further expansion of the fissures making the limestone break down and tumble down the slopes of Turtle Mountain. However, the geologists suggested that the mining activities had a negligible in causing the Frank Slide.
Conclusively, mass wasting events in North America led to numerous challenges and effects on the population and business activities in the region. The frequent occurrence of mass wasting activities like landslides, rock slides, and debris flow led to the loss of many lives and property of high values in various parts of North America. The mass wasting events resulted in the destruction of businesses and residential places for the people of North America. The extreme climatic conditions with respect to summers and the winter played a crucial role in causing such mass wasting activities. Freezing and thawing activities contributed profoundly to the menace of mass wasting in North America.
Calcaterra, D., & Parise, M. (2010). Weathering as a predisposing factor to slope movements. London: Geological Society.
McMaster, M., Palmer, M., National Film Board of Canada, Echoes from the Pass Productions Inc, & HDTV Productions Inc. (2003). On the edge of destruction: The Frank Slide story. Montreal: National Film Board of Canada.
Rose, W. I., & Geological Society of America. (2004). Natural hazards in El Salvador. Boulder, CO: Geological Society of America.
Sassa, K., & Canuti, P. (2009). Landslides Đ Disaster Risk Reduction. Berlin, Heidelberg: Springer Berlin Heidelberg.
Vogt, P. R., Tucholke, B. E., Geological Society of America, & Decade of North American Geology Project. (1986). The Western North Atlantic region. Boulder, CO: Geological Society of America.
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