Tuesday, July 29, 2008

What's up with upper-tier landslides?

After looking at landslide after landslide along the Owyhee, it is pretty clear that there are several modes of failure typical of the river corridor. Of course we have the basic earthflow type (the Hole in the Ground has great examples); the basic rotational slump type (Artillery landslide complex; Heaven's Gate landslide complex); and the basic cantilever slab type failures along the margins of the Quaternary intracanyon lava flows. Yes, there are complex combinations of all of these things as well. Recently, Liz and I were noting that there are areas where only the upper part of an exposued section is peeling away...this is particularly true in areas where there are stacks of massive lavas with occassional interbeds of lacustrine sediments or, more importantly, piles of lava-water interaction deposits. The Bullseye landslide in 'Sweetwater Canyon' (name from river guidebook) is a good example. There, the upper lava flow is peeling back across a cruddy looking bed of lava-water interaction deposits (LWID). The LWIDs overlie a relatively massive stack of lavas. It appears that the Bullseye landslide's head scarp is below the peeling section. Its ultimate failure would not have been possible without the peeling in the upper tiers of the section. This makes Bullseye a lower-tier slide candidate.

There are lots of examples of upper-tier sliding along the river. Possibly the most impressive is right across from Iron Point. In that case, the failing area is pinned on rhyolite. There are several landslides in this general reach that sole-out on rhyolite. Not sure whether they occurred when the river was at the level or if they freaking cascading over the rhyolite into the river. Probably the former since the latter sounds so cool.

There are many examples where the upper-tier sliding seems to be associated with an underlying LWID (like a lava delta) or otherwise incompetent unit (like a lens of mud). In some places, the lava deltas are obviously linked to massive landlsiding; in others, they support massive cliffs. Maybe when you peel away the top, they lead to massive landslides. Probably not that simple. Any thoughts? Anyone?

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