Landslides and Tectonics

When do mountain landslides occur? Mountain ranges are formed with sharp and steep ridges due to tectonics. When do they become unstable? Some of the steepest mountain slopes in the world got that way because of the interplay between terrain uplift associated with plate tectonics and powerful streams cutting into hillsides, leading to erosion in the form of large landslides. The work, presented May 27 in Nature Geoscience, shows that once the angle of a slope exceeds 30 degrees – whether from uplift, a rushing stream carving away the bottom of the slope or a combination of the two – landslide erosion increases significantly until the hillside stabilizes.

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