This blog provides a commentary on landslide events occurring worldwide, including the landslides themselves, latest research, and conferences and meetings. The blog is written on a personal basis by Dave Petley, who is the Wilson Professor of Hazard and Risk in the Department of Geography at Durham University in the United Kingdom.

This blog is a personal project that does not seek to represent Durham University.

Monday, 29 November 2010

Update on the Tawang Monastery and a good article on the tribulations of Pakistan

Update on Tawang
Thanks to reader Adrian Moon for tracking this down – an image of the landslide affecting the Tawang Monastery site in India has been posted on the Echo of Aranchal website:

Click here for the rest of the post on the new site.

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Acute landslide threats to the Tawang Monastery, northern India

One of the most important sites of Buddhist worship is the Tawang Monastery in Himachal Pradesh in northern India.  This site, which is home to an estimated 450 lamas and houses many ancient scriptures and other manuscripts. One of its greatest claims to fame is that the Dalai Lama went first to Tawang when he fled Tibet in 1959. It was founded in 1680-1681, and consists of a collection of many and large small buildings, as shown below (image source):


 The extraordinary hilltop location of the site is shown in the Google Earth satellite image below - take a look on Google Earth at 27.59N, 91.86E.  The site is located at an elevation of about 3,300 metres.  The monastery is located on a site that is quite asymmetric, with a steep front side (eastern) slope and an even steeper, densely forested backslope to the west behind the monastery:


It appears to be an incredible location that even I, as an avowed atheist, would love to visit. Unfortunately, news reports have started to emerge that this site is severely threatened by landslides.  For example, the Times of India reported yesterday:

"The Tawang monastery in Arunachal Pradesh, where the spiritual leader stayed in 1959 during his flight from Tibet, has been witnessing massive landslides around it since Monday.  The 330-year-old monastery, also known as Gaden Namgyal Lhatse, stands on the spur of a hill about 10,000 feet above sea level. Landslides have already damaged the plantation and electric posts around it."

Unfortunately it is hard to know just how bad this problem might be, although the reports suggest that a plan is being formulated.  The cause of the landslides will be an interesting aspect to investigate, given that this is the dry season, well after the monsoon.  However, a quick look at the Google Earth imagery in perspective view is not encouraging.  In particular, the northern flank of the site appears to consist of a landslide scarp (the area mostly in shadow):


The reasons for this are clear - the river, which flows towards the south, is eroding the toe of the slope due to the site being on the outside of the bend.  In the long term erosion at the toe will need to be prevented if the site is to be preserved.  The proximity of the buildings to the crest of this slope is clear:


Even if the landslide activity at this site reduces before major damage is done, I would think that there needs to be a fairly urgent landslide management plan for this site if it is to be preserved.  Unfortunately, this will not be a cheap or easy exercise.

Friday, 19 November 2010

The Pike River Coal Mine accident

Although the key focus of my research is landslides, I also spend some of my time working with mining companies.  Thus, the Pike River accident in New Zealand is of interest.  The blast today appears to have left at least 27 miner trapped underground; at the time of writing there has been no contact with the missing workers, although rescue operations are clearly underway.  All modern mines have fully trained mine rescue teams that lead the way in such events.  They regularly liaise with the emergency services, and a contingency plan will be in place.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Landslides in Art Part 8: Goldau by JMW Turner

Part 8 of the occasional series on landslides as the subject of art. This edition features a painting of Goldau by JMW Turner, dating from 1843. It shows the aftermath of the September 1806 catastrophic landslide that destroyed the village.
Read more on the new blog site

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

A round up of interesting natural hazards stories – Taiwan landslides, the Pakistan floods, the Attabad landslide, and risk management in Canada

Occasionally I post a round up of stories on natural hazards, mostly on landslides, that have caught my eye in the last few days.  Here is the latest set:

1. Taiwan landslide hazard management

Read more on the new blog site

Saturday, 13 November 2010

Natural Hazards and UnNatural Disasters – the Economics of Effective Prevention


This week a joint publication was released by the United Nations and the World Bank with the above title.  The aim of the report, which can be downloaded for free from here, was to exemine the efficacy of investment in disaster risk reduction.  Although long, it is an excellent piece of work that is inevitably destined to be influential in this area.  As usual with reports associated with the World Bank, which tend to follow a particular economic model for development in less developed countries that has proven to be less than effective in many locations in my view, there are aspects with which I disagree.  However, the key points are generally worthy and thought-provoking. As an aside it has been interesting, and slightly depressing to see how little traction this report has gained in the mainstream media.  Given the high profile disasters of the last few years this is disappointing.

Read the rest of this post on the new blog

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Deforestation, erosion and Cholera in Haiti

There is an interesting and provocative recent article on the Huffington Post website by Ethan Budiansky, who works for an NGO called Trees for the Future, which seeks to assist communities and farmers in less developed countries to plant woodlands in order to mitigate environmental damage. The article looks at the issue of deforestation in Haiti, and attempts to link the ongoing cholera outbreak across the country to the rampant deforestation there. That deforestation is an issue in Haiti is beyond doubt - indeed I have blogged on this previously. I am certainly not the first to note that the border between the Dominican Republic (to the east and north in the Google Earth image below) and Haiti (to the south and west - the white line is the approximate location of the border) is visible from the air purely on the basis of the remarkable change in forest density:


Read more on the new blog site

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Predicting and cutting landslide risk in developing countries

Recently, Professor Malcolm Anderson of Bristol University presented a talk on  predicting and cutting landslide risk in developing countries at a Set Squared conference on the impact of university research.  This presentation is available online on Youtube and should be visible below.  Unfortunately the video does not have the slides, but nonetheless it is a very useful presentation:

Read more on the new blogsite.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

The human side of landslides

The recent passage of Hurricane Tomas across St Lucia, about which I have posted previously, has left a trail of destruction that has been surprisingly under-reported in the mainstream media. There are some dramatic pictures of the impact of the storm on this blog. Emerging from the wreckage is a very human story of the destructive nature of landslides.


Read the rest of this post on the new AGU hosted blog site.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Landslide fatality statistics for October 2010

For those that are new to my blog, one aspect of my research is to maintain a database of landslides that kill people.  This has been running since September 2002 (i.e. for eight years so far).  So, each month I try to produce a brief report on the number landslide events that have entered the database, and the number of fatalities that resulted.  This should be treated as provisional at this stage as I have some further verification work to do.

Read the rest of this post on my new blog site

Friday, 5 November 2010

Hurricane Tomas, Mount Merapi and landslides in Costa Rica

With three substantial natural hazard events occurring simultaneously, I thought I would post a round-up of those rapidly-evolving events:

1. Hurricane Tomas

Read more on the new blog

Thursday, 4 November 2010

The Rissa landslide - new (old) video available online


The original and some would say best landslide video is of that of the April 1978 Rissa landslide in Norway. I have mentioned this slide before - and indeed have hosted a link to the video, although that link is now dead. In looking for background material for the amazing Port Chibatao landslide in Manaus (if you haven't looked at that video then you are really missing out) I found that the section of the original documentary is now available online:


Read more on the new site

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

The Canterbury Earthquake: images of the distorted railway line

Back in September I posted a series of images that I took of the of the surface fault rupture for the 4th September 2010 Mw = 7.1 Canterbury earthquake in New Zealand. Included was this one, taken of a railway line that crossed the fault rupture at the eastern end of the fault near to Rolleston:


Read more by clicking here

Monday, 1 November 2010

A sinkhole in Germany, a landslide in Italy and the forecast path of Hurricane Tomas (which has already caused landslides in St Lucia)

Today is one of those days in which there is a great deal going on.  Three interesting stories are:

1. A sinkhole in Germany
Thanks to a host of people for bringing the development last night of a sinkhole in the town of Schmalkalden in central Germany to my attention.  These feature has been caught in a spectacular set of images...
Read more