The term landslide or, less frequently, landslip, refers to several forms of mass wasting that include a wide range of ground movements, such as rockfalls, deep-seated slope failures, mudflows and debris flows. Landslides can occur underwater, in which case they are called submarine landslides, and in coastal and onshore environments. Although the action of gravity is the primary driving force for a landslide to occur, there are other contributing factors affecting slope stability. Typically, pre-conditional factors build up specific surface or sub-surface conditions that make a slope prone to failure, whereas the actual landslide often requires a trigger before being released.
Landslides occur when the slope changes from a stable to an unstable condition. A change in the stability of a slope can be caused by a number of factors, acting together or alone. Natural causes of landslides include:
Landslides are aggravated by human activities, such as
Slope material that becomes saturated with water may develop into a debris flow or mud flow. The resulting slurry of rock and mud may pick up trees, houses and cars, thus blocking bridges and tributaries causing flooding along its path.
Debris flow is often mistaken for flash flood, but they are entirely different processes.
Muddy-debris flows in alpine areas cause severe damage to structures and infrastructure and often claim human lives. Muddy-debris flows can start as a result of slope-related factors and shallow landslides can dam stream beds, resulting in temporary water blockage. As the impoundments fail, a "domino effect" may be created, with a remarkable growth in the volume of the flowing mass, which takes up the debris in the stream channel. The solid–liquid mixture can reach densities of up to 2,000 kg/m3 (120 lb/cu ft) and velocities of up to 14 m/s (46 ft/s) (;). These processes normally cause the first severe road interruptions, due not only to deposits accumulated on the road (from several cubic metres to hundreds of cubic metres), but in some cases to the complete removal of bridges or roadways or railways crossing the stream channel. Damage usually derives from a common underestimation of mud-debris flows: in the alpine valleys, for example, bridges are frequently destroyed by the impact force of the flow because their span is usually calculated only for a water discharge. For a small basin in the Italian Alps (area 1.76 km2 (0.68 sq mi)) affected by a debris flow, estimated a peak discharge of 750 m3/s (26,000 cu ft/s) for a section located in the middle stretch of the main channel. At the same cross section, the maximum foreseeable water discharge (by HEC-1), was 19 m3/s (670 cu ft/s), a value about 40 times lower than that calculated for the debris flow that occurred.
An Earthflow is the downslope movement of mostly fine-grained material. Earthflows can move at speeds within a very wide range, from as low as 1 mm/yr (0.039 in/yr) to 20 km/h (12.4 mph). Though these are a lot like mudflows, overall they are more slow moving and are covered with solid material carried along by flow from within. They are different from fluid flows which are more rapid. Clay, fine sand and silt, and fine-grained, pyroclastic material are all susceptible to earthflows. The velocity of the earthflow is all dependent on how much water content is in the flow itself: the higher the water content in the flow, the higher the velocity will be.