Mass Wasting (Landslides)
This unit contains resources about mass wasting (landslides), factors that affect slope stability, the classification of mass wasting events and the mitigation and prevention of landslides.

Workshop Presentations

PowerPoint Click to download the MS Powerpoint file (39 Mbytes).

PDF. Click to view or download the presentation in PDF (34 Mbytes).

HTML. Click to view the presentation in html..

Online lecture Pt. 1 Click here to view the first part about slope stability and the classification of mass wasting events. (coming soon)

Online lecture Pt. 2 Click here to view the second part about mitigation and prevention of mass wasting. (coming soon)

Classroom Activities

What Causes Rocks to Slip and Slide? In this simple activity from, students examine the factors (friction, angle of slope, etc.) that affect why an object will slide donwn a slope. This is a great opening activity to activate thinking and learning about mass wasting.

Mini-Landslide This activity from duplicatea a large scale experiment from the United States Geological Survey (USGS) that examines the factors that affect mass wasting events. At the USGS, the experiment is done in a large flume built into a hillside; in this experiment, students duplicate the experiment in a tabletop version where they examine how the mass wasting is affected by different geologic materials, slope and water.
Click here to download a short PowerPoint presentation (79 Mb) that can be used to introduce the USGS experiment and the classroom activity.

  • The presentation has an embedded video of the the USGS experiment.
  • An introduction to the USGS experiment and links to videos from different trials is available at this website
  • Click here to view a video of an example of a debris flow from the activity (slow motion).

Online Video and Media Resources

Taiwan Rock Fall This dramatic video from Taiwan was taken from a dashboard camera.

Cornwall Rock Fall This dramatic video shows a small rock fall on the Cornish coast in England. The steep coastline is probably the result of coastal erosion that results in the oversteepening of the slope. In the video, the oversteepened slope fails.

Rockslide in Tyrol This dramatic drone footage shows the aftermath of large boulders from a rockslide or rock fall in South Tyrol in Austria.

Landslide in French Alps This video shows a landslide consisting of ice, snow, rock and soil.

Mudslide (Debris Flow) in Calabria, Italy This video shows a large but relatively slow mudslide near a town in Calabria.

Mudslide (Debris Flow) in Switzerland. This video shows a mudslide in a small town in Switzerland. Note that much of the mudslide was "channelized" in culverts that helped to protect the town.

Landslide Detectives This QUEST video from KQED examines how geologists are monitoring and tracking mass wasting in an East Bay community and raises questions about properties rights.

Debris Flow in San Bernardino County. This video shows a debris flow in a region that had burned previously. The removal of vegetation by wild fires followed by winter rains, results in mudslides and debris flows.

Rockslide in Bhutan. This rockslide occured in the Himalayan Mountains in Bhutan.

Rockslide at Horseshoe Bend in Arizona. This video shows a rockfall. Landscapes such as the Grand Canyon are the result of processes such as weathering, erosion and mass wasting. The Grand Canyon develops by mass wasting delivering rock and sediment to the canyon floor where the Colorado river moves it downstream by erosion.

Mt. Saint Helens eruption This time lapse animation of the 1980 eruption is a classic example of how Earth's surface processes work together. The massive volcanic eruption was preceded and caused by a large landslide that occurred on the flank of the volcano. The landslide was triggerred by earthquakes associated with the movement of magma into the volcano.

Useful Websites

USGS Landslide Hazards Program This website contains information about landslide research and educational resources.

California Geologic Survey Landslides This website contains information about landslides in California.

NGSS Disciplinary Core Ideas

Grade 3
ESS3.B: Natural Hazards: A variety of natural hazards result from natural processes. Humans cannot eliminate natural hazards but can take steps to reduce their impacts.

Grade 4
ESS3.B: Natural Hazards: A variety of natural hazards result from natural processes. Humans cannot eliminate natural hazards but can take steps to reduce their impacts.

Grade 5
ESS2.C: The Roles of Water in Earth;s Surface Processes: Nearly all of Earth's available water is in the ocean. Most fresh water is in glaciers or underground; only a tiny fraction is in streams, lakes, wetlands, and the atmosphere. (5-ESS2-2)

Middle School
ESS2.C: The Roles of Water in Earth's Surface Processes: Water's movements, both on the land and underground, cause weathering and erosion, which change the land's surface features and create underground formations. (MS-ESS2-2)

ESS3.B: Natural Hazards: Mapping the history of natural hazards in a region, combined with an understanding of related geologic forces can help forecast the locations and likelihoods of future events. (MS-ESS3-2)

High School
ESS2.C: The Roles of Water in Earth;s Surface Processes The abundance of liquid water on Earth;s surface and its unique combination of physical and chemical properties are central to the planet's dynamics. These properties include water's exceptional capacity to absorb, store, and release large amounts of energy, transmit sunlight, expand upon freezing, dissolve and transport materials, and lower the viscosities and melting points of rocks. (HS-ESS2-5).

ESS3.B: Natural Hazards: Natural hazards and other geologic events have shaped the course of human history; [they] have significantly altered the sizes of human populations and have driven human migrations. (HS-ESS3-1)

Common Scientific Misconceptions

Mass wasting and erosion have the same causes.

Landslides are random occurrences.

Landslides are a minor natural hazard and do not cause much harm.

Like this page? Want something different? Tell me what you think