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Circular 1325

The Landslide Handbook—A Guide to Understanding Landslides

By Lynn M. Highland, United States Geological Survey, and Peter Bobrowsky, Geological Survey of Canada


Thumbnail of and link to report PDF (42.3 MB)

This handbook is intended to be a resource for people affected by landslides to acquire further knowledge, especially about the conditions that are unique to their neighborhoods and communities. Considerable literature and research are available concerning landslides, but unfortunately little of it is synthesized and integrated to address the geographically unique geologic and climatic conditions around the globe. Landslides occur throughout the world, under all climatic conditions and terrains, cost billions in monetary losses, and are responsible for thousands of deaths and injuries each year. Often, they cause long-term economic disruption, population displacement, and negative effects on the natural environment.

Outdated land-use policies may not always reflect the best planning for use of land that is vulnerable to landslides. The reasons for poor or nonexistent land-use policies that minimize the perceived or actual danger and damage potential from geologic hazards are many and encompass the political, cultural, and financial complexities and intricacies of communities. Landslides often are characterized as local problems, but their effects and costs frequently cross local jurisdictions and may become State or Provincial or national problems.

Growing populations may be limited in their geographic expansion, except to occupy unstable, steep, or remote areas. Often, stabilizing landslide-scarred areas is too costly, and some inhabitants have no other places to relocate. Fortunately, simple, “low-tech” precautions and actions can be adopted to at least ensure an individual’s immediate safety, and this handbook gives a brief overview of many of these options. We strongly suggest that, where possible, the assistance of professional engineers/geologists or those experienced in the successful mitigation of unstable slopes be consulted before actions are taken. This handbook helps homeowners, community and emergency managers, and decisionmakers to take the positive step of encouraging awareness of available options and recourse in regard to landslide hazard.

We provide a list of references, available in print or on the World Wide Web (Internet), that can be used for further knowledge about landslides. We recommend this handbook to managers and decisionmakers in communities in the hope that the information will be disseminated by such officials to other members of those communities. In response to the differing levels of literacy around the globe, we have emphasized visual information through the use of photographs and graphics. We plan to translate the handbook into additional languages as funding permits to further facilitate its use.

We welcome comments and critiques and have provided our contact information and the names and addresses of our respective agencies.

Version 1.0

Posted November 2008

For additional information contact:

United States Geological Survey
Landslide Program and National Landslide Information Center
Mail Stop 966, Box 25046, Denver Federal Center
Denver, Colorado, 80225 USA
Web address:

Geological Survey of Canada
Landslides and Geotechnic Section
601 Booth Street
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada KIA 0E8
Web address:

Part or all of this report is presented in Portable Document Format (PDF); the latest version of Adobe Reader or similar software is required to view it. Download the latest version of Adobe Reader, free of charge.

Suggested citation:

Highland, L.M., and Bobrowsky, Peter, 2008, The landslide handbook—A guide to understanding landslides: Reston, Virginia, U.S. Geological Survey Circular 1325, 129 p.


Front Matter PDF (4.7 MB)


How to read this guide


For more information

Section I. Basic Information About Landslides PDF (25.8 MB)

Part A. What is a Landslide?

Part B. Basic Landslide Types

Part C. Where Do Landslides Occur?

Part D. What Causes Landslides?

Part E. What are the Effects and Consequences of Landslides?

Part F. Interrelationship of Landslides with Other Natural Hazards—The Multiple Hazard Effect

Section II. Evaluating and Communicating Landslide Hazard PDF (987 kB)

Part A. Evaluating Landslide Hazards

Part B. Communicating Landslide Hazard

Section III. Mitigation Concepts and Approaches PDF (4.5 MB)

Part A. Overview of Mitigation Methods for Various Types of Landslide Hazards

Part B. Simple Mitigation Techniques for Home and Businesses, Managers, and Citizens

Part C. List of Works Consulted/Cited/Quoted and for Further Reading

Appendix A. Basic Information about Landslides PDF (813 kB)

Part 2. Parts of a Landslide— Description of Features/Glossary

Part 3. Landslide Causes and Triggering Mechanisms

Appendix B. Introduction to Landslide Evaluation Tools—Mapping, Remote Sensing, and Monitoring of Landslides PDF (12.4 MB)

Part 1. Mapping

Part 2. Remote Sensing and Other Tools that Show Features of Landslide Activity

Part 3. Real-Time Monitoring of Landslides and Landslide Instrumentation

Appendix C. Introduction to Landslide Stabilization and Mitigation PDF (29.1 MB)

Part 1. Earth Slope Stabilization/Mitigation

Part 2. Rock Slope Stabilization/Mitigation Techniques

Part 3. Debris-Flow Mitigation

Appendix D. Sample Safety Information for Landslides/Debris Flows PDF (534 kB)

What Can You Do If You Live Near Steep Hills?


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