Complex landslide patterns explained by local intra-unit variability of stratigraphy and structure: Case study in the Tyee Formation, Oregon, USA

Engineering Geology
By:  and 



Lithology and geologic structure are important controls on landslide susceptibility and are incorporated into many regional landslide hazard models. Typically, metrics for mapped geologic units are used as model input variables and a single set of values for material strength are assumed, regardless of spatial heterogeneities that may exist within a map unit. Here we describe how differences in bedding thickness, grain size, inferred uniaxial compressive strength, and bedding dip control the inherent susceptibility of slopes to deep-seated failure within a single mapped geologic unit - the Tyee Formation of Oregon, USA. The Tyee, which covers over 15,000 km2 and underlies much of the Oregon Coast Range, comprises gently folded alternating beds of sandstone and siltstone deposited as turbidites, forming a 2-km thick Eocene submarine fan which has been uplifted and exhumed through the Cenozoic. Deep-seated landslides are widespread in the Tyee, but form a complex spatial pattern such that landslide density ranges from 0 to 24% of the total landscape area. These slides are often extensive and sufficiently deep to reduce local hillslope gradients, resulting in a strong negative correlation between landslide density and mean local slope. Mean annual precipitation and predicted strong ground motions from Cascadia earthquake scenarios also fail to explain the spatial distribution of deep-seated landslides. Consequently, landslide stability models, which are strongly influenced by landscape slope, pore-water pressure, and seismic acceleration, yield landslide susceptibility maps which are broadly anti-correlated with mapped deep-seated landslide density. Through a multivariable linear regression model, we show that much of the variance in deep-seated landslide density can be explained by variability of intra-unit stratigraphic and structural characteristics, which we measure at 128 sites across two study areas totaling ∼3000 km2. Our results suggest bedding dip is only weakly correlated to landslide density, but strongly influences landslide failure style. Subtle increases in bedding dip, even in the gently folded Tyee Formation, result in a substantially higher likelihood of a landslide being cataclinal, or parallel to bedding. Overall, we find a slight majority of landslides fail within these cataclinal slopes, and that these landslides tend to be larger than non-cataclinal landslides. We also show that the lithological and structural properties that influence landslide susceptibility are distinct for these two populations of landslides. Our results demonstrate how localized, intra-unit, geologic variability can exert strong control on landslide susceptibility and failure style. This suggests that in some locations, landslide hazard models could be significantly improved by incorporating detailed, spatially variable, geologic properties rather than relying solely on generalized geologic map units.

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Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Complex landslide patterns explained by local intra-unit variability of stratigraphy and structure: Case study in the Tyee Formation, Oregon, USA
Series title Engineering Geology
DOI 10.1016/j.enggeo.2023.107387
Volume 329
Year Published 2024
Language English
Publisher Elsevier
Contributing office(s) Earthquake Science Center, Geology, Minerals, Energy, and Geophysics Science Center
Description 107387, 14 p.
Country United States
State Oregon
Other Geospatial Tyee Formation
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