The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) oversees a national landslide hazards program to reduce long-term losses from landslides and to understand what causes them. Landslides are responsible for as much as $3.5 billion in damage each year in the United States, according to the USGS. Rockfalls kill dozens of people every year, according to the agency.
Landslides are never far from the popular imagination. The phrase “won by a landslide” has been in use in connection with elections since at least the 1840s.
In his 1880 book “A Tramp Abroad,” humorist Mark Twain wrote of a famous landslide in the Swiss countryside that destroyed four towns 74 years earlier.
“A constant marvel with us as we sped along the bases of the steep mountains on this journey was not that avalanches occur, but that they are not occurring all the time,” he wrote. “One does not understand why rocks and landslides do not plunge down these declivities daily.”
UC geology graduate student Nicholas Ferry has been studying the Blue Diamond landslide south of Las Vegas, Nevada.
“Las Vegas has grown very rapidly over the last 20 years. Development is approaching this area where potentially another landslide could happen,” Ferry said.
But Ferry said the region with the most landslides ironically is home to the world’s oldest mountains: the Appalachians.
Ferry decided to come to UC to study geology because of its in-depth work on landslides.
“Of all the schools I applied to, UC was doing the most interesting work. I jumped all over it,” Ferry said. “It’s been pretty exciting.”