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NOVA: Killer Landslides examines the Oso disaster

At 10:37 a.m. on a sunny Saturday morning in March, residents in 30 homes along a bend in a beautiful river in the mountains of Washington state were enjoying their morning coffee, many spending time with family on their day off, when a distant roar interrupted the routine: the terrifying sound of what would become the United States’ deadliest landslide in decades. The equivalent of three million dump truck loads of earth came plummeting down the valley, snapping trees and shattering houses along with everything inside. In less than two minutes, a one-square-mile field of debris, 20 feet deep, slammed into the neighborhood. While a massive search and rescue effort continues at the site, geomorphologists are tracing the geological history of Oso, from the deposition of loose sand and gravel during the last Ice Age to modern-day logging to climate change, to explain why the site was so unstable.

But all around the world, scientists have reason to fear that the worst is yet to come. Globally, landslides and other ground failures cost more lives and money each year than all other natural disasters combined, and climate change could cause an increase in landslide activity worldwide. The largest loss of life due to a landslide ravaged Afghanistan this spring, an estimated 400 people buried alive. In the Himalayas, where more than 1,000 people were killed in landslides in 2007 alone, the threat of devastating landslides is always lurking.

As we survey the tell-tale signs of future colossal landslides that will strike when the next mega-earthquake hits Nepal, we will discover how scientists are revealing how and why landslides happen, and how new satellite monitoring technologies are giving researchers hope that they may be able to predict landslides and issue life-saving warnings to those in the path of nature’s destruction.

NOVA: Killer Landslides further investigates what triggered the deadly landslide and whether climate change is increasing the risk of similar disasters around the globe.

Watch the preview of NOVA: Killer Landslides airing Wednesday, November 19, at 9pm

Immediately following the broadcast of NOVA: Killer Landslides stay tuned for an encore broadcast of KCTS 9's recent coverage of the Oso landslide with IN Close: Voices of the Oso Landslide, Wednesday, November 19, at 10pm.

In September, six months after the Oso landslide, KCTS 9’s IN Close team ventured to Oso and found the town largely cleared of debris, but its community still recovering. In a series of profiles on the residents and first responders, IN Close showed the current state of Oso through personal stories of tragedy and triumph. Plus, the science behind the landslide – how did it happen and could it happen again?

Watch videos, read articles and look through galleries of Voices of the Oso Landslide

Update 11/17/14:

Are you prepared for a landslide disaster? Do you know the first steps to take when protecting your property and family? Join the City of Seattle Department of Planning and Development Tuesday (11/18) for their landslide preparation Twitter event. Learn how you can better prepare yourself for any possible disasters, as well as, get your questions answered by a landslide expert. Visit the Department of Planning and Development for more information


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The predominate geological process in the Stillaguamish River Valley is the Devils Mountain Fault Rupture.This includes the fault slumping,the thousands of recorded earthquakes,the landslides adjacent to the fault,the slump blocks on Oso hill and Rollins Creek,and many more CLASSIC fault rupture features.
Unpredictable?-The Slumps on the DMF are easterly trending along with the adjacent landslides(ex.-Wheeler Mountain slide).The eroded previous slumps are observable as a fault scarp that lies west of the current slump back along the fault.Next slump?-On fault east of current slump.The adjacent landslides(off fault) are marked by recorded- repeated small earthquakes directly below or in the vicinity of the actual slides.(off fault landslides predictable by frequent small earthquakes directly below slides)
This information has been openly available to Washington State geologists
through DNR geological reports and USGS reports for decades and ignored in land use,fisheries,logging,and other reports,little if any of which would have been allowed if the geologists had followed state laws on assimilating new information.Multiple state laws have been violated by geologists tasked with protecting the public while at the same time enabling development with their reports.
The proper designation and portrayal of the geology of the Stillaguamish valley at any time since the 90's would have immediately triggered the same development laws that California has had in place on fault ruptures for decades.Instead we end up with millions of yards of material in transit towards the Stilly,a destroyed fisheries,death and destruction,and only the rain to blame.Real Science?-Hope Nova does better than that tomorrow.