Submarine landslides: processes, triggers and hazard prediction

TitleSubmarine landslides: processes, triggers and hazard prediction
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2006
AuthorsMasson, DG, Harbitz, CB, Wynn, RB, Pedersen, G, Løvholt, F
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences
Date PublishedAugust 15, 2006
Keywordshazard prediction, landslide causes, landslide hazards, landslide processes, Submarine landslides, tsunamis

Huge landslides, mobilizing hundreds to thousands of km3 of sediment and rock are ubiquitous in submarine settings ranging from the steepest volcanic island slopes to the gentlest muddy slopes of submarine deltas. Here, we summarize current knowledge of such landslides and the problems of assessing their hazard potential. The major hazards related to submarine landslides include destruction of seabed infrastructure, collapse of coastal areas into the sea and landslide-generated tsunamis. Most submarine slopes are inherently stable. Elevated pore pressures (leading to decreased frictional resistance to sliding) and specific weak layers within stratified sequences appear to be the key factors influencing landslide occurrence. Elevated pore pressures can result from normal depositional processes or from transient processes such as earthquake shaking; historical evidence suggests that the majority of large submarine landslides are triggered by earthquakes. Because of their tsunamigenic potential, ocean-island flank collapses and rockslides in fjords have been identified as the most dangerous of all landslide related hazards. Published models of ocean-island landslides mainly examine ‘worst-case scenarios’ that have a low probability of occurrence. Areas prone to submarine landsliding are relatively easy to identify, but we are still some way from being able to forecast individual events with precision. Monitoring of critical areas where landslides might be imminent and modelling landslide consequences so that appropriate mitigation strategies can be developed would appear to be areas where advances on current practice are possible.