In 2008, an 8.2 magnitude earthquake in China caused the enormous Daguangbao landslide, which loosed over one cubic kilometer of rocks and debris. That material rushed down the mountainside, running more than 4 kilometers before coming to a stop. A new study uses field measurements and laboratory experiments to explain how the landslide could run so far from its source.
The researchers found that friction between the sliding material and the stable rock heated that layer to over 850 degrees Celsius, hot enough to start decomposing the dolomite in the fall. That vaporized carbon dioxide out of the rock, which helped lower the friction. Simultaneously, the high temperatures and high pressures within in the landslide caused recrystallization in the falling rocks; this created a viscous layer that helped lubricate the slide. The team estimated that the two mechanisms working in tandem enabled the landslide to reach an estimated 60 m/s. (Image and research credit: W. Hu et al.; via Nature; submitted by Kam-Yung Soh)