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What causes landslides?

While some people may regard the ground beneath their feet as solid and unmovable, as a Californian, you probably know that that is not always the case, as earthquakes and landslides can cause the ground to shift out from under your feet. Though you may have witnessed firsthand the devastating effects of a landslide, you may not know what causes them.

According to Earth-Science Reviews, landslides occur on every continent, and while they can pose a serious threat to the human population, they also play an important role in landscape evolution. Landslides involve a number of different movements, including falling, flowing, sliding, spreading or toppling, of a mass of earth, rock or debris down a slope under the influence of gravity. A landslide can occur on engineered slopes as well as natural ones. 

When a slope becomes unstable, the probability of landslides increases. A number of factors, including human actions and natural phenomena, can contribute to slope instability. Natural factors that can affect slope stability include volcanoes and seismic activity, temperature changes, snowmelt and precipitation. Human actions, such as forest harvesting and overgrazing, that promote soil erosion can also contribute to landslides. 

Though studies on the subject are still in their early stages, human actions that contribute to global warming and climate change could be an indirect cause of landslides. Researchers feel confident that permafrost degradation, glacial retreat and changes in heat waves could influence bedrock stability and affect slope instabilities in the high mountains. 

The information in this article is not intended as legal advice but provided for educational purposes only.

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