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The causes of landslides are usually related to instabilities in slopes.

It is usually possible to identify one or more landslide causes and one landslide trigger. The difference between these two concepts is subtle but important. The landslide causes are the reasons that a landslide occurred in that location and at that time. Landslide causes are listed in the following table, and includegeological factors, morphological factors, physical factors and factors associated with human activity. Causes may be considered to be factors that made the slope vulnerable to failure, that predispose the slope to becoming unstable. The trigger is the single event that finally initiated the landslide. Thus, causes combine to make a slope vulnerable to failure, and the trigger finally initiates the movement. Landslides can have many causes but can only have one trigger as shown in the next figure. Usually, it is relatively easy to determine the trigger after the landslide has occurred (although it is generally very difficult to determine the exact nature of landslide triggers ahead of a movement event). Occasionally, even after detailed investigations, no trigger can be determined - this was the case in the large Mount Cook landslide in New Zealand 1991. It is unclear as to whether the lack of a trigger in such cases is the result of some unknown process acting within the landslide, or whether there was in fact a trigger, but it cannot be determined. Perhaps this is because the trigger was in fact a slow but steady decrease in material strength associated with the weatheringof the rock - at some point the material becomes so weak that failure must occur. Hence the trigger is the weathering process, but this is not detectable externally. In most cases we think of a trigger as an external stimulus that induces an immediate or near-immediate response in the slope, in this case in the form of the movement of the landslide. Generally this movement is induced either because the stresses in the slope are altered, perhaps by increasing shear stress or decreasing the effective normal stress, or by reducing the resistance to the movement perhaps by decreasing the shear strength of the materials within the landslide.

Causes of landslides


Weathered materials Sheared materials Jointed or fissured materials Adversely orientated discontinuities Permeability contrasts Material contrasts Rainfall and snow fall Earthquakes Working of machinery



Slope angle Uplift Rebound Fluvial erosion Wave erosion Glacial erosion Erosion of lateral margins Subterranean erosion Slope loading Vegetation change Erosion



Intense rainfall Rapid snow melt Prolonged precipitation Rapid drawdown Earthquake Volcanic eruption Thawing Freeze-thaw Ground water changes Soil pore water pressure Surface runoff Seismic activity



Excavation Loading Drawdown Land use change Water management Mining Quarrying Vibration Water leakage Deforestation