Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Rains Come. Slopes Fail.


Over Memorial Day weekend a massive, miles-long landslide occurred in a remote area of back country wilderness in Colorado. Three people are missing. The slide came down with enough force to overrun several hills before coming to a stop and the resulting deposit of debris is estimated to be more than 200 feet deep in places. The slide left behind a near-vertical escarpment, a cliff of exposed and saturated soil and rock. There is a high likelihood of another slide. Three people are missing.

The media is interested in this story because of the human element, not because of the spectacular magnitude of the event itself or what we might learn from it. I suppose that it is fair enough. Still, all of the decisions moving forward, whether or not to send in search crews and when, how many resources to put into such a thing, how much further risk of human life to take, are informed and tempered by our understanding of the phenomenon itself. How and where and when will all be answered by what we think we know of hills and slopes and water. Perhaps we should tend to our understanding of such things.

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