Submarine landslides: processes, triggers and hazard prediction

Philos Trans A Math Phys Eng Sci. 2006 Aug 15;364(1845):2009-39. doi: 10.1098/rsta.2006.1810.


Huge landslides, mobilizing hundreds to thousands of km(3) 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.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Computer Simulation
  • Disaster Planning / methods*
  • Disaster Planning / statistics & numerical data*
  • Disasters / statistics & numerical data*
  • Environment*
  • Geological Phenomena
  • Geology
  • Global Health
  • Internationality
  • Models, Theoretical*
  • Proportional Hazards Models
  • Public Policy*
  • Risk Assessment / methods*
  • Risk Factors