More can be done to prevent landslides like those seen this winter and spring in West Virginia and across the country, according to a West Virginia University geologist.
Steve Kite, chair of the Department of Geology and Geography, said it’s easier to predict where landslides could occur than other natural threats such as tornadoes. Kite’s graduate students are currently using LiDAR laser landscape mapping to depict hundreds of landslides.
He said a statewide mapping program should be implemented and a professional geologist licensure program, such as those found in most other states, should be created to ensure that trained geologists are part of the decisions in slope construction and modification.
“A statewide LiDAR mapping program should be completed for the entire state so that the tens of thousands of historic and prehistoric landslides can be detected, mapped and avoided or mitigated before we have a disaster like the landslide that devastated the Steelhead neighborhood in Oso, Wash.,” Kite said.
Kite is available to speak to media regarding the landslide issues facing the state.
Landslides have been in the news recently in West Virginia and beyond.
A rockslide on earlier this month blocked Route 1 in McDowell County, and at the end of last year, a rockslide blocked Route 3 in Raleigh County. On the national level, recently officials confirmed 41 dead from a landslide in Washington state outside Seattle.
“Thousands of West Virginia hillsides are teetering on a delicate balance where the right weather conditions, such as an unusually cold and wet winter can trigger a landslide,” Kite said. “Excessive wetness causes hillsides to lose strength and the time of year when the most water is in the soils and rock on the hillsides is typically late winter or early spring.”
West Virginia has been eroded by rivers and streams over the last one to two millions years since drainage systems were rerouted and new ones created as an indirect effect of glaciers farther north, Kite said. Hillsides along these waterways have been trying to adapt to Ice Age erosion since then through landslides.
But human intervention hasn’t helped the situation. Slopes throughout the state have been steepened through construction of buildings, roads and railroads, and sometimes through altering water drainage patterns, Kite said.
“The only countrywide landslide damage inventory completed to date showed that West Virginia had one eighth of all of the landslide damage in the whole country between 1973 and 1983—and was at or very near the top in landslide damage per person,” he said.
That data came from a 1984 U.S. Geological Survey report.
Kite can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com.