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10.3: Kinds of Mass Wasting

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    Enough of theories and generalities. What kinds of mass-wasting processes are important? Mass downslope movement of bedrock and/or regolith is a complexly (almost hopelessly) multidimensional phenomenon. Here is a list of some of the factors in this complexity (I’m not pretending that it’s a complete list):

    slope of the land surface

    composition of the surficial material

    nature and degree of fracturing of bedrock

    degree of weathering of bedrock

    rate of downward transition from regolith to bedrock

    size, shape, and sorting of regolith particles



    degree of water saturation of medium

    extent of excess pore pressure

    fauna and flora

    undercutting at base of slope

    earthquake vibrations

    Accordingly, the mode, speed, and volume of downslope mass movements varies enormously. Below is a list of some types of commonly recognized modes of movement (in alphabetical order). I think that an appropriate adjective in this situation is “bewildering”. Many, if not most, of these grade into one another, without clear boundaries.


    debris avalanche

    debris flow

    debris slide






    rock fall

    rock slide




    The most general term in the foregoing list is landslide. That term applies to all perceptible movement of rock or regolith down a slope. Two further qualifications are still needed, though:

    (1) The adjective “perceptible” leaves out a class of very important mass-wasting processes—creep and solifluction—that are of great importance but are too slow to stand around and watch.

    (2) There’s a phenomenon called debris flows, whose nature lies somewhere in between what’s generally considered to be landslides, on the one hand, and sediment-transporting streamflow (the topic of an earlier chapter) on the other hand.

    Many classifications of types of mass wasting have been proposed. It’s generally agreed that the definitive criteria for such classifications are as follows:

    type of material in motion (particle size, degree of coherence)

    mode of motion (falling, toppling, sliding, flowing)

    speed of motion

    Rather than trying to present to you various technical classifications, I’m going to deal in the following sections with several of the most important kinds of mass wasting. Given what’s said above, it seems natural to do this in the form of three sections: creep and solifluction; landslides; and debris flows.

    This page titled 10.3: Kinds of Mass Wasting is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by John Southard (MIT OpenCourseware) via source content that was edited to the style and standards of the LibreTexts platform; a detailed edit history is available upon request.