The deadly Johnsons Landing Landslides and the importance of natural hazard monitoring during anthropogenic climate change

Introduction:

photograph of a sunset over Kootenay Lake
Figure 1: Sunset over Kootenay Lake. View it towards the south-southeast. Credit: Jared Peters.

Years ago, I conducted field research for my Master’s degree in the Kootenay Rockies in British Columbia (BC), Canada.  It was a great time in a rugged backcountry.  Most of that work was done near the shores of Kootenay Lake, which is truly a wonderful spot (Figure 1).  During my research, I got to know the area quite well and even developed friendships with some of the residents there.  That’s why I was so shocked to learn that five years ago a large landslide in the area had such devastating effects.

Continued hazard monitoring may save lives in Johnsons Landing.  These natural-hazard monitoring programs are of increasing importance as humans and their infrastructure continue to interact with the natural environment.  Furthermore, anthropogenic climate change exacerbates these hazards.  Thus, a commitment to further development of monitoring strategies is important from both humanitarian and economic perspectives.

The 2012 landslide:

Heavy rains and late snow melt in the spring of 2012 triggered a landslide that moved 300,000 m3 of earth and debris (Marinelli et al., 2015).  This was the largest landslide to happen in that region of BC for 12,000 years.

This massive landslide disastrously flowed into and over parts of a very small, and lovely, hamlet called Johnsons Landing (Figure 2).  This resulted in the tragic deaths of four people.

Aerial photo of the 2012 Johnsons Landing landslide
Figure 2: Aerial photograph of the 2012 Johnsons Landing landslide in southern British Columbia, Canada. Credit: TMTV News.

I’ve embedded an amazing video (below) of some smaller, residual sliding that almost claimed several other lives.  In this video, the slide moves large trees like matchsticks.  At one point the tree trunks seem to track the survivors with nefarious intent as they escape onto Kootenay Lake.

 

A new, spring 2017, evacuation:

A new evacuation alert for Johnsons Landing has been issued this spring.  This alert and a potential evacuation have been sparked by observations of slope shift and muddy runoff.

Discussion on the importance of future natural hazard monitoring:

The global economic costs of natural disasters are increasing (UN ISDR, 2009).  To make matters worse, anthropogenic climate change is increasing the severity of weather events (Solomon, 2007).  One study (Schmidt et al., 2009) concluded that:

“In the period 1971–2005, since the beginning of a trend towards increased intense cyclone activity, losses excluding socio-economic effects show an annual increase of 4% per annum. This increase must therefore be at least due to the impact of natural climate variability but, more likely than not, also due to anthropogenic forcings.”

So, even if you still find comfort in the dank, sandy head-hole that you hide in from the facts of climate change, it still makes economic sense to advance natural hazard monitoring strategies.  Furthermore, these strategies will continue to save lives in places like Johnsons Landing, BC and many others.  In short, improved natural hazard monitoring and continued research make humanitarian sense as well as financial cents.

References:

Marinelli, G., Aaron, J., Borgatti, L., Jordan, P., & Hungr, O. (2015). Back Analysis of Johnsons Landing 2012 Landslide Using Two Dynamic Analysis Models. In Engineering Geology for Society and Territory-Volume 2 (pp. 1267-1270). Springer International Publishing. https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-3-319-09057-3_222

Schmidt, S., Kemfert, C., & Höppe, P. (2009). Tropical cyclone losses in the USA and the impact of climate change—A trend analysis based on data from a new approach to adjusting storm losses. Environmental Impact Assessment Review, 29(6), 359-369. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0195925509000493

Solomon, S. (Ed.). (2007). Climate change 2007-the physical science basis: Working group I contribution to the fourth assessment report of the IPCC (Vol. 4). Cambridge University Press.

Jared Peters

Jared Peters

Jared Peters, PhD, is a geoscientist who specialises in marine sedimentology, marine palaeoglaciology and climate change.
Jared Peters
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Jared Peters, PhD, is a geoscientist who specialises in marine sedimentology, marine palaeoglaciology and climate change.