What is a mudslide? - PAESTA Podcast Series: Episode 27

Episode 27 podcast

You Asked, We Answered!

Transcript of the podcast

Hello, my name is Noelle Zampino and I will be leading this podcast today. We are going to be talking about mudslides from a broad spectrum. The main focus of the podcast will be to gain a general understanding of how mudslides form, the risk factors involved, how to stay safe during a mudslide, the environmental and societal impacts caused by mudslides, as well as what can be done to decrease the amount of mudslides that occur. So to get started we need to understand what a mudslide is. [1] A mudslide is essentially when the ground becomes so saturated with moisture that it causes the soil and other debris to flow down slopes or hills. So this leads us into discussing risk factors for mudslides. [2] [3] [4] There are many risk factors involved with creating mudslides but some of the most common factors are excessive rainfall, drought followed by rainfall, deforestation, earthquakes, wildfires, and geological landscapes. [4] Excessive rainfall may seem like an obvious cause of mudslides due to the fact that the large amounts of water can’t be absorbed by the ground in such a short amount of time. However, some of these other factors are not as obvious, and in fact most people don’t realize the threat that these factors pose for mudslides. [3] For instance, droughts pose a serious risk for mudslides due to the fact that once precipitation does occur, the ground is too arid to absorb the moisture, therefore, the dry soil and debris flows. Wildfires are along the same principles, where if the ground is charred and dry, then it is not capable of absorbing moisture. Deforestation and earthquakes are more uncommon factors that the public doesn’t recognize. [4] Deforestation increases the risk of mudslides because the trees and other rooted plants prevent the debris from freely flowing. Similarly, after an earthquake, the soil and the rest of the ground can become loose, which increases the likelihood that debris will flow.

Next it is important to discuss how to stay safe during a mudslide. Since mudslides often occur suddenly and can cause mass destruction, it is important to understand how to protect yourself from these dangers. [4] The main way to protect yourself against mudslides is to know if the area you live in is susceptible to mudslides, and then watch for warning signs such as, tilting trees, increased river water levels, and of course muddy slopes after excessive rainfall. While mudslides tend to be unpredictable and sudden, there are ways to safeguard against mudslides in prone areas. [5] This can be accomplished through building more strong rooted trees and plants to hold debris back from falling down hill. [5] There is actually an interesting article from CNN, which summarizes the mission work that a woman conducted in Guatemala to protect the villagers from mudslides. Guatemala is very prone to mudslides due to their geological landscape and precipitation levels, so Anne Hallum set out to try to help these effected villages. Through numerous efforts and interventions, she realized that pine trees were among the best trees to plant in mudslide prone areas because they do a very good job at holding back debris when the ground is heavily saturated. Another important way is to just be informed about mudslides and aware of the risks and warning signs.

Another important issue that needs to be addressed when discussing this topic is the impact that climate change has on the increase in mudslides. [6] Unfortunately, the increase in temperature due to climate change is increasing the amounts of mudslides. [6] Since there is more moisture trapped in the atmosphere, the effected areas are experiencing more precipitation then they are used to, therefore, there is a risk for flooding. As we have previously discussed, with excessive precipitation and flooding, comes the larger chance of a mudslide occurring.  In addition, excessive precipitation also includes more frequent storms. [6] Therefore, once one precipitation storm ends another is likely to begin, so the ground is not given enough time to recover from the large amounts of water, and is therefore put at an even greater risk of a mudslide occurring.

Finally, the last point that I feel is crucial to touch on is the environmental and societal impacts that mudslides have. [7] Mudslides can cause extreme environmental issues such as, increased pollution and contamination to rivers, lakes, and streams, which harms quality of water and threatens wildlife survival. It can also strip forests and other wooded areas of their natural elements and habitat. This creates problems not only for wildlife survival but also for agricultural growth. [7] Society is of course affected in numerous ways. One of the most common ways is by the physical threat that it has on human life and survival. The next issue is related to the damage and destruction that is left in the aftermath. [7] Homes and entire communities are often destroyed so rehabilitation is difficult for these people because they quite literally need to rebuild from the ground up. [7] In addition, the economic impact is huge for the communities affected by mudslides. The cost of rebuilding entire communities is very expensive and often times there are not enough funds to properly rebuild. There is also rarely enough money to install proper safeguards to protect the effected areas from future mudslides when they are already spending such large amounts of money rebuilding their community.

So in conclusion, I just hope that everybody listening today feels that they have a better understanding of what mudslides are and the impacts that they have. More importantly, I hope that everyone feels that they are equipped with enough information to protect themselves and others from the dangerous impacts of mudslides. The main goal of this podcast was to educate about mudslides as a general topic, but it was also to raise awareness and provide the public with safety precautions. So, I really do just want to thank everyone for listening and I hope that you found this information valuable!

(This audio file was recorded by Noelle Zampino, undergraduate student, Penn State Brandywine, on April 11, 2016. References available in the attached transcript.)