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Landslides are caused when the stability of a slope changes from a stable to an unstable condition. A change in the stability of a slope can be caused by a number of factors, acting together or alone:
• groundwater pressure acting to destabilize the slope
• Loss or absence of vertical vegetative structure, soil nutrients, and soil structure.
• erosion of the toe of a slope by rivers or ocean waves
• weakening of a slope through saturation by snowmelt, glaciers melting, or heavy rains
• earthquakes adding loads to barely-stable slopes
• earthquake-caused liquefaction destabilizing slopes (see Hope Slide)
• volcanic eruptions
• vibrations from machinery or traffic
• earthwork which alters the shape of a slope, or which imposes new loads on an existing slope
• in shallow soils, the removal of deep-rooted vegetation that binds colluvium to bedrock
• Construction, agricultural, or forestry activities which change the amount of water which infiltrates into the soil.
Types of landslide
Slope material that becomes saturated with water may develop into a debris flow or mud flow. The resulting slurry of rock and mud may pick up trees, houses, and cars, thus blocking bridges and tributaries causing flooding along its path.
Debris flow is often mistaken for flash flood, but they are entirely different processes.
Muddy-debris flows in alpine areas cause severe damage to structures and infrastructure and often claim human lives. Muddy-debris flows can start as a result of slope-related factors, and shallow landslides can dam stream beds, provoking temporary water blockage. As the impoundments fail, a “domino effect” may be created, with a remarkable growth in the volume of the flowing mass, which takes up the debris in the stream channel. The solid-liquid mixture can reach densities of up to 2 tons/m³ and velocities of up to 14 m/s (Chiarle and Luino, 1998; Arattano, 2003). These processes normally cause the first severe road interruptions, due not only to deposits accumulated on the road (from several cubic meters to hundreds of cubic meters), but in some cases to the complete removal of bridges or roadways or railways crossing the stream channel. Damage usually derives from a common underestimation of mud- debris flows: in the alpine valleys, for example, bridges are frequently destroyed by the impact force of the flow because their span is usually calculated only for a water discharge. For a small basin in the Italian Alps (area = 1.76 km²) affected by a debris flow, Chiarle and Luino (1998)  estimated a peak discharge of 750 m3/s for a section located in the middle stretch of the main channel. At the same cross section, the maximum foreseeable water discharge (by HEC-1), was 19 m³/s, a value about 40 times lower than that calculated for the debris flow that occurred.
Earthflows are downslope, viscous flows of saturated, fine-grained materials, which move at any speed from slow to fast. Typically, they can move at speeds from .17 to 20 km/h. Though these are a lot like mudflows, overall they are slower moving and are covered with solid material carried along by flow from within. They are different from fluid flows in that they are more rapid. Clay, fine sand and silt, and fine-grained, pyroclastic material are all susceptible to earth flows. The velocity of the earth flow is all dependent on how much water content is in the flow itself: if there is more water content in the flow, the higher the velocity will be.
These flows usually begin when the pore pressures in a fine-grained mass increase until enough of the weight of the material is supported by pore water to significantly decrease the internal shearing strength of the material. This thereby creates a bulging lobe which advances with a slow, rolling motion. As these lobes spread out, drainage of the mass increases and the margins dry out, thereby lowering the overall velocity of the flow. This process causes the flow to thicken. The bulbous variety of earthflows is not that spectacular, but they are much more common than their rapid counterparts. They develop sag at their heads and are usually derived from the slumping at the source.