Archive for the ‘Landslides’ Category

The McKillop landslide: Ten years after

17 July 2017

In December 2006, I read a series of news stories about a landslide in Fruitvale, on McKillop Road, that took out a house and threatened two more, so I checked it out and was so impressed I wrote it up for About.com. This house was the victim.

And this was its front yard. When I revisited, last week, the three concrete steps were still there and the little pine tree next to them was over 20 feet tall.

This slump was the extension of an adjoining land failure earlier that year. In 2006 I was able to make my way across the top of that older slump and take this shot from the other side.

Nowadays the scene is well secured and overgrown with brush, but nevertheless the land is basically ruined. The city is storing some stuff there, and there are some beehives.

You can’t really fix landslide scars. On the human scale, they’re permanent. And landslides tend to feed on each other — when a portion of a slope fails, the adjoining slopes often follow. That’s the case on McKillop Road. William D. Wood Park is actually the scar of much larger landslides that have occurred, according to one report, since 1909.

The Oakland Tribune reported in 1936 after one such slide, “The property upon which the houses were built was originally filled-in ground from excavations made at the [Central Reservoir] site 15 years ago, neighbors said.” Throughout the 1940s and into the 1950s, it was routinely called the city’s worst landslide. Studies were made along with attempts to stabilize the slope, to little avail. Homeowners were putting their houses on jacks.

Everyone gave up fighting nature in the 1970s, and they made the land a park. And so far so good — here it was in 2006:

And how it looks today.

Nature may not have given up fighting us, though.

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Shepherd Canyon landslides

10 April 2017

Last week I went to visit a landslide that had been in the news. As it happened, I saw three.

Shepherd Canyon always gets a lot of landslides, like its neighboring canyons in the high hills. The main reason is that Shephard Creek has a lot of cutting power, thanks to its relatively large watershed and the low base level provided by Dimond Canyon. That creates steep slopes and V-shaped valley profiles. A secondary reason is the relatively soft mudstone underlying those slopes.

My destination was the landslide that came down on the south side of Banning Drive. But along the way my path was blocked by two more mass movements. They’re marked by white asterisks on the geologic map below.

The Montclair Railroad Trail, my usual route, offers walkers good access to the canyon. On the inner side of the sharp curve and cut leading into the canyon, this slope failure exposed the rears of two houses. I classify it as a debris fall.

The majority of the material is broken rock, hence the term debris, and it tumbled in a heap rather than traveling any distance, hence the term fall. Only a little mud was present.

The area is mapped as the Oakland Conglomerate (Ko), although the debris appeared to consist mostly of fine sandstone and a little shale, like this. The rainwashed stone is well displayed.

Picking my way past that was no problem. Farther up the trail, though, was a complete blockage.

Like the lower slope failure, this one involved debris, but unlike it the material slid, so I classify it as a debris slide. Several large trees that came down with the rock didn’t appear to be to blame. However, this time of year is the most dangerous for trees because the ground is sopping wet and the limbs are heavy with young leaves, making them prone to catch the wind. Maybe they triggered the slide. Maybe the other way around.

Fortunately no houses appeared to be threatened above the headscarp, but now the slope is highly vulnerable.

A sewer line runs beneath the trail, so the city may have to clear the slide once the ground is no longer saturated. Meanwhile this is too dangerous to approach. It could fall with no warning.

The debris is made of fine-grained sandstone of the Redwood Canyon Formation (Kr).

Finally I got up to Banning Drive. It’s situated in one of the major side valleys in Shepherd Canyon, and the walls are exceptionally steep.

I classify this slope failure as a debris flow, what the news media often calls a mudslide. It traveled downhill a good hundred meters in a thick semifluid mass. The mud content was greater than the other two slides, and muck spilled into and around several homes on Banning. There’s plenty of footage of the scene online, so I don’t need to show you that. It was hard to watch the residents clearing out their red-tagged homes while the news vans gathered round.

I didn’t need to be there once I’d seen it. Presently I went uphill to Aitken Drive, where the slide originated.

Note a couple of things. Right beyond the gap in the road, a telephone pole was snapped off and the wires were hanging low. (The power was off.) The extra load caused the pole at the left edge of the photo to lean inward. The scar in the road reveals a wall of sandbags (I assume they were filled with concrete) that must have been put there after a previous slide.

Landslides occur where previous slides did. And sure enough, looking uphill I could see the young scar of a small rockslide, nestled in turn within a concavity in the hillside that looked like the scar of a much older slide.

There is another street higher up, Chelton Drive, but no houses up there appeared to be endangered. Meanwhile East Bay MUD had the road blocked while they were making sure the water lines underneath wouldn’t break and make more trouble.

Who’s responsible? Perhaps no one. The problem is above my pay grade, as I’m not a licensed geologist. But I can see the signs and warnings of landslides, and so can you if you pay attention to the landscape. The U.S. Geological Survey has resources, and so does the California Geological Survey.

A reconnaissance of San Leandro geology

14 March 2016

San Leandro is a much smaller city than Oakland, but it has its share of interesting rocks and features. ‘Twas a cloudy day when I visited, but the worst day geologizing is better than the best day working. Here’s the geologic map with the photo locations numbered on it.

SLgabbrogeomap

The purple area marked Jgb is underlain by the San Leandro Gabbro, of Jurassic age, a crystalline rock similar to granite that belongs to the Coast Range Ophiolite. It’s about 160 million years old and was once a deep-seated part of the oceanic crust. Unfortunately the color, while it follows the official U.S. government geologic color guidelines for Mesozoic plutonic rocks, makes the map hard to read. The blob of brown marked Jpb represents Jurassic pillow basalt, which I thought would be very interesting to see. And the solid black line down the middle of the map is the Hayward fault — it’s solid black because the fault is very well mapped there.

The San Leandro Rock Quarry has been closed for a few years.

SL-quarry

The land is for sale — 58 acres of it, right on the Hayward fault — but I didn’t feel up to impersonating a possible buyer, so it was off limits. But the view the other way is pretty cool, overlooking the gorge of San Leandro Creek below the Chabot Reservoir dam. It’s the biggest canyon between Niles Canyon and Wildcat Canyon and pretty intimidating.

SLCreekcanyon

A little ways west on Lake Chabot Road, where it meets Astor Drive, is a saddle in the hillside where the Hayward fault crosses the road. A steep gulch descends to the north along the fault trace. To the south, the Bay-O-Vista Swim and Tennis Club has nestled on the fault unscathed for almost 60 years.

SL-bayovistaclub

We’ll visit the fault on the other side of the club. But first, the gabbro! It’s exposed in various places in the Bay-o-Vista neighborhood, where it’s mostly shattered from being next to the fault for millions of years.

SLGabbro-exposure

Gabbro is made up mostly of dark pyroxene and light plagioclase feldspar. Like granite, it likes to weather into decent soil. The excavations of residential areas are helpful in bringing it into view. And up close, this gabbro is pretty.

SLGabbro-specimen

Studies of this area using airborne gravity meters and magnetic instruments suggest that this gabbro extends well north and south of here in a big slab about 3 kilometers thick lying between the Hayward and Chabot faults, tilted almost straight up and down. This figure is from a 2003 study led by Dave Ponce of the U.S. Geological Survey.

SLgabbroprofile

In Oakland, the gabbro shows up in stringers and blobs along the fault as far north as Chimes Creek. I’ve picked up pieces on Eastmont hill by the reservoir. But the geophysical study suggests that it underlies a much larger area as far as Merritt College, beneath the surface rocks.

The gabbro is strong enough that it bends the Hayward fault slightly off course. But during the 1997-98 El Niño, a big hunk of hillside gave way just below the place where I shot the outcrop. Two homes were lost.

SLslideface

The top of the slide displays some pretty rotten stone.

SLslidescarp

Farther south, Fairmont Road swings around the county juvenile justice center past the Hayward fault. This is looking north from there up the fault trace.

SL-faultvalley

Our active faults grind up the rocks so fine that they’re easily eroded into gulches, gullies and valleys, and that’s what this one is. It last ruptured on October 21, 1868, so any trace of that is long gone. It takes careful trenching studies to find it. We’ll have to wait until the next big one to see where it decides to rip up the ground.

Landslides of Outlook hill

5 March 2015

I’ve been surveying the low hill between Mills College and Holy Redeemer College, home of the Millsmont and Eastmont Hills neighborhoods. Its western face has no bedrock, either on the geologic map or in my experience. Here’s the relevant portion of the geologic map.

outlookmap

Its crest is supposedly Jurassic basalt, which would be part of the Franciscan assemblage. But the Hayward fault runs right along its length, and I lean toward calling it a pressure ridge. Long story short, it is squeezed up, shattered, and oversteepened, and these make it prone to landslides. Here are some, starting with the notable example at the top of 64th Avenue. This is its toe . . .

64th-beunaventura-slide

. . . and this is the view from its head, at Delmont Avenue.

64-buena-slide-top

Another is above Outlook Avenue, south of 76th Avenue. As you walk along its base, you’ll see bits of concrete from the homes that once stood here.

outlook-76-slide

Above it, on Hillmont Drive, there is a gap in the houses that offers a nice view. I have no business saying whether a landslide is responsible.

outlook-76-slide-top

Between these two obvious slides are some fine hillsides. This one, below Simson Street, makes a lovely backdrop to the Eastmont mall and, it seems, a nice informal park for the residents.

simson-field

It isn’t really vacant—all of the lots that subdivide it are extremely long for some reason. I think that spaces like this, shared without fuss by the landowners around it, are very precious.