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Volume 24 Issue 1 (January 2014)

GSA Today

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Article, pp. 4-9 | Full Text | PDF (7.2 MB)

Massive landslide at Utah copper mine generates wealth of geophysical data

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Kristine L. Pankow, Jeffrey R. Moore, J. Mark Hale, Keith D. Koper, Tex Kubacki, Katherine M. Whidden, Michael K. McCarter

College of Mines and Earth Sciences, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah 84112, USA


On the evening of 10 April 2013 (MDT) a massive landslide occurred at the Bingham Canyon copper mine near Salt Lake City, Utah, USA. The northeastern wall of the 970-m-deep pit collapsed in two distinct episodes that were each sudden, lasting ~90 seconds, but separated in time by ~1.5 hours. In total, ~65 million cubic meters of material was deposited, making the cumulative event likely the largest non-volcanic landslide to have occurred in North America in modern times. Fortunately, there were no fatalities or injuries. Because of extensive geotechnical surveillance, mine operators were aware of the instability and had previously evacuated the area. The Bingham Canyon mine is located within a dense regional network of seismometers and infrasound sensors, making the 10 April landslide one of the best recorded in history. Seismograms show a complex mixture of short- and long-period energy that is visible throughout the network (6–400 km). Local magnitudes (ML) for the two slides, which are based on the amplitudes of short-period waves, were estimated at 2.5 and 2.4, while magnitudes based on the duration of seismic energy (md) were much larger (>3.5). This magnitude discrepancy, and in particular the relative enhancement of long-period energy, is characteristic of landslide seismic sources. Interestingly, in the six days following the landslide, 16 additional seismic events were detected and located in the mine area. Seismograms for these events have impulsive arrivals characteristic of tectonic earthquakes. Hence, it appears that in this case the common geological sequence of events was inverted: Instead of a large earthquake triggering landslides, it was a landslide that triggered several small earthquakes.

Manuscript received 23 May 2013; accepted 8 July 2013

DOI: 10.1130/GSATG191A.1