An investigation into the physical factors that control slow mass movements

Jonathan D. Paul, Bethany Beare, Zoe Brooks, Leonis Derguti, Rachita Sood

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The behavior of slow mass movements like soil creep is well known to be governed by soil composition, slope, and cycles in temperature and rainfall. However, their magnitude and importance vary dramatically in often unpredictable ways, with important consequences for creep rate and infrastructure damage prediction. Here, we present long-term (2015–2022) creep measurements for four regions of the UK characterized by intense mass movement activity but different bedrock lithologies. We also obtained co-located temperature and precipitation time series over this period, as well as local measurements of slope and soil thickness and composition. Our goal was to deconvolve the relative importance of each observable on creep behavior. Our results imply that parent lithology governs first-order creep rates indirectly via hillslope repose angles and soil thickness and composition. Rates of ground movement on peat and sandstone soils are dictated by annual fluctuations in precipitation and temperature, respectively. By employing a simple error-minimizing regression routine, we demonstrate how creep rates can be predicted in these settings as a function of climatological observables. Over thinner limestone and thicker clay soils, however, our model fails: in these settings, we suggest that creep behavior is instead dominated by variations in regolith thickness, and slope and clay mineral content, respectively.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages8
Early online date5 Jun 2024
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 5 Jun 2024

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