Viral Video: The science of mudslides

This collection of videos from around the world conveys some sense of the power, terror and anatomy of mud on the move.
This collection of videos from around the world conveys some sense of the power, terror and anatomy of mud on the move.

The most horrifying aspect of the devastating Oso mudslide is the inexorable upward creep of the death toll. Bodies are being plucked from the becalmed torrent of ooze. Clues found in the muck — a bible, a baby’s blanket — suggest more bodies to come. The raw video and photographs are the afterimages of a catastrophe we can only imagine, since no one was shooting video when the hillside came down. Why should they have been? It was a rainless, peaceful Saturday morning. People were sipping coffee, watching TV, reading the paper, visiting friends, until the thundering sound of that wall of mud shattered their worlds. This clip from the New York Times, The Science of Mudslides, explains how a slide can happen, but it can’t really capture what it looks or sounds like.

Most mudslides caught on camera come from eyewitnesses whose cameras were rolling during a storm or its aftermath. This video from a 2012 slide into a British Columbia lake doesn't even come close to the scale or speed of the Oso slide, but it gives an idea of the destructive power when soil, water and gravity collude to turn trees into kindling, almost snaring this couple before they zip away in their boat.

In this 2013 clip from Boulder Canyon in Colorado, a slow bleed of a slide dribbles into a river, which goes from rushing to roiling in a few seconds.

Footage of the aftermath of another Colorado slide in Manitou Springs captures a monstrous cataract the color of dark chocolate sweeping cars down a river that was once a paved highway.

This eerie video from a mountainside collapse in Japan looks like a rear-projected scene from a cheap Godzilla movie. An entire stand of trees shifts across the backdrop of a highway bridge. Only in the next shot, an aerial of the scarred hillside, do we see the breadth of the slide.

The closest we’ll come to understanding what the mudslide looked like on that Saturday morning in Oso may well be this simple interactive graphic  from The Seattle Times. From a God’s-eye point of view, a simple swipe of your mouse transforms the placid geography of a bluff, a river, and a collection of houses into a graveyard of sludge.
For more Viral Video nuggets, go here.



Please support independent local news for all.

We rely on donations from readers like you to sustain Crosscut's in-depth reporting on issues critical to the PNW.


About the Authors & Contributors

Rustin Thompson

Rustin Thompson

Rustin Thompson is a filmmaker, film critic and indie radio deejay. He enjoys strong coffee, red wine, IPAs and his wife and grown children. He is comfortable with the fact he will never be rich, but grows petulant if he thinks too much about it.