Land disturbance in Wyoming stirring up unwarranted fears

Hunters on a private ranch in Wyoming’s Bighorn mountains were astonished to find a land disturbance of impressive proportions.
bighorn mtn slide

The news first appeared on the Facebook page of the SNS Outfitters and Guides. Since then, it was picked up by several mystery mongering sites that declared it was “apocalyptic” (as is everything unusual) or related to the Yellowstone caldera, a supervolcano that they revel in announcing is going to blow its top every other month.

Well, it’s neither. The earth is not falling apart. Chill!

The earth is dynamic. It moves. This movement of soil and rock is not unusual and, though it looks huge, it’s small on a geologic scale.

GrindTV has more photos. Though, the photos show people really close to the edges. This is NOT recommended since the ground is unstable. This would be significantly more dangerous if it was raining since erosion of this feature is going on all the time, water will accelerate it.

It’s speculated that water caused it. Underground water. According to the local Powell Tribune, geologists from the Wyoming Geological Survey think this slumping of the land, where it pulled apart, could have been caused by a subsurface weakness that failed due to moisture such as from a groundwater source. Often geologic hazards exist for years in a precarious state needing just some small trigger to let them loose whereby they manifest on the surface and cause damage. In other areas of the US, layers of clay either swell or shrink depending on the water input causing slides. Obviously, heavy rains are the most obvious triggers for landslides. This particular slide looks odd because it separated but did not “fall”.

The state geologists can’t get data on this site because it’s private land and they will need permission to study it. They would be able to measure the current surface and determine from previous maps in which direction and how much the land moved en masse.

Other such impressive cracks in the earth surface have been noted due to heavy rains, faults, or groundwater withdrawals that cause the land to settle. Or, from frost.

But, we can be sure that this has no bearing on the state of a Yellowstone eruption. Don’t get your science news from sites written by amateurs with agendas looking for ad revenue. Just don’t. And not everything signals the APOCALYPSE!

This jagged gash in Wyoming will heal itself in a few years leaving a hummocky surface where vegetation will return.

The present is the key to the past. Landslide areas are often prone to slide again, maybe not in our lifetime but in geologic time. Nothing is stable, things change. But, don’t fret, hardly anyone ever falls in the cracks.

  11 comments for “Land disturbance in Wyoming stirring up unwarranted fears

  1. Tony
    October 30, 2015 at 12:41 PM

    On the other hand, this looks like a great location to film “Game of Thrones.”

  2. October 30, 2015 at 1:29 PM

    I would say that asking a GEOLOGIST isn’t nearly as much fun as predicting END TIMES. This reminds me of when the buffalo were leaving Yellowstone and no one thought to ask a BIOLOGIST or even say someone that owns a buffalo ranch, about animal behavior. because it’s all about the clicks… and END TIMES is right up there with Bigfoot.

  3. Perry
    October 30, 2015 at 6:40 PM

    see this article from a few days ago:

    “Enormous, ‘catastrophic’ landslide in northern Canada almost went undetected by humans”

    http://news.nationalpost.com/news/canada/how-an-enormous-catastrophic-landslide-in-northern-canada-almost-went-undetected-by-humans

    “It was enough rock and ice to equal the weight of 33 million pickup trucks. And for an earth-shattering two minutes, it barrelled down a mountain at nearly 200 km/h, pulverizing everything in its path. And the Yukon didn’t even know it was there. … Expected to rank among the world’s 10 largest landslides for 2015”

  4. October 30, 2015 at 7:05 PM

    The American Geophysical Union blog has a post up with an educated guess. http://blogs.agu.org/landslideblog/2015/10/30/big-horn-mountains-landslide/

    “The fissure is undoubtedly the rear tension crack that has opened up as the whole mass has slid forward. On the left side as seen in the image directly above the movement has generated two new lateral shears. On the right side the lateral shear lies within the gully to facilitate movement. The toe of the landslide is characterised by a massive zone of buckling and compression. There may be some evidence that the main body is going through some internal deformation – note the possible cracks in the slope on the right side in the area in shadow.

    I suspect that water did play a role in this landslide, but in general the role is to change effective stress not to provide lubrication. There is a good chance though that this is a progressive failure and that the changes in the behaviour of the springs occurred as the internal drainage of the slope replumbed itself as the deformation developed.”

  5. Asha
    October 30, 2015 at 8:10 PM

    Apocalyptic? More like, fascinating!
    I can’t do more than speculate, but it seems that the weather we’ve had in central and northern Colorado, and up into Wyoming this year may help to explain why it happened, as it seems to further validate everything that Sharon stated. We had an unusually wet spring, with more quite a bit more rain fall than has been seen in an average spring over the last decade, followed by a very hot, dry summer and fall, and things have only recently started to cool off, with our first overnight freezes having occurred within the last month, often after an unseasonably warm or hot day, at least in central and northern Colorado, and into southern Wyoming, along the front range/I-25 corridor.

  6. busterggi (Bob Jase)
    October 31, 2015 at 11:47 AM

    Dammit there must’ve been another global flood that nobody noticed.

  7. Headless Unicorn Guy
    October 31, 2015 at 2:38 PM

    Second that.

    Especially with that partial landslide in the foreground. Very spectacular.

  8. Headless Unicorn Guy
    October 31, 2015 at 2:44 PM

    I was mixed up in an End of the World cult in the Seventies. Plus listened at the time to a lot of Christianese AM radio like “Southwest Radio Church — today’s News in Light of Bible Prophecy.” Hal Lindsay was on the best-seller lists, his Late Great Planet Earth superseding the Bible, and Revelation was nothing more than a checklist of “history written in advance” (any minute now… any minute now… any minute now…).

    If their cat had kittens, these guys would cite it as Fulfillment of END TIMES Prophecy chapter-and-verse. When all you have is an END TIMES hammer…
    “Could this be the herald of… (whisper) The Rapture(TM)?”

  9. fredthechemist
    November 1, 2015 at 11:18 AM

    In the right foreground is what appears to be a similar – but older and a bit smoothed by erosion – crack on the next ridge.
    I guess we must have missed an earlier apocalypse. I’ve GOT to start paying attention.

  10. Omxqru
    November 2, 2015 at 5:25 PM

    I’m geologically ignorant, but it also appears a similar thing may have happened on the ridge in the background.

  11. Asha
    November 2, 2015 at 11:14 PM

    Aw, geez! I always seem to miss all of the apocalypses too. I think it might be fun to act stupid and panicky and run around shouting about the end being nigh…

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