Leda clay slopes in the Ottawa valley are vulnerable to catastrophic landslides. More than 250 landslides, historical and ancient, large and small, have been identified within 60 km of Ottawa. Some of these landslides caused deaths, injuries, and property damage, and their impact extended far beyond the site of the original failure. In spectacular flowslides, the sediment underlying large areas of flat land adjacent to unstable slopes liquefies. The debris may flow up to several kilometres, damming rivers and causing flooding, siltation, and water-quality problems or damaging infrastructure. Geologists and geotechnical engineers can identify potential landslide areas, and appropriate land-use zoning and protective engineering works can reduce the risk to property and people.
Did you know?... The most disastrous Leda clay landslide in eastern Canada occurred in 1908 at Notre-Dame-de-la-Salette, Quebec, with the loss of 33 lives.
Recipe For Trouble
Deposits of Leda clay, a potentially unstable material, underlie extensive areas of the Ottawa-Gatineau region. Leda clay is composed of clay- and silt-sized particles of bedrock that were finely ground by glaciers and washed into the Champlain Sea. As the particles settled through the salty water, they were attracted to one another and formed loose clusters that fell to the seafloor. The resulting sediment had a loose but strong framework that was capable of retaining a large amount of water. Following the retreat of the sea, the salts that originally contributed to the bonding of the particles were slowly removed (leached) by fresh water filtering through the ground. If sufficiently disturbed, the leached Leda clay, a weak but water-rich sediment, may liquefy and become a 'quick clay'. Trigger disturbances include river erosion, increases in pore-water pressure (especially during periods of high rainfall or rapid snowmelt), earthquakes, and human activities such as excavation and construction.
There it Flows!
After an initial failure removes the stiffer, weathered crust, the sensitive clay liquefies and collapses, flowing away from the scar. Failures continue in a domino-like fashion, rapidly eating back into the flat land lying behind the failed slope. The flowing mud may raft intact pieces of the stiffer surface material for great distances.
Lemieux, the town that was 'moved' by landslides!
Engineering studies, initiated following a large landslide on the South Nation River in 1971, concluded that the town of Lemieux lay within a zone susceptible to large landslides. As a result, the town site was abandoned in 1991 and residents were relocated at government expense. In 1993, only two years later, a large landslide consumed 17 hectares of farmland adjacent to the former town site. Through progressive headward failure, the landslide advanced 680 m from the riverbank in less than an hour. Debris traveled 1.7 km upstream and 1.6 km downstream, completely blocking the river for several days. The costs related to this event were estimated at $12 500 000.