, Volume 5, Issue 2, pp 213-226

Characteristics of the Shetland Islands (UK) peat slides of 19 September 2003

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Abstract

An extreme rainfall event over the southern Shetland Islands in northern Scotland, UK, on 19 September 2003, triggered at least 20 significant peat slides and at least 15 smaller landslides of varying types. The peat slides were examined and surveyed to characterise and explain the distinctive morphological features that were produced. The failures varied in size from 0.4 to 7.3 ha (2,300 to 59,000 m3 displaced volumes of peat) and involved blanket peat up to 3 m deep and slope gradients as low as 4°. Almost all of the failure surfaces were located at the peat–mineral interface. The morphological features included large areas (up to 0.5 ha) of intact peat that moved without breaking up, linear compression and thrust features and unusual occurrences of mineral debris. These features suggest peat of high tensile strength throughout its depth and the generation of high and sometimes artesian water pressures at the base of the peat during the event. However, the variations between peat slides highlight some of the difficulties of trying to assess the susceptibility of blanket peat to failure without full knowledge of the local peat geotechnical properties and structural features within the peat mass.