Observations on the May 2019 Joffre Peak landslides, British Columbia

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Two catastrophic landslides occurred in quick succession on 13 and 16 May 2019, from the north face of Joffre Peak, Cerise Creek, southern Coast Mountains, British Columbia. With headscarps at 2560 m and 2690 m elevation, both began as rock avalanches, rapidly transforming into debris flows along middle Cerise Creek, and finally into debris floods affecting the fan. Beyond the fan margin, a flood surge on Cayoosh Creek reached bankfull and attenuated rapidly downstream; only fine sediment reached Duffey Lake. The toe of the main debris flow deposit reached 4 km from the headscarp, with a travel angle of 0.28, while the debris flood phase reached the fan margin 5.9 km downstream, with a travel angle of 0.22. Photogrammetry indicates the source volume of each event is 2–3 Mm3, with combined volume of 5 Mm3. Lidar differencing, used to assess deposit volume, yielded a similar total result, although error in the depth estimate introduced large volume error masking the expected increase due to dilation and entrainment. The average velocity of the rock avalanche-debris flow phases, from seismic analysis, was ~ 25–30 m/s, and the velocity of the 16 May debris flood on the upper fan, from super-elevation and boulder sizes, was 5–10 m/s. The volume of debris deposited on the fan was ~ 104 m3, 2 orders of magnitude less than the avalanche/debris flow phases. Progressive glacier retreat and permafrost degradation were likely the conditioning factors; precursor rockfall activity was noted at least ~6 months previous; thus, the mountain was primed to fail. The 13 May landslide was apparently triggered by rapid snowmelt, with debuttressing triggering the 16 May event.

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We thank citizen observers Conny Amelunxen, Phillip Binnema, Wayne Flann, Brian Goldstone, Steve Jones, Jay Mamay, Ken Nickel, Wayne Pattern, Ian Routley, David Safarik, Jim Sanford, and Bob van Beers for their insightful observations and for use of their photos. Thanks to Hardy Bartle, Jesse Schafer, and David Kallai for help in the field, and to the Canadian National Seismograph Network for providing the seismic data. Jeff Coe provided a review improving the quality of the draft manuscript. Any use of trade, firm, or product names is for descriptive purposes only and does not imply endorsement by the US Government.

Funding information

We are thankful for funding from our research programs, including Discovery Grants awarded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), the Canada Research Chairs, the Tula Foundation and the Research Program of the BC Ministry of FLNRORD.

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Correspondence to Pierre Friele.

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Friele, P., Millard, T.H., Mitchell, A. et al. Observations on the May 2019 Joffre Peak landslides, British Columbia. Landslides (2020) doi:10.1007/s10346-019-01332-2

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  • Landslide
  • Rock avalanche
  • Debris flow
  • Flood
  • Seismic analysis
  • Snowmelt
  • Permafrost
  • Travel angle
  • Joffre Peak
  • British Columbia