Scientist finding new clues into cause of landslide



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Posted on April 2, 2014 at 7:16 PM

SEATTLE -- Seattle scientist Daniel J. Miller may be the most quoted researcher since the slide near Oso came thundering down last week.

He probed the mountainside that gave way in two separate studies that he conducted in the 1990’s.

Now that he’s had some time to review his 15 year old files, he uncovering more concerning information about the condition of the slide area.

He found notes on a map showing that the solid structures on the hillside had stress fractures, indicating that they were being tested by the mass behind them.

And he found a computer model indicating that the west side of the slide zone had a massive area of unstable sand that was more than 200 feet deep.

It was so large and so deep that Miller recalls being skeptical and questioning whether the computer was giving him an accurate reading of the amount of sand particles.

“They’re weak, there’s a lot of water flowing through them. We had record rain amounts over this spring,  so we’ve just set up the conditions for a big landslide,” said Miller.

Miller says that the computer model was not proof positive that a large slide was coming.

That would have required, at the very least, soil tests.

But the Army Corps of Engineers, which hired him for a study of how soil was falling off the mountain into the Stillaguamish River, didn’t have money for further testing.

Miller also says that he didn’t have the technology that is used today that would have impacted his prediction of how far the slide would travel if it broke free.

He estimated in 1999 the slide would travel a maximum of 1,000 feet.

But modern laser imaging shows that slides in that area can travel five times that distance because of the fluidity of the materials in the hillside.

Miller says this highlights the need to use more high tech tools to updates older studies of slide areas.

He also says scientists and the government need to find a better way to push that data out to the public.