Mass Movement

Sentinel-1 radar coverage from before and after the 1 April 2017 mudslide in Mocoa, Colombia. Triggered by heavy rain, the landslide caused greatest movement (red) on top of a mountain. It then pushed mud down across the city of Mocoa (green) and crossed the nearby river. The Sentinel-1-derived data product (from scans on 20 March and 1 April) has been overlaid onto a Sentinel-1 radar image. Image: Modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2017), processed by I. Parcharidis, Harokopio University of Athens.


Mass movements can be defined as as any type of downslope movement of earth materials, such as sediment, soil and rock material. Mass movements are processes of erosion, transport and accumulation of material that occur on both gentle and steep slopes mainly owing to gravitational forces (IRDR Glossary).

These movements are generally associated with other disasters such as earthquakes, floods, thunderstorms and heavy rainstorm. They can be also associated with manmade hazards like construction roads, buildings, structures, infrastructure facilities.


Facts and figures

Mass movements occur based on several factors and causes differ depending on different regions. Mass movements are affected by the slope gradient, climate, rock type and structure, physical setting and geological and geomorphological outlines (Advances in Geosciences).

Mass-wasting events come in many shapes, sizes and speeds. Typically, the steeper the angle of a slope, the faster will be the down-slope movement of rock and sediment.  Also, water can play a significant role in mass wasting, sometimes acting as the key component to a mass-wasting event, or serving as a lubricant within a mass of sediment and rock, enabling it to travel faster and further than it would otherwise.


One type of mass wasting can evolve into another type of mass wasting as the body of sediment/rock moves down a slope. This can make it difficult to classify a single event as being one type of mass wasting or another (Department of Geological Sciences, California State University).

A simple classification of the different types of mass wasting can be:

  • Falls  (rock fall and rock avalanche)        
  • Slides  (rock slide, landslide and slump)      
  • Flows  (rock avalanche, debris flow, earth flow and creep).

Related content on the Knowledge Portal

GP-STAR factsheet

Schematic Workflow for the derivation of an exemplary Sendai indicator using crisis information generated from satellite remote sensing (Source: own figure; Copernicus Emergency Management Service (©European Union), EMSN024, EMSN056)
Publishing institution: German Federal Office of Civil Protection and Disaster Assistance

To meet the global challenges, the United Nations adopted several framework agreements, including the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction at the Third United Nations World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction (2015-2030). The framework builds the international reference point for disaster preparedness and focuses on reducing existing and future disaster risks as well as enhancing disaster resilience. In the Sendai framework, seven global targets have been agreed to measure global progress in implementing the framework through quantifiable indicators and to present, compare and evaluate the status and progress uniformly worldwide. The recording of the status and degree of target achievement using the agreed indicators requires the use of various data sources, which must be consistent and comparable in time and space in order to ensure global monitoring.

Data Source

Screenshot of Global Soil Erosion (ESDAC)
The European Soil Data Centre (ESDAC) has provided a map with soil assessments from the years 2001 and 2012.
Screenshot of Zansea
Publishing institution: Tanzania Commission for Science and Technology (COSTECH)
The Tanzania Commission for Science and Technology (COSTECH), in partnership with the Revolutionary Government of Zanzibar (RGoZ), has launched an initiative to produce detailed aerial imagery maps of the islands of Zanzibar. The cooperative project is called the Zanzibar Mapping Initiative (ZMI). This initiative has drawn global attention because the mapping is done entirely with drones; the ability to map is now available widespread at a local level. The maps produced are of exceptional spatial resolution. Additionally, their free and open source data sets includes a comprehensive compilation of available vector and raster data covering the whole of Tanzania. Users can find not only aerial imagery produced from drones, but everything from census data to land use layers. More information can be found on the ZMI project website:
Publishing institution: National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)
The Global Landslide Catalog (GLC) was developed with the goal of identifying rainfall-triggered landslide events around the world, regardless of size, impacts or location. The GLC considers all types of mass movements triggered by rainfall, which have been reported in the media, disaster databases, scientific reports, or other sources. The GLC has been compiled since 2007 at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.
Publishing institution: United States Geological Survey (USGS)
Compiled Vs30 measurements obtained by studies funded by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and other governmental agencies. Thus far, there are 2,997 sites in the United States, along with metadata for each measurement from government-sponsored reports, Web sites, and scientific and engineering journals. Most of the data originated from publications directly reporting the work of field investigators. A small subset (less than 20 percent) of Vs30 values was previously compiled by the USGS and other research institutions. Whenever possible, Vs30 originating from these earlier compilations were crosschecked against published reports. Both downhole and surface-based Vs30 estimates are represented. Most of the VS30 data are for sites in the western contiguous United States (2,141 sites), whereas 786 Vs30 values are for sites in the Central and Eastern United States; 70 values are for sites in other parts of the United States, including Alaska (15 sites), Hawaii (30 sites), and Puerto...
Publishing institution: Max Planck Institute for Ornithology
Movebank is a free, online database of animal tracking data hosted by the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology. The institute help animal tracking researchers to manage, share, protect, analyze, and archive their data. The animal tracking data in Movebank belongs to researchers all over the world who choose whether and how to share their data with the public. Curretnr esearch is being done on animal derived early warning systems for earthquakes, volcanoes and landslides.
Publishing institution: European Space Agency (ESA)
ESA's Earth Observation Thematic Exploitation Platform (TEP) is a browser for satellite imagery and specific products on an environmental topic. The TEP platforms are divided into 7 categories: Coastal; Forstry; Geohazards; Hydrology; Polar; Urban; and Food Security. Each platform is a collaborative, virtual work environment providing access to EO data and the tools, processors and Information and Communication Technology resources required to work with them. TEP aims to bridge the gap between the users and the data and tools.
Publishing institution: Airbus Defence & Space
Pleidas, TerraSar-X, SPOT and Elevation data available commercially from airbus, certain sample data sets at various locations available for free.


Norway as seen by MODIS on board of Aqua satellite on 16 January 2017. Image: NASA/ edited by antilip.

A consortium of Norwegian institutions has used Copernicus Sentinel-1 satellite data in combination with the Interferometric Synthetic Aperture Radar (InSAR) remote sensing technique to map ground movements in the country. The Geological Survey of Norway (NGU), the Norwegian Water Resources and Energy Directorate (NVE) and the Norwegian Space Centre (NSC) make results freely accessible through InSAR Norway, a service launched in November 2018. The service aims to produce ground deformation measurements in the country and improve accessibility of InSAR results for public and commercial users.

How does InSAR imagery work?

InSAR is used in remote sensing and geodesy, the science of measuring the geometric shape of the Earth. It compares two or... read more

Publishing date: 07/03/2019


Hazard group

Terms in the same hazard group

Zircon - This is a contributing Drupal Theme
Design by WeebPal.