Catastrophic rock-slope failures in NW Scotland: quantitative analysis and implications

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126 postglacial catastrophic rock-slope failures (PRSFs) and 66 debris-free failure scarps (DFFSs) were identified using Google Earth™ imagery on Lewisian Gneiss (LG), Torridon Sandstone (TS), Cambrian Quartzite (CQ) and Moine Schist (MS) terrains in NW Scotland. Normalisation of these data for area and gradient shows that RSF density on slopes ≥25° decreases in the sequence MS > LG ≈ CQ > TS. Most are apparently discordant with structure, suggesting that failure along slope-(sub)parallel joints was more common than failure along bedding or foliation planes. DFFSs represent failure scars from which runout debris has been removed by later glaciation. Eighteen were recorded outside the limits of the Loch Lomond Readvance, implying that they survived the last ice-sheet glaciation, and support the view that many steep upper rock slopes have been dominated by gravity-driven rock detachment rather than glacial erosion. We argue that many RSFs were probably triggered by Lateglacial earthquakes due to fault (re)activation by crustal rebound, as 74% of recorded PRSFs and DFFSs are located at or near slope crests. 44% of recorded PRSFs and DFFSs occur in cirques, suggesting that cirque enlargement during successive glacial-interglacial cycles involved deepening by glacial erosion, headwall retreat by rock-slope failure and removal of RSF debris during subsequent glaciation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)185–209
Number of pages25
JournalScottish Geographical Journal
Issue number3–4
Early online date17 Mar 2016
Publication statusPublished - 2016


  • Rock-slope failures
  • Debris-free failure scarps
  • Lithology
  • Earthquakes
  • Lateglacial
  • Cirques


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