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School of Graduate Studies and Research

Geology alumnus, Stephen Slaughter, in the New York Times


Watching a Ridge Slide in Slow Motion, a Town Braces for Disaster

Geologists are closely watching a fissure on Rattlesnake Ridge outside Union Gap, Wash., because of the danger that a large part of the mountainside will break loose and cascade down. Stephen Slaughter gestured toward the fissure, visible above a gravel quarry.


UNION GAP, Wash. — Jackie Rodriguez drives by the crack at about 9:30 p.m. most nights, as she heads home from her evening classes in dental hygienics, past the big spotlights aimed up at the mountain. She says it spooks her just about every time.

“You know that queasy feeling you get in your stomach?” she said.

The fissure was first spotted in October on Rattlesnake Ridge in south central Washington State, overlooking Interstate 82 and the Yakima River. Since then, a 20-acre chunk of mountainside — roughly four million cubic yards of rock, enough to fill 25 football stadiums to the top of the bleachers, eight stories up — has been sliding downhill. Geologists can measure its current speed — about two and a half inches a day — but they cannot say for certain when, or if, it might accelerate into a catastrophe. And they are powerless to stop it.

“The mountain is moving, and at some point this slide will happen — it’s just a matter of when,” said Arlene Fisher-Maurer, the city manager in Union Gap, population about 7,000, just north of the ridge.

“So we wait and see and prepare,” said Ms. Fisher-Maurer, who keeps a police scanner on her desk for alerts. “The preparation has been key, and I think it’s going to do us well.”


Read more of this story in the New York Times

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