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Abstract

Despite having a low recorded historical incidence of landsliding, the Sierra Nevada has undergone large prehistoric and historical rockfalls and rockslides that could be potentially catastrophic if they occurred today in the more densely populated parts of the region. Several large documented rockfall and rockslides have been triggered either by strong seismic shaking or long periods of unusually wet weather; however, in several instances no obvious triggering event can be identified. The glaciated topography of the higher elevations of the Sierra Nevada has produced many relatively small falls and slides within relatively hard, massively jointed, granitic rocks; however, where exposed to weathering for long periods after glaciation, the oversteepened rock slopes are prone to uncommonly large falls and slides. At lower elevations on the nonglaciated slopes of the Sierra Nevada, rockslides commonly occur within more weathered granitic rocks, where the strength of the rock mass is typically affected by joint weathering and alteration of the intact rock to saprolite. Historical large rockfalls and rockslides in the Sierra Nevada have created additional secondary natural hazards, including debris flows and floods from the breaching of landslide dams that can be as hazardous as the initial rockfalls and rockslides.

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