Surreal Landslide Sweeps Several Homes Into Norwegian Fjord

By George Dvorsky on at

Whoa, here’s something you certainly don’t see everyday: A large chunk of land fell into and temporarily drifted atop a Norwegian fjord earlier this week. Footage taken during the disaster has to be seen to be believed.

The landslide happened the morning of Wednesday, 3 June in the northern Norwegian town of Alta, reports the New York Times. A gigantic mass of land stretching over 600 metres (2,000 feet) wide and reaching 150 metres (500 feet) inland suddenly slipped and fell into the northern Atlantic ocean, specifically the Altafjord.

Incredible footage of the event, captured by local resident Jan Egil Bakkeby, showed the chunk of land, along with several houses, drifting into the sea for what seemed like an eternity. In total, eight structures, mostly summer cottages, were swept into the fjord. A loud jumble of creaks, snaps, and clangs can be heard as the mass settles and then sinks into the water. The only thing remaining when it’s all over are floating bits of debris – and an entirely new shoreline.

Rescue operations went into full gear, with fire crews, police, and ambulances attending to the scene, followed by helicopter rescue teams, the Red Cross, and the Coast Guard, reports the NYT.

“We still have on-site crews working to assess landslide security or the danger of new landslides,” said local police officer Torfinn Halvari soon after rescue operations began, as reported in The Local. “We cannot say with any certainty that no one has been taken by it.”

A dog was swept out into the ocean, but it swam back to shore and was later retrieved by a helicopter.

A landslide on this scale has not been seen in over a half century, according to Anders Bjordal, a Norwegian Water Resources and Energy Directorate senior engineer, reports the NYT.

Writing in the AGU’s Landslide Blog, University of Sheffield geologist Dave Petley described the incident as a quick clay landslide.

“Quick clays are glaciomarine materials that have strange properties,” wrote Petley. “When disturbed they are very weak – indeed their behaviour is similar to that of a fluid. But undisturbed they are much stronger, primarily because of the role of salt, which glues the particle structure together. When this structure is disturbed, the quick clay rapidly weakens, allowing these spectacular landslides to form.”

During the initial stage, “the landslide appears to have occurred as a coherent raft,” added Petley.

Rain during the morning of the landslide may have precipitated the event, but the exact trigger has not yet been determined. In response to a Gizmodo query, Petley said it’s “impossible to know if this is climate change related,” adding that Norway has experienced “rapid snowmelt in recent days, so that’s probably the source of the water.”

Yikes. Hopefully no one was hurt. We’ll keep our eye on this developing story over the coming days.

Featured image: Jan Egil Bakkeby/YouTube/Gizmodo