UW News

July 15, 2016

Joseph Wartman, David Montgomery honored for Oso landslide report

UW News

Two University of Washington professors are among researchers honored this week by the Geological Society of America for their study of the March 2014 landslide in Oso, Washington.

The society announced this week that the E.B. Burwell, Jr., Award — the society’s highest prize for engineering geology — will go to the seven authors of a 186-page report published in July 2014 on the causes, behavior and potential implications of the slide, which killed 43 people. The report compiles findings of an on-site investigation that began just days after the disaster.

headshots of two researchers

Joseph Wartman (left) and David Montgomery were among the seven authors of the 186-page report.

UW faculty members Joseph Wartman, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering, and David Montgomery, professor of Earth and space sciences, are among the co-authors of the award-winning paper. All are members of the Geotechnical Extreme Events Reconnaissance Association, an organization funded by the National Science Foundation to collect data in the immediate aftermath of a natural disaster or extreme event.

The Burwell Award is given each year to authors of a recently published paper that advances the principles or practices of environmental and engineering geology. It is named for Edward B. Burwell, Jr., the first chief geologist of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

This year’s citation recognizes the Oso report’s “comprehensive nature and high technical level,” while noting that the authors did an exceptional job summarizing the event and publishing the report quickly. The report was released on the four-month anniversary of the landslide.

“Events like the Oso landslide cause a scientific leap in applied geology,” the committee wrote. “The authors have decades of experience, which translated into the meticulous report capturing this extreme event. This is an outstanding publication, meeting the criteria of a publication that advances knowledge in the engineering geology field.”

“The award was a wonderful surprise,” Wartman said. “As a team, we put much work into the research under very challenging conditions, so it was deeply gratifying for us to receive this recognition from the professional community.”

The report found that the deadly slide was consistent with a pattern of earlier failures along the banks of the Stillaguamish River. As well as doing a forensic analysis of the event, the authors made recommendations on how to reduce future risks.

“Our hope is that by better understanding how this landslide disaster happened, it will help us prevent future tragedies,” Montgomery said. “We’re all deeply moved to be recognized for our efforts in this regard.”

The geological society’s Environmental & Engineering Geology Division will present the award in late September at the society’s annual meeting in Denver.

The other co-authors are Jeffrey R. Keaton at Amec Foster Wheeler in Los Angeles, Scott Anderson at the Federal Highway Administration in Colorado, Jean Benoit at the University of New Hampshire, John deLaChapelle at Golder Associates and Robert Gilbert at the University of Texas at Austin.


For more information, contact Wartman at 206-685-4806 or wartman@uw.edu and Montgomery at 206-685-2560 or bigdirt@uw.edu.