Case Study: Zhouqu, China Landslide

Robin Humphreys (; Cassandra Runyon (; Cynthia Hall ( and Elizabeth Rhodes (
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Initial Publication Date: June 1, 2012 | Reviewed: October 22, 2012


This is a 'citizen science' research project where students to apply their knowledge of landslide processes in an investigation of the natural and anthropogenic causes of a real-world landslide catastrophe. Students produce a 'magazine' article discussing the Zhouqu, China, August 8, 2010 landslide catastrophe.

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  • Introductory Environmental Geology or Physcial Geology courses for primarily non-science majors.
  • Grades 9-12 Earth or Environmental Science or Physical Science courses

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

Students should have a basic knowledge of landslide/slope failure processes prior to completing this research assignment.

For example, students should have a basic understanding of the following in order to complete the assignment:

  • angle of repose
  • effects of various earth materials on slope failure
  • anthropogenic vs natual causes and effects
    • For example:
      • weather
      • earthquakes
      • dams
      • deforestation

How the activity is situated in the course

This research project is assigned upon completion of a unit on Landslide processes in either lecture or laboratory classes.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

The overall goal for this assignment is for students to communicate their understanding of landslide processes to the general public by investigating a real-world landslide and developing a 'magazine' article that discusses the causes and effects of the landslide.

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

Students are required to analyze and synthesize data and information from a variety of sources to produce a brief written summary of the Zhouqu, China Landslide catastrophe. The process of writing an article on this landslide allows the students to communicate their knowledge to the public, thus strengthening both their written and communication skills.

Other skills goals for this activity

A summary in the form of a magazine article provides students the opportunity to expand their communication and writing skills.

Description and Teaching Materials

I assign this project so that students can relate real-world landslides to the processes they have learned through in-class activities. By the time I give the assignment, students have learned the basic concepts of slope failure, both natural and anthropogenic. This project provides students with a means of applying what they have learned by discussing the causes and effects of the Zhouqu Landslide. Additionally, I have the students present their summaries in the format of a magazine article, allowing this interdisciplinary population of students to incorporate their creativity into their research project. The results have been astounding! I have received a startling array of articles - Ranger Rick, National Geographic, Glamour, and even special editions of local newspapers! This project is very successful.

Teaching Notes and Tips

Zhouqu, China Landslide project description in Word format

Zhouqu China Landslide project assignment description (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 26kB May22 12)


I have a basic rubric that I use to assess the learning goals for this project.

Zhouqu China Landslide project rubric (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 19kB May22 12)

References and Resources

I begin the class by showing this incredible video of the 1993 Malaysia spectacular collapse of a tin mine in a landslide: