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What is it?

LandslideThe WWU Landscape Observatory is dedicated to helping students conceptualize, study, and monitor landscape evolution through the use of web-cams and time-lapse photography.

A fundamental concept in Earth Science is that the Earth’s surface changes by processes that happen both very slowly as well as abruptly. This idea is as pertinent to college geology majors as it is to middle school students. Understanding the balance between the wide range of rates of geologic change, from imperceptible to catastrophic is a challenge for students and educators alike. Experiential learning is a powerful strategy, but how do you learn about a process that takes longer than your educational unit, course or career to produce change that you can directly observe, or that occurs so rarely that you cannot schedule it? Geology students at Western Washington University have been experiencing slow geologic phenomena through the use of time-lapse digital photography of landscapes.

The observatory currently supports two web cams:


Delta-Cam tracks the development of stream-table deltas in a controlled environment in the basement of the Environmental Studies building. It allows students to test hypotheses and predictions of delta growth, and to repeat those experiments while changing specific variables.


Landslide-Cam follows the continuing deformation and movement of a large, deep-seated landslide. The Swift Creek Landslide is a deep-seated landslide located on Sumas Mountain in northwestern Washington. More than 2 km long and 0.5 km wide, it is moving at an average rate of 4-5m/yr on the majority of the landslide with rates reaching up to 40m/yr on some parts of its over-steepened toe. Although the landslide has been the subject of several WWU MS theses, it also serves as a teaching destination for several of our Geology classes. Visitors to the remote landslide see an unstable, active geologic landscape, but usually see only the deposits of rare rapid events such as debris avalanches and mud flows. The Landslide Cam enables students of all types to investigate the rates and styles of surface processes acting on this large feature.