100 metre wave causes massive washout in coastal B.C. inlet

Landslide causes wave in glacial lake, washes out river in Bute Inlet

An aerial shot of the landslide, captured by 49 North Helicopter pilot Bastian Fleury. Photo 49 North Helicopters/Facebook

An aerial shot of the landslide, captured by 49 North Helicopter pilot Bastian Fleury. Photo 49 North Helicopters/Facebook

Bute Inlet, located north of Campbell River on the mainland coast, is looking a little bit different after a glacial lake burst causing a damaging wave to rush down the river into the fjord.

According to the co-director for the Centre for Natural Hazards Research at Simon Fraser University Brent Ward, at around 6 a.m. on Nov. 28, a landslide occurred near a glacier in the Coast Mountains of southwestern B.C.

“There was a landslide from the west side of the valley that hit the front of the glacier then turned a corner and went into the lake. It triggered a very large wave,” Ward said. “People have looked at it, and they figure the wave was at least 70 metres high and possibly higher. It could have been up to 100 or 110 metres. That would have triggered a wave that travelled down the lake, which would have over-topped where the river exits the lake and started down it… The creek started to down-cut. Then once you do that, all of the water that’s in the lake continues to drain out. It was a huge event, a huge amount of sediment eroded out of that valley and deposited on the fan and then finer sediments went down the Southgate River and into the fjord.”

Story continues below…

A Campbell River-based helicopter tourism company heard about the incident, and sent a pilot up the inlet to investigate. The video he took shows that was once just a regular creek turned into a raging river that wiped out thousands of trees and carved a deep gash down the centre of the valley.

“There’s been a few reports in the last week that there were lots of floods in Bute Inlet, so we went to check it out. It was coming from a landslide that happened in the Southgate River in the inlet. It’s a huge one, it’s a massive one,” said pilot Bastian Fleury. “I’ve seen landslides, but that’s the biggest one I’ve seen and the biggest one that’s happened around here in the last few years for sure. We followed the landslide up, it’s about 10-12 km long. At the top there’s a glacier, and the glacier is different too. It lost lots of ice that ended up in the lake, which created a wave that probably flooded the valley.”

“I know the spot, I’ve flown there before and it’s totally changed now. It’s really wide, flooded the whole Southgate River,” he added.

The massive rush of sediment into the valley will have a large effect on the fish population that uses the rivers affected as spawning grounds, Ward explained.

“The river itself will start to modify the sediments, but it’s going to have a serious effect on fish. The lower reaches of Elliot Creek are Coho habitat, and if you look at those images, that habitat is now buried with gravel. I think there’s a Chum run that goes up the Southgate, and that may be better off because the river will probably re-establish, but if there were any fry or eggs in that lower part of the channel then it would have been affected,” he said.

“It’ll come back, these landslides happen, but when you’re dealing with a four-year life cycle of a fish, it’s going to have a longer effect than that. So Elliot Creek will start to cut channels into the fan, and those lower reaches will start to cut back, but it’ll take a while,” he added.

These kinds of events are not unheard of, but they are relatively rare. Thankfully, Ward said, there have not been any recently in Canada that have caused any injuries or deaths, but those kinds of landslides do happen elsewhere in the world.

“We’ve been very very lucky that no one has been killed,” he said. “In other parts of the world where these things happen in higher population densities, they’ve killed a lot of people, especially in the Himalayas. There was a big event at Chehalis Lake back in the 90s that wiped out three campgrounds, but luckily there had been a whole bunch of snow, so nobody was there.”

Ward said the extent of the damage to human-made infrastructure was possibly one forest company-owned bridge.

The event was probably caused by water pressure building up behind an ice plug in the rock, similar to how pressure can build up in a kinked garden hose.

“When you have really steep slopes and an issue with the bedrock, then you can get a landslide,” he said. “In this case it looks like the area failed was initially supported by the glacier, but with the glacier melting back and retreating, that slope was exposed.”

The inlet opens just north of Maurelle Island and is 80 km long, ending in two rivers, Elliot Creek and Southgate River that are fed from glaciers in the Coast Range mountains. The landslide itself is between 10 and 12 km long.

RELATED: Permanent fishway approved for Big Bar landslide site

Report finds no obvious cause of Old Fort landslide in northeastern B.C.



marc.kitteringham@campbellrivermirror.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Campbell RiverEnvironmentlandslideWeather

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Sidney Jon Blair said he would have died if a van and car had collided at the intersection of corner of Resthaven Drive and Brethour Avenue in early December. (Wolf Depner/News Staff)
Sidney senior urges motorists to slow down on Resthaven Drive

Jon Blair said community must become more pedestrian-friendly

Bob Joseph, author of 21 Things You May Not Know About the Indian Act, will be available for a Q&A through the Vancouver Island Regional Library Jan. 28. (Courtesy of Vancouver Island Regional Library)
Q&A on the Indian Act with Bob Joseph open to Greater Victoria residents

Bob Joseph is the author of 21 Things You May Not Know About the Indian Act

Tarpaulin-covered tents sit next to one of the ponds in Beacon Hill Park. The location of the Meegan community care tent has still not been nailed down, as Victoria council rejected the recommendation offered by city staff. (Don Descoteau/News Staff)
Location of care tent for Victoria’s Beacon Hill campers still not settled

Council roundly rejects Avalon Road site, road’s edge on Cook Street appears the top alternative

Coaches with the Juan de Fuca Minor Hockey association have had to get creative during their weekly practices to keep players interested and improving their skills without physical contact. (Damian Kowalewich photo)
West Shore minor hockey coach shares what it’s like on the ice without parents, fans

Most practices consist of relay races, goalie shots and passing drills

The Songhees Wellness Centre is a symbol of First Nations strength in the region. Representatives of local First Nations will soon play a greater role in decision making and governance relating to the Capital Regional District. (Courtesy Royal Roads University)
Capital Regional District to add First Nations representatives to advisory committees

Board approves bylaw, looks forward to Indigenous input on future decisions

A scene from “Canada and the Gulf War: In their own words,” a video by The Memory Project, a program of Historica Canada, is shown in this undated illustration. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO - Historica Canada
New video marks Canada’s contributions to first Gulf War on 30th anniversary

Veterans Affairs Canada says around 4,500 Canadian military personnel served during the war

A 17-year-old snowmobiler used his backcountry survival sense in preparation to spend the night on the mountain near 100 Mile House Saturday, Jan. 16, 2021 after getting lost. (South Cariboo Search and Rescue Facebook photo)
Teen praised for backcountry survival skills after getting lost in B.C.’s Cariboo mountains

“This young man did everything right after things went wrong.”

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole holds a press conference on Parliament Hill, in Ottawa on December 10, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
No place for ‘far right’ in Conservative Party, Erin O’Toole says

O’Toole condemned the Capitol attack as ‘horrifying’ and sought to distance himself and the Tories from Trumpism

A passer by walks in High Park, in Toronto, Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021. This workweek will kick off with what’s fabled to be the most depressing day of the year, during one of the darkest eras in recent history. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young
‘Blue Monday’ getting you down? Exercise may be the cure, say experts

Many jurisdictions are tightening restrictions to curb soaring COVID-19 case counts

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a UHN COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
COVID-19: Provinces work on revised plans as Pfizer-BioNTech shipments to slow down

Anita Anand said she understands and shares Canadians’ concerns about the drug company’s decision

Tourists take photographs outside the British Columbia Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Friday August 26, 2011. A coalition of British Columbia tourism industry groups is urging the provincial government to not pursue plans to ban domestic travel to fight the spread of COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. travel ban will harm struggling tourism sector, says industry coalition

B.C. government would have to show evidence a travel ban is necessary

(Phil McLachlan - Capital News)
‘Targeted’ shooting in Coquitlam leaves woman in hospital

The woman suffered non-life threatening injuries in what police believe to be a targeted shooting Saturday morning

Everett Bumstead (centre) and his crew share a picture from a tree planting location in Sayward on Vancouver Island from when they were filming for ‘One Million Trees’ last year. Photo courtesy, Everett Bumstead.
The tree-planting life on Vancouver Island featured in new documentary

Everett Bumstead brings forth the technicalities, psychology and politics of the tree planting industry in his movie

JaHyung Lee, “Canada’s oldest senior” at 110 years old, received his first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine on Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021. He lives at Amenida Seniors Community in Newton. (Submitted photo: Amenida Seniors Community)

Most Read