Le Chatilier's Principle and Mass Wasting
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Le Chatilier's Principle and Mass Wasting

This describes the physical aspects of the geological process of mass wasting.

Le Chatilier's principal states that the body will always seek its lowest energy level thereby obeying the second law of thermodynamics. In the specialized field of geology, geomorphology means that everything that juts above the deepest point in the ocean will tend to migrate to that point. Mass wasting that is also known as slope movement or mass movement meets the criteria of Le Chatilier’s Principle. In nature all earth materials are moved down hill by the force of gravity, and there are different types of mass wasting that include creep, slides, flows, topples and falls. Each of these various mechanisms of mass wasting have their own characteristic features that can take place in time spans ranging from seconds to years. This process is not limited to slopes exposed to the air, but also occurs below the surface of all the oceans. This process is also something that is applied to all the heavenly bodies, and it's a basic law of physics that applies to everything in the universe.

Mass wasting occurs when the pull of gravity acting on a slope exceeds the resisting force of the earth materials residing on that slope. There are a number of factors involved in the slope’s stability. The strength of the material on the slope is only one factor, cohesion and the amount of internal friction are others. Collectively these are known as the slope’s shear strength. The steepest angle without the slope losing its cohesion is called a critical angle or the angle of its repose. Whenever a slope has this angle, the shear strength of earth materials counter balances the force of gravity that is acting upon the slope.

Sometimes mass wasting occurs at a very slow rate especially in areas that are very dry or that received sufficient rainfall to support vegetation that has the ability to stabilize the slopes. Mass wasting may occur very rapidly such as in rock slides, or landslides with dangerous consequences that can occur both immediately and delayed. An example of this is the formation of so-called landslide dams that usually only lasts until the water they impound overtops the dam than they are washed away releasing the water and pounded behind them.

There are a number of different factors that can change the potential for mass wasting including. change in slope angle, weakening of the material on the slope by weathering, an increase in water content, changes in the vegetation that covers the slope or even overloading.

Water has the capability of either increasing or decreasing the stability of the slope depending on the amount of water present. Under some conditions small amounts of water can strengthen soils because the surface tension of the water gets the soil a great deal more cohesion. This makes the soil more resistant to erosion much better than dry soil. If there is too much water in the soil it can also act as a lubricant, speeding up the process of a road causing different types of mass wasting (i.e. mudflows, landslides, etc.

A sand castle is a good way to demonstrate that the principles of mass wasting if more water is mixed with the sand along the castle to keep its shape. If too much water is added to the sand the Sandcastle loses its stability and washes away. If you do not have enough water in the sand it will fail to keep its shape, and fall down.

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