Characteristics of failure mass and safety factor during rainfall of an unsaturated slope
Journal article, Peer reviewed
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Original versionE3S Web of Conferences 2016(9) 10.1051/e3sconf/20160915011
Water is an important factor triggering destabilization of soil masses in slopes, particular in unsaturated condition. Rainfall and snow melting are some of the main sources of natural water which frequently induce unsaturated slope failure in arid/semi-arid region or in active layers (i.e. frequently frozen/thawed layers) in permafrost. If the slopes are in coastal environment or adjacent to a stream, the soil materials from the sliding masses might be carried away by waves and currents, which can further lead to soil erosion problem. Therefore, characterization of the failure mass and safety factor is critical both for evaluation of slope failure hazard but also for erosion problem. This paper presents a method to study unsaturated slope stability including characterizing the size of failure and the safety factor by analyzing a theoretical unsaturated homogeneous slope subjected to rainfall infiltration. The slope is modelled numerically by the finite element method. A shear strength reduction technique is modified for unsaturated soils and employed to evaluate the factor of safety and the extent of the sliding mass. The results show that the size of failure and the factor of safety vary over the rainfall event. Notably, the extent of the sliding mass for unsaturated slopes depends strongly on the infiltration depth. Large global sliding surface tends to be the dominant mechanism if the infiltration depth is very shallow or very deep. Conversely, local restricted sliding surface becomes more dominant if the infiltration is approximately at a certain critical value.