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Stability of infinite slopes under transient partially saturated seepage conditions

May 1, 2012

Prediction of the location and timing of rainfall‐induced shallow landslides is desired by organizations responsible for hazard management and warnings. However, hydrologic and mechanical processes in the vadose zone complicate such predictions. Infiltrating rainfall must typically pass through an unsaturated layer before reaching the irregular and usually discontinuous shallow water table. This process is dynamic and a function of precipitation intensity and duration, the initial moisture conditions and hydrologic properties of the hillside materials, and the geometry, stratigraphy, and vegetation of the hillslope. As a result, pore water pressures, volumetric water content, effective stress, and thus the propensity for landsliding vary over seasonal and shorter time scales. We apply a general framework for assessing the stability of infinite slopes under transient variably saturated conditions. The framework includes profiles of pressure head and volumetric water content combined with a general effective stress for slope stability analysis. The general effective stress, or suction stress, provides a means for rigorous quantification of stress changes due to rainfall and infiltration and thus the analysis of slope stability over the range of volumetric water contents and pressure heads relevant to shallow landslide initiation. We present results using an analytical solution for transient infiltration for a range of soil texture and hydrological properties typical of landslide‐prone hillslopes and show the effect of these properties on the timing and depth of slope failure. We follow by analyzing field‐monitoring data acquired prior to shallow landslide failure of a hillside near Seattle, Washington, and show that the timing of the slide was predictable using measured pressure head and volumetric water content and show how the approach can be used in a forward manner using a numerical model for transient infiltration.

Publication Year 2012
Title Stability of infinite slopes under transient partially saturated seepage conditions
DOI 10.1029/2011WR011408
Authors Jonathan W. Godt, Başak Şener-Kaya, Ning Lu, Rex L. Baum
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Water Resources Research
Index ID 70200750
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Geologic Hazards Science Center