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Vadose zone thickness limits pore-fluid pressures and acceleration in a large, slow-moving landslide

June 10, 2022

The rate and timing of hydrologically forced landslides is a complex function of precipitation patterns, material properties, topography, and groundwater hydrology. In the simplest form, however, slopes fail when subsurface pore pressure grows large enough to exceed the Mohr-Coulomb failure criterion. The capacity for pore pressure rise in a landslide is determined in part by the thickness of the unsaturated zone above the water table, which itself is set by weathering patterns that should have predictable patterns across different lithologies. To investigate how this structure affects landslide behavior, we exploit a multi-year record of precipitation, pore pressure, and velocity from Oak Ridge earthflow, a slow-moving landslide set in Franciscan mélange, northern California, USA. In conjunction with electrical resistivity tomography and hydraulic conductivity measurements, these data show that Oak Ridge has a thin weathered profile that is comparable in thickness to other mélange landslides in California. We propose that due to the inherently thin vadose zone, mélange landscapes experience an unusually high water table that frequently brings them close to movement; however, the capacity to increase stress is limited by the small amount of dynamic storage available. Instead, excess pore pressure is shed via springs and saturation overland flow once the water table reaches the surface. Linkages between weathering patterns, hydrology, and deformation can explain behavior patterns exhibited by Franciscan mélange earthflows across a large precipitation gradient.

Publication Year 2022
Title Vadose zone thickness limits pore-fluid pressures and acceleration in a large, slow-moving landslide
DOI 10.1029/2021JF006415
Authors C.R. Murphy, N.J. Finnegan, Ferdinand Oberle
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Journal of Geophysical Research: Earth Surface
Index ID 70236449
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Pacific Coastal and Marine Science Center