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Marine Geology 154 (1999) 339–356

Regional slope stability and slope-failure mechanics from the two-dimensional state of stress in an infinite slope
Ulisses T. Mello a,Ł , Lincoln F. Pratson b,1
b

J. Watson Research Center, IBM, Yorktown Heights, NY 10598, USA Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research, University of Colorado, Boulder, CO 80309, USA Received 12 March 1997; accepted 13 April 1998

a Thomas

Abstract Rapid estimates of regional submarine slope stability can be obtained using 1-D infinite-slope analysis or empirical 2-D analyses, such as the log-spiral or φ-circle methods. In these methods, slope stability is evaluated along a pre-defined slip surface because the principal stresses in the slope and the slip-plane directions they control are undefined. However, where these pre-defined slip surfaces are not a good approximation of the surface along which a slope failure actually occurs, the analyses cannot explain the physics and observed geometry of the failure. Here we present an alternative, 2-D analytical solution for the state of stress in an infinite slope that incorporates cohesion and constant pore pressure, and yields the principal stresses and possible slip-plane directions along which the slope can fail. As a result, the analysis provides a framework for understanding the general geometry and relative motion of mass movements not addressed by 1-D infinite-slope analysis or the empirical 2-D analyses. We use our 2-D infinite-slope analysis to show that if the compressive stresses in the lower part of a slope are great enough, slope failure will occur along a basal plane, which in turn will permit extensional deformation along a steeper, headwall plane farther upslope. We then discuss how such failure can be facilitated on slopes of low inclination by excess pore pressure. Based on this discussion, we suggest that if pore pressure becomes high enough, slope failure can be initiated at a lower pore pressure and along a lower-angle basal plane than predicted by 1-D infinite-slope analysis. © 1999 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved. Keywords: slope stability; slope failure; basal shear plane; excess pore pressure

1. Introduction An important goal of STRATAFORM is to devise techniques that can aid in predicting where and how slides and mass flows affect submarine slopes (Pratson et al., 1996). Determination of the risk posed by these mass movements to a specific sea-floor area
author. E-mail: ulisses@watson.ibm.com Present address: Division of Earth and Ocean Sciences, Duke University, Durham, NC 27708, USA.
1 Ł Corresponding

continues to require detailed geotechnical analyses involving mapping, sampling, laboratory testing, and two- or three-dimensional numerical modeling of sea-floor stability (Hampton et al., 1996). However, such extensive analyses are not always possible, and simplified analyses that encapsulate the basic physics behind mass movements are needed for rapidly assessing sea-floor stability using limited data. One-dimensional (1-D) infinite-slope analysis is typically used for this purpose. Based only on the balance of forces acting on a plane parallel to the

0025-3227/99/$ – see front matter © 1999 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved. PII: S 0 0 2 5 - 3 2 2 7 ( 9 8 ) 0 0 1 2 2 - 4

340 U. Mello. Pratson / Marine Geology 154 (1999) 339–356 .F.T. L.

and consequently. which assume a failure surface that is concave-upward or listricshaped. the compressional ridges at the toe of the Humboldt Slide. . In this paper. and the Cape Fear mudflow (Fig. Note that d is given by y x tan i . ¦ v D vertical stress. this analysis attempts to define the maximum possible slope inclination at which the shear stress acting on the slope (due to its weight) exactly balances the resistance of the slope sediments to sliding (Fig. and the distance they travel. Furthermore. This failure surface geometry is better accounted for by empirical 2-D slope-stability analyses.x / and vertical . Fig. such as the log-spiral and φ-circle methods. we begin by illustrating how the slip planes in an infinite slope are affected by slope inclination under various states of stress. 2B) off North Carolina (Popenoe et al.. In developing the analysis.g.. which towards its downslope end is generally at a lower angle than the sea floor and intersects it (Fig.. W D weight. But in using a single. Gardner et al. 1999). the headwall grades (often abruptly) into a basal failure plane. it is difficult to ascertain whether these predefined surfaces are those along which actual failure did or will in fact occur. We then discuss how pore pressure may allow for a range of other failure-plane angles at any given slope inclination. Note that the failure plane (dashed line) is assumed to be parallel to the slope inclination (i ). 2-D analysis of the state of stress in an infinite slope that can be used to evaluate failure along a range of failure-plane angles. 2A) in the northern California STRATAFORM study area (Gardner et al. The failed sediment mass is thrust over this basal plane toward the lower slope surface. Observed geometry of slope failure Failures of submarine sedimentary slopes vary in terms of the volume of sediment involved. we present an alternative. these and many other slope failures share a common failure surface geometry (Fig. 1993). Mello.F. so that the weight of the sediments increases uniformly with depth. 1A). Pratson / Marine Geology 154 (1999) 339–356 341 slope. Despite their differences. and S0 D cohesion. it is not suitable for failures that occur along surfaces that cut across bedding planes. significantly enhancing the utility of infinite-slope analysis in assessing regional slope stability.U. (A) The balance of stresses used in 1-D infinite-slope analysis.. 2C). often exhibits compressional features (e. these methods like 1-D infinite-slope analysis do not allow for the evaluation of other possible surface geometries..1. which often do parallel the sea floor. This type of slope is completely characterized in the horizontal . R D sediment shear resistance.g. This limitation is satisfactory for failures that occur along bedding planes. the manner in which the failed sediments are transported downslope. the rigidity=fluidity of the failed sediments. The upslope end of these surfaces tends to be a relatively steep headwall along which the failed sediment mass undergoes extensional failure. D friction angle.2. Without a detailed stress analysis. A D slope-parallel width. The symbols used are d D vertical depth. while −x y and − yx are the horizontal and vertical shear stresses. A limitation of 1-D infinite-slope analysis is that the potential for slope failure is only evaluated along a plane that parallels the slope surface. − s D sediment shear strength. 2. the total stresses acting on Fig. Background 2. At depth. The normal (¦ n ) and shear (− ) stresses are related to the weight of the sediment slab overlying failure plane. For a differential sediment element to remain at rest within such a slope. (B) The balance of stresses used in the 2-D infinite-slope analysis: ¦x and ¦ y are the horizontal and vertical normal stresses. respectively. L. planar slope inclined with respect to the horizontal at a uniform angle i (Fig.T. Two disparate examples are the Humboldt Slide (Fig. 2. 1. ² b D bulk density. 1999). g D gravitational acceleration. y / dimensions. 1B). the slope is assumed to be composed of homogeneous sediments. The infinite-slope approximation A first-order estimate of the state of stress that leads to such slope failures can be obtained using a simplified approximation of the slope geometry as an infinitely large. respectively. 2). 2C). and these are not defined in either 1-D infinite-slope analysis or the empirical 2-D analyses. The reason for this is that failuire surface geometry depends on the distribution of the principal stresses in a slope. and which change from a relatively steep headwall at their upslope end to a lower-angle basal shear plane that intersects the sea floor at their downslope end (e. However. arbitrarily pre-defined failure surface.

..T. North Carolina continental slope (from Popenoe et al. Mello. Pratson / Marine Geology 154 (1999) 339–356 Fig. The dashed and dotted lines are simply two examples of the degrees to which failed sediments can be displaced downslope. L. . (B) Cape Fear mudflow. extensional failure along a relatively steep headwall grading into compressional failure along a low-angle basal plane that intersects the slope surface. 2. (A) Humboldt Slide.F. 1999). 1993).342 U. Two end-member examples of submarine slope failure. northern California STRATAFORM study area (from Gardner et al. (C) Schematic of the failure plane geometry and slope-failure motion common to these and many other slope failures.

The Mohr–Coulomb failure criteria In order to predict the potential for an infinite slope to fail. 1a and 1b (Delinger and Iverson. p. −xy and − yx are shear stresses. if Þ D 0. . ²b is bulk density. in considering the balance of stresses in only the vertical direction.4. which is given by the Coulomb failure criterion (Jaeger and Cook. 1).T. 1967). which is equivalent to ignoring the terms @¦x =@ x and @−xy =@ x in Eqs. the sediment shear strength holding the slab in place). the pores in the sediment framework are typically saturated with water. the general expression for effective stress. Thus. which ranges between 0 and 1. is the friction angle of the slope sediments. The sediments overlying the plane are considered to be a slab of uniform thickness. P is pore pressure.F. 4a and 4b in Fig. Mello. 1969). It is important to realize that independent of the magnitude of pore pressure. the Coulomb failure criterion is used to assess the potential for failure along a plane that parallels the slope surface (Fig. the total stress acting on the grains is partially supported by the full value of P . only the weight of the slab and the resulting shear and effective normal stresses are used (Eqs. In the limit. Ži is the Kronecker delta.6. 1991). 1B). 2. Pratson / Marine Geology 154 (1999) 339–356 343 the element must balance (Fig. x direction: @¦x @− yx C D0 (1a) @x @y y direction: @−xy @¦ y C D ²b g (1b) @y @x where ¦x and ¦ y are total normal stresses. p. This balance is described by the equations of equilibrium (Jaeger and Cook.5.e. In this analysis. 1990). 1969).U. ¦ 0 . the Coulomb failure criterion (Eq. 1b. the principal stresses within the slope are left undefined. the total stresses must balance as described in Eqs. 2. Limitations of one-dimensional infinite-slope analysis An important limitation of 1-D infinite-slope analysis is that by fixing the orientation of the slip plane and restricting the balance of stresses to this plane. is: ¦i j D ¦i j 0 Commonly it is assumed that the sediments behave as a Mohr–Coulomb (M–C) material (Lambe and Whitman. the direction of the maximum principal stress (and the friction angle of the material) defines the slip-plane direction along which M–C failure will occur. 2. 1979. 1a. all the total stress is borne by the sediment framework. a model needs to address the mechanical behavior of slope sediments under stress. Effective stress and pore pressure In a submarine slope.3. This water exerts pressure on the sediment matrix.. This is normally justified by assuming the horizontal forces in an infinite slope cancel (Lambe and Whitman. 95): j− j D ¦n tan 0 C S0 0 (3) where − is the shear stress. and g is gravity acceleration. and S0 is the sediment cohesion. and Þ is referred to as the Biot constant. 2. The principal stresses are significant because in M–C materials. 1979. 119). 1a and 1b for a slope to remain in steady state. Such materials fail when the shear stress acting along a plane through the sediments exceeds the sediment shear strength. 2. while if Þ D 1. the sediment framework tends to be at least two orders of magnitude more compressible than water. ÞŽi j P (2) where ¦i j is the total normal stress at a point. which reduces the stress acting on the grains in the framework to produce what are referred to as effective stresses (Terzaghi and Peck. The latter reflects the fraction of the total stress that is carried by the sediment framework. L. and Þ is approximately 1 (Domenico and Schwartz. ¦n is the effective normal stress. the analysis is called one-dimensional. 3) yields the maximum inclination at which the downslope shear stress due to gravity and pore pressure acting on the slab equals the frictional resistance along its base (i. In this analysis. In tensor notation. For the surficial depths to which slope failures occur. 3. 1A). One-dimensional infinite-slope analysis In 1-D infinite-slope analysis.

Analytical solution for the principal stresses in an infinite slope We now describe a 2-D analytical solution for the principal stresses in an infinite slope that uses both the vertical and horizontal balance of stresses described by Eqs. Extended solution for the principal stresses In order to describe the state of stress in an infinite slope for an arbitrary ratio between the principal stresses. Pratson / Marine Geology 154 (1999) 339–356 The importance of this limitation becomes apparent when a horizontal slope .1 C sin / This equation indicates that at the state of M– C failure.e. 1A.: ¦2 D K f ¦1 where Kf D and 2 S0 cos (6c) . i. Our solution is less restrictive in that it allows for stable as well as limiting-equilibrium conditions and includes sediment cohesion and constant pore pressure. 4b and 5 the Coulomb failure criterion Eq. but total stresses at a depth d due to the weight of the overlying sediments up to the slope surface (Fig. Note. if the 1-D analysis is blindly applied to a horizontal slope. M–C failure occurs when  D þ .. it is a material property. lithostatic). Slip planes are.T.344 U. Eq. The solution is an extension of the one derived by Jaeger and Cook (1979) (p. 4a. 1979. L. cohesionless sediments under limiting-equilibrium conditions. 6b. This implies While similar in form to Eq.¦ ¦n D 1 2 1 2 1 0 0 (4b) where ¦1 and ¦2 are the maximum and minimum effective principal stresses (respectively).¦ C ¦2 / C 1 . which is only summarized here.i D 0/ is considered. we assume that the state of stress at any point in the slope can be described by: ¦2 D k ¦1 Ł S0 ¦2 / sin 2 0 0 0 (4a) ¦2 / cos 2 0 (7) . As we will show. And a third difference is that k depends on the mechanical behavior of the sediments before failure (e. this slope in reality could fail at much lower pore pressure along planes that are not horizontal. that the slip-plane directions in M–C failure depend only on the direction of the maximum effective principal stress and not its magnitude. p.g. it will yield the misleading result that the slope will be stable until the pore pressure is equal to the weight of the overlying sediments (i. When S0 ments are cohesionless. that at the state . Mello. 6a. planes of maximum shear stress whose direction at any point bisects the angle between the principal stresses at that point. K f D ¦2 =¦1 at the state of M–C failure). 1a and 1b. Ł S0 D 0 0 Ł S0 (6a) . 7 has some significant differences. the minimum effective principal stress is linearly related to the maximum effective principal Ł D 0. Another is that these total principal stresses are linearly related by a general lateral stress ratio k . where: þD ³ C (5) 4 2 Because þ is only a function of the sedimentfriction angle. 14): . As indicated in Eq. because the shear stress along this plane due to the weight of the overlying sediments (Fig. can be found in Mello and Pratson (1998).1 C sin / (6b) 3. To express the Coulomb failure criterion (Eq. K f is also a material property that depends only on the friction angle of the slope sediments and is independent of pore pressure.e. 7 are not effective stresses.. However. 3 can now be re-written in terms of the effective principal stresses. 3) is 0. elastic).1. 1B) (i. 3) in terms of the effective principal stresses we use the Mohr equations (Jaeger and Cook. Using Eqs. therefore.¦ j− j D 1 2 1 0 0 0 3. as assumed in the 1-D infinite-slope analysis. and  is 0 the angle between ¦1 and the normal to a plane.e.. 422) for the directions and magnitudes of the principal stresses in an infinite slope of dry. Eq. pore pressure has not been subtracted from the principal stresses). A horizontal slope will never fail along a horizontal plane.e.1 sin / .F. the sedistress by the variable K f .. and K f is simply the ratio 0 0 of these stresses (i. however. A full derivation of the solution. One is that the principal stresses in Eq.

Substituting Eq. 11 along with Eq. For this case.k /. the horizontal stress balance. which yields: x direction: 1 . k must be equal to K f . Eq.U. K max depends only on the slope inclination. as well as the orientations of the slip planes were the slope to undergo M–C failure. 4. we discuss the interplay among these parameters. and the slope inclination (Lambe and Whitman. 3).a ¦y D 1 2 1 b cos 2!/ b cos 2!/ 1 Ł S .a ¦x D 1 2 1 ¦ . 1a and 1b. Furthermore. Three key parameters are used to determine the principal stresses: the slope inclination . so the stresses in the slope are total stresses. In addition. In general. K max . and its magnitude is determined by using Eq. 4. which require that the stresses be invariant in the x direction (i. . 7 and 11 place theoretical limits on the range of k (i.F. it is now possible to investigate their magnitude and orientation in an infinite slope. of: K max D . and like K f .1 2 0 1 Ł S .e. 5 completely define the slip-plane orientations for M–C failure. Eq. The minimum principal stress is simply orthogonal to ¦1 . it is possible to determine the normal and shear stresses along any plane through the slope.T. 1a). 12.k 1/. Eqs.b 2 a 2 / b cos 2!/ (10) Ł (11) ð cos 2! D . In this section. Jaeger and Cook (1979) examined the effect of i on the principal stresses when an infinite slope is on the verge of failure (i. 10 gives the magnitude of the maximum principal stress while Eq.. Hence. Because the only effect of cohesion is to offset the magnitudes of the principal stresses by an equal amount. a D .e.. there is no pore pressure. 8a. we first consider a dry. Here we extend their sensitivity study and include the effect of i on the principal stresses when the slope is at rest and stable (i. / of 30º. satisfying the boundary conditions for an infinite slope.b2 =a 2 sin i / 2 1=2 cos i Eq.a 2 C b cos 2!/ ¦1 D where 2²b gd . 8b and 8c. k cannot exceed a maximum value.1. 6a. the lateral stress ratio . k D K f /. 7 is comparable to Eq. 11 gives its direction.e. stress path. we will simplify matters and assume that the slope sediments are cohesionless. the equations are identical at failure state. and Eq. This implies that in our solution. b cos 2!/ @¦1 @¦1 C1 D0 b sin 2! 2 @x @y (9a) y direction: @¦1 @¦1 b sin 2! (9b) C1 D ²b g 2 @x @y This system of equations can now be solved and integrated to obtain ¦1 : 1 . Slope stability and slip-plane orientations in an infinite slope With the solution for the principal stresses. But at M–C failure.a .a =b/ sin2 i š . 7. and pore pressure . Mello. L.e.a 2 Note that in Eq. The effect of slope inclination on slip-plane orientation In order to separate the effects of slope inclination and pore pressure on the stress field in an infinite slope. 11 requires that the term b2 =a 2 sin2 i be greater than or equal to zero.1 C sin i / (12) cos 2!/ cos 2!/ (8a) (8b) (8c) ¦ b sin 2! C 1 S Ł sin 2! −xy D 1 2 1 2 0 where ! is the angle between the maximum principal stress .¦1 / and the y direction. K f Ä k Ä K max ) and in turn on the stability of the slope (Fig. Eq.i /.k C 1/ and b D . The total-stress equilibrium in the x and y directions is determined by solving for the partial derivatives of Eqs. subaerial slope with a friction angle .. P /. k can have a range of values depending on the mechanical behavior of the sediments. K f Ä k Ä K max /. 7 into the Mohr equations.1 2 0 1969).. and then substituting them into the total-stress equilibrium Eqs. Pratson / Marine Geology 154 (1999) 339–356 345 of M–C failure k D K f .1 sin i / . If there is no pressure. it is independent of pore pressure. These stresses in the x and y directions are defined by the equations: ¦ .

F.346 U.T. L. Mello. Pratson / Marine Geology 154 (1999) 339–356 .

Case 2: i D When the slope inclination equals the sedimentfriction angle.T. the antithetic slip plane (dotted line). This implies that the direction of ¦1 can be either vertical.1. the synthetic slip plane (solid line). there are two endmember solutions: k D K f (M–C failure state). 4.1 C sin / ² gd . Normally. C ³=2/. where i D 0º. 3.1 sin / k D K max ² gd . The main difference between the extensional and compressional solutions is in the magnitudes of the principal stresses. In a compressional stress state. so ! D 0 or ! D ³=2. subaerial infinite slope inclined at i D 0º and i D i D 0º k D Kf E ¦1 E ¦2 E ¦1 E ¦1 347 iD k D K max / / / / ² gd ² gd ² gd ² gd k D Kf ² gd . Note the rotation of ellipsoid and change in the magnitude of the principal stresses with increasing slope inclinations. thrust faulting). the principal stresses are oriented at an angle to the slope surface.1 sin / ² gd . As will be shown later. i D 0 and Eq.1 sin ² gd . In an extensional state. i D D 30º/. this is the direction in which the movement of the failed sediment mass is aided by gravity. L. there is just one solution for the maximum principal stress and for the minimum principal stress regardless of whether the state of stress is extensional or compressional (Table 1).1 sin ² gd ² gd .F. which corresponds to an extensional (active earth pressure) state of stress (¦ E . Shown at each inclination are the relative magnitudes of the principal stresses (dashed line). These endmember solutions define the limits to the possible values for k . the direction of the maximum principal stress governs the slip-plane angles.e.¦v / is equal to the mean of the principal stresses... and acts to push the dark gray area between the conjugate slip planes above the surrounding slope surface (i. it is the minimum principal stress that equals ¦v . Fig. the principal stress directions are in turn influenced by the value of k . the stress ellipsoid (ellipse). 11 reduces to cos 2! D š1. Stress states and M–C slip-plane directions in an infinite slope under limiting equilibrium conditions k D K f ) as a function of slope inclination.1 C sin / ² gd .1. the lithostatic stress .1. shearing will occur along one of these slip-plane directions. Upon failure.U.e.2. 5. and k D K max D 1 (isotropic compression). ! D þ . and the relative motion across the slip planes (arrows). In this situation. and thus the range of stress fields that can exist in the slope at any given inclination. the maximum principal stress is horizontal. Note that when i D . 11 reduces to cos 2! D sin D cos. while in a compressional state. which corresponds to a compressional (passive earth pressure) state of stress (¦ c ). The two solutions in Table 1 indicate that for a horizontal slope. Pratson / Marine Geology 154 (1999) 339–356 Table 1 Solutions for extensional and compressional effective principal stresses in a dry. . The solutions for the principal stresses in both environments are given in Table 1. and the two possible slip-plane directions are parallel to the surface and vertical (Fig. Dark gray areas highlight the block between the conjugate slip planes and emphasize the direction in which the slip planes are rotated as inclination is increased. 3.1 sin / 4.1 sin / ² gd . Eq.1 C sin / ² gd . the range is broad depending on the magnitude of the sediment-friction angle. Thus based on Eq. the maximum principal stress is vertical and acts to push the dark gray area between the conjugate slip planes below the surrounding slope surface (i. In an extensional stress state. as well as the slip-plane orientations and motions associated with these stress states are shown in Fig. The extensional and compressional solutions for the principal stresses in a horizontal slope when k D K f . Mello. or it can be horizontal. the critical angle for M–C failure. In both cases.1 C sin . normal faulting). the maximum principal stress is equivalent to the overlying lithostatic stress ¦v . Case 1: i D 0º When the slope is horizontal. 3.1 C sin ² gd . In each environment.1 C sin / ² gd .

. 1.T. The result is: ¦ y 0 D ² gd cos2 −x 0 y 0 D ² gd sin cos (13a) (13b) the slope-parallel slip-plane direction assumed in the 1-D analysis is the direction of maximum shear stress in the 2-D analysis. K max is reduced from a maximum value of one at i D 0º to a minimum value of K f when i D . subaerial slope. the stress solutions given by 1-D and 2-D infinite-slope analysis are identical for the special case of when the slope inclination equals the sediment-friction angle. These states can be further constrained for normally compacted sediments using an empirical measure for k at rest. L. 4. Although K max represents a theoretical limit to the maximum value of k .3. 4. the range of stress fields possible in an infinite slope is K f Ä k Ä K max which converges toward a single stress field as the slope inclination is increased from 0º to the sediment-friction angle . Theoretically possible stress states lie between Kf < k < Kmax . Mello. 4. the normal and shear stresses acting on the synthetic slip plane can be determined by using the principal stresses in the Mohr equations Eqs. 4a and 4b. This convergence is depicted in Fig. Effect of slope inclination on the possible stress states in an infinite slope having a friction angle ( ) of 30º. Considering that sin 2þ D cos . whereupon the slope fails (Fig. which shows that while K f is independent of slope inclination. K max is not. 2 and 3). 4).348 U. at certain inclinations this limit Note that these are the same equations for the normal and shear stresses used in 1-D infinite-slope analysis (Fig.1. Thus. Its conjugate is the antithetic slip direction. such as K0 . Eqs. Pratson / Marine Geology 154 (1999) 339–356 and is referred to as the synthetic slip direction.F. With increasing inclination. Case 3:0 < i < As suggested by the results of the previous two cases. in a dry. This happens because Fig.

Despite the inclusion of pore pressure.2. 5B). An example of such a constraint is Jaky’s equation (Lambe and Whitman. K 0 : K0 D 1 sin (14) into the 2-D analysis by modifying Eqs. 12). Note. Fig. the analysis can be used as a framework for understanding the basic mechanics of submarine slope failures characterized by extensional failure along a relatively steep headwall grading into compressional failure along a low-angle basal plane (Fig. and are unaffected by pore pressure. Fig. the rotation is counterclockwise. which is commonly used to estimate the value of k at rest in normally compacted sediments. whether the slope is dry. Hence. However. The coupling between extensional and compressional states of stress The analytical 2-D infinite-slope analysis does not allow for the state of stress to change along the slope. 3. 6b).1. In other words. 5A illustrates that this same combination of failure motions can be obtained when the extensional and compressional solutions for the synthetic slip plane are coupled. 3 shows the general pattern with increasing slope steepness. while those needed to cause failure along the compressional slip plane decrease. if the slope is submerged. Correspondingly. This is reflected in the Mohr diagram as a shift of the Mohr stress circle left toward the M–C failure envelope. the principal stresses rotate from being parallel and perpendicular to the slope surface to being at an angle to the surface. This is indicated in Fig. Furthermore. the directions of the total principal stresses and slip planes are constant. the stress field and the slip-plane directions rotate as slope inclination increases.b 2 a 2 / Ł S0 / b cos 2!/ Pd (15a) (15b) ¦2 D . Constant pore pressure can be factored where Pd is the pore pressure at a depth d below the slope surface minus the hydrostatic pore pressure above the slope surface. several important relationships governing the state of stress in an infinite slope remain unchanged including the relationship for K f (Eq. Consequently. 2C).k ¦1 Pd Thus. 5.T. and the angle of the slip planes at failure given by þ (Eq. Discussion 5. when the antithetic slip planes are coupled (Fig. M–C failure can be triggered at lower effective stresses. when i D 0º. the directions of the principal stresses and slip planes vary with slope inclination in a similar manner to that shown in Fig. 10 and 7 such that they become: ¦1 D 0 0 2²b gd . which are normal stresses. however. they will . it is generally harder to cause M–C failure along the compressional slip plane than along the extensional slip plane. K max (Eq.. The effect of pore pressure Pore pressure partially supports the total principal stresses in a slope. Pratson / Marine Geology 154 (1999) 339–356 349 is not representative of the mechanical behavior of sediments at rest (e. 3 by the change in the size of the stress ellipsoids (the ellipses bounding the principal stresses) at the different slope inclinations. the stresses needed to cause failure along the extensional slip plane increase. overpressured. In an extensional environment.g. As a result. at limiting equilibrium with increasing slope inclination. 3). L. the stresses needed to cause failure along the compressional slip plane are greater than those needed to cause failure along the extensional slip plane. Jaky’s equation can be used to impose an additional constraint on the range of stress fields possible in an infinite slope (Fig. 2C).U. While extensional and compressional stress states cannot exist at the same point in a slope. that at all inclinations up to that of the friction angle. Mello. the failure motion is in an uphill direction which is opposite that observed (compare to Fig. while in a compressional environment it is clockwise.F. with increasing pore pressure. pore pressure reduces the effective principal stresses acting on the grains of the sediment framework. Regardless of the value of k . 1969). K max D 1/ and an empirical constraint should be placed on the maximum value of k . through the results arrived at above.a . subaerial or submarine. For a given k . 4. the slip planes rotate from being at an angle to the slope surface to paralleling it and being vertical. 5). By contrast.

The composite slip surfaces that would result when the compressional and extensional synthetic slip planes for a given slope inclination are combined. Dotted lines approximate the change in direction of the maximum principal stress needed to go from an extensional-stress state in the upper slope to a compressional stress state in the lower slope.350 U.T. . L. Downslope stress ellipsoid represents the stress state along the compressional slip plane. Upslope stress ellipsoid represents the stress state along the extensional slip plane. This direction change also would cause a change in the slip-plane direction leading to a composite slip surface that is listric-shaped.F. Pratson / Marine Geology 154 (1999) 339–356 Fig. Mello. 5. approximated by the gray curves. Solid lines are the slip planes along which M–C failure would occur in an infinite slope. Arrows indicate the direction of motion along the slip planes.

M–C failure occurs. there are intermediate pore pressures that could allow for Coulomb failure along a range of plane directions.U. Given that the upper part of a slope tends to be in extension and the lower part under compression. which is reflected in the Mohr diagram as a shift in the stress circle left toward the failure envelope. We first present a conceptual explanation of how this may occur. When pore pressure is high enough that the Mohr circle touches the failure envelope. 3. the compressional slip-plane direction rotates such that it eventually becomes oriented downslope (e. As discussed above. failure along this plane will remove the support holding the sediments farther up slope in place. it is not characteristic of translational slides and mass flows (e. which produces a composite. 5D. The potential role of pore pressure in causing slope failure at low inclinations One such additional influence on failure-plane direction may be pore pressure. Generally not contemplated is what happens when M–C failure does not result in significant movement of the overlying sediments along the M–C failure plane. This implies that slope failure will occur only when the shear stress along the compressional slip plane in the lower slope is great enough to overcome the sediment shear strength in this direction. pore pressure reduces the effective stresses needed to cause M–C failure. tends to be under compression due to the weight of the sediments above. i D 0–15º). 2B) in which the basal failure surface is oriented downslope. that as slope inclination increases. the upper part of a slope tends to be in a state of extension due to the downhill pull of gravity (Fig. Consider the infinite slope in Fig. the sediments will hydrofracture. 5A). the overlying sediments must be moved uphill against gravity (Fig.. the compressional slip plane is oriented such that upon failure. . i D 20–30º). listricshaped slip surface (Fig. 3. And because numerous examples of translational slides and mass flows have been documented on submarine slopes dipping Ä2º.F. However. The lower part of the slope. on the other hand. This would be ¾13º for marine sediments. which is inclined at 2º.. At a given pore pressure. failure also would have to occur along the compressional slip-plane direction. Pratson / Marine Geology 154 (1999) 339–356 351 exist at different points within the slope. then in the limit. Thus. 5A. if the failure plane dips steeply in a direction opposite to the dip of the slope surface as in Fig. the directions of the extensional and compressional synthetic slip planes converge toward a single slip plane that parallels the slope surface (Fig.g. 1996). 3. Mello. including planes that are oriented downslope. If pore pressure in this slope is gradually increased.g. But these critical stresses are reduced if pore pressure is increased even further. The significance of this is that if the sediments fail along the compressional slip plane. the overlying sediments will move downslope abetted by gravity. If pore pressure continues to increase in these sediments.D) like those assumed in the 2-D log-spiral and -circle slope stability methods.T. As shown in Fig. 5. we suggest that this occurs when the slope inclination is ½2=3 of the friction angle. As this stress field rotates. This is a distinct possibility. however. At inclinations <2=3 of the friction angle. If it is. the slip planes rotate as well. the stresses needed to cause extensional failure tend to be much less than those needed to cause compressional failure. the listric shape of the failure surface becomes more planar. Another effect of slope inclination is that as it is increased. there must be a rotation of the stress field within the slope.. 5D. but along the extensional slip plane.2. the effective stresses will eventually drop to the point that M–C failure could occur along the extensional slip-plane direction. our analysis suggests that with increasing inclination. there must be additional factors influencing the Failure surface directions in these events. As noted above. Based on Fig. Generally. This type of failure motion can occur in rotational slides or slumps when the weight of the upslope portion of the failed sediments drives the lower portion of the failed sediments up the basal failure surface. which have friction angles between 20º and 45º (Hampton et al. 3. M–C failure in this direction requires higher stresses. Fig. But we suggest that between the pore pressure needed to cause M–C failure and the pore pressure needed to cause hydrofracturing. 5C). L. Fig. significantly reducing the stress in these sediments and causing them to fail also. for the material bounded between the extensional and compressional slip-plane directions to be mobilized as a mass movement. Note.

and that the slope is on the verge of failure. the range may include plane directions that are at the same angle as the slope surface. 6. the Coulomb failure criterion (Eq. Note in (C) that a minimum ½ is required is at the M–C slip planes. the nature of these forces is not important here. 6A). A demonstration of the relation between pore pressure and slip-plane angle We now illustrate the effect of pore pressure on arbitrary plane angles along which the Coulomb failure criterion (Eq. as is assumed in 1-D infinite-slope analysis. 3) is satisfied.T. This same result also occurs in (A). all curves intersect at a failure-plane angle of 16º (the slope inclination) and a ½ of ¾0. And if pore pressure is high enough. beginning with a simple example for which the result is easily verified. as pore pressure is increased from zero (½ D 0) to lithostatic (½ D 1). For this to be the case.352 U. (A) Example plane inclinations are measured clockwise in degrees with respect to the horizontal. This effect of pore pressure on potential failure-plane direction is analogous to the effect that pre-existing fractures have on failure planes (see Suppe. in a low-angle slope. cohesionless sediments having a friction angle of D 30º. 3) is satisfied or exceeded not along the M–C slip plane. p. (B) Curves of pore pressure (½) required to induce failure as a function of lateral stress ratio (k) and slip-plane inclinations in horizontal slope. 5D). Without this additional force. Pratson / Marine Geology 154 (1999) 339–356 Now assume that pore pressure is high enough and the effective stresses are low enough that M– C failure can occur along the compressional slipplane direction. 1985. 3) is met. Also note in (C) that regardless of the value of k. these additional potential failureplane directions are less steep than the slip-plane angle along which M–C failure would occur. Consider once again the end-member of a horizontal infinite slope (Fig. which are the inclination and ½ predicted by 1-D infinite-slope analysis. the Mohr circle for the compressional environment is forced farther left in the Mohr diagram such that it partially crosses the M–C failure envelope. The compressional slip plane dips at a relatively steep angle (27º with respect to the horizontal) that is opposite to the dip of the slope surface (Fig. L. For all the sediments between the extensional and compressional slip planes to be displaced downslope as a slide or mass flow. In this instance. However.46. Mello. because this example is simply Fig. 5. but along a range of other potential failure planes.F. Extensional stress state: Change in the plane direction for a horizontal infinite slope along which the Coulomb failure criterion (Eq. assume that pore pressure is increased even further. Furthermore. . Assume that this slope is composed of dry. forces other than just gravity would need to be acting on the slope. the sediments would largely remain in place even though the slope has failed. In other words. Finally. 162). some additional force would be required to push the failed sediments up the compressional slip plane against gravity. (C) Similar curves for a slope inclined 16º.3.

Note that these values of k . so ¦2 D 1=3¦v . K f /. Furthermore. Also shown in Fig. 6B with Fig. As shown in Fig. the plane direction along which M–C failure would occur). 5). pore pressure is always a minimum at the plane inclination given by the direction of the maximum principal stress and þ in Eq. 5 (i. 3) will be satisfied along plane angles between 60º and 0º with respect to the horizontal when pore pressure is between zero . 6B. 3.F. Again. Mello. Thus the 1-D infinite-slope solution is a subset of the 2-D slope . pore pressure is always a minimum at the slip-plane inclination along which M–C failure would first occur. The latter figure shows the relationship between pore pressure and the plane direction that satisfies (Eq. In this case.e. when ½ D 0. If the slope is at the state of M–C failure. which as indicated in Eq. 6A). Fig. the pore pressure represented by this value of ½ is the same that is obtained when applying 1-D infinite-slope analysis to this case. 3) then gives the pore pressure needed to actually cause failure along this plane. meaning pore pressure must be lithostatic in order to induce failure along the horizontal plane (#3 in Fig.5 and 1 (planes 1. which is not only the slope inclination.U. 6A. it can be anticipated that the Coulomb failure criterion (Eq. 3 in a horizontal infinite slope when k D 0:4 and 0.T. Note that ½. failure is possible along a plane inclined 60º from the horizontal when ½ D 1=4. where i D 0º. and therefore. This relationship was obtained using our 2-D infinite-slope analysis as outlined in Table 2.j− j S0 / ¦v tan (16) The exact relationship between pore pressure and an arbitrary plane along which the Coulomb failure criterion (Eq. 6B are the relationships between pore pressure and the slip-plane directions that satisfy Eq. 2 and 3. the result can be verified by using the principal stresses along with þ D ³=4 C =2 D 60º in the Mohr equations (Eq. the extensional solution for these principal stresses in a horizontal slope is ¦1 D ¦v . 3) for an infinite slope inclined at 16º. which in this case is š30º from the direction of the ¦1 .. However. the potential failure-plane angle is also influenced by slope inclination. For a general case. Each of these curves can be used to estimate the pore pressure needed to cause Coulomb failure along an arbitrary plane through the slope.4 and 0. as assumed in 1-D infinite-slope analysis. but also the failure-plane direction assumed in 1-D infinite-slope analysis.5 . 0. 3) is satisfied in a horizontal infinite slope (with k D K f D 1=3/ is given by the curve in Fig. no pore pressure is needed to bring this about. L. However.¦v ½¦v / tan . Based on the pore pressures needed to cause failure along the two plane directions considered for the case above.½ D 1/. in a horizontal slope for which k D K 0 D 1=2.5. 6C. the initial stress conditions are not limiting equilibrium conditions. Thus ½ D 1. Because the slope is already at a state of M– C failure. 3: ½D ¦n ¦v . 0.1 ½/¦ .5. the Coulomb failure criterion (Eq. This minimum implies that a horizontal slope could fail along an inclined-plane angle long before pore pressure reaches lithostatic pressure in a horizontal slope. and hence. Furthermore.½ D 0/ and lithostatic . 6B. This same approach can be used to determine the pore pressure required to induce failure along a horizontal plane. with a friction angle D 30º. then the principal stresses in the slope are related by k D K f D 1=3 and ¦2 D 1=3¦1 . where ½ D Pd =¦v . 3) becomes 0 D . using Table 1. 7 are assumed to be independent of pore pressure. 3) becomes ¦ 0 D . Representing Pd in terms of the dimensionless pore pressure ratio ½. also note that all three relationships cross to yield the same ½ at a plane angle of 16º. (Eq. K 0 /. and its effect when combined with pore pressure can be seen by comparing Fig.33 . Pratson / Marine Geology 154 (1999) 339–356 353 being used to demonstrate the potential influence of pore pressure on failure plane direction. For example. Note that this is the same result provided by 1-D infinite-slope analysis mentioned in Section 2. Placing these stresses in the Coulomb failure criterion (Eq. These yield the normal and shear stresses along the #1 slip plane shown in Fig. and the M–C failure criterion reduces to: Ð 1 ¦ cos D 1 ¦ ½¦v tan 3 2 v Solving this equation for ½ leads to the expected result of ½ D 0. As in Fig. 6A shows examples of the slip-plane directions given by this relationship. are greater than K f (the latter corresponding to K 0 /. the ½ required to induce failure can be obtained directly from the Coulomb failure criterion Eq. the relationship is presented for three values of k : 0. respectively).

we consider the case of an infinite slope with a low inclination of 2º. In order to fail along the 2º plane (line 3 in Fig. in Fig. Without a continuing force acting to move the failed sediments uphill along this slip plane.354 U. 6B.. Even if these compressive stresses are reached. slip-plane orientations.94–0. ¦ 2.e. a range of plane angles (along which Coulomb failure could occur) becomes possible in the compressional environment and they are oriented downslope.T.  ½ þ . 7B). K f to K 0 /. relatively high compressive stresses are needed to cause M–C failure. the sediment mass will essentially remain in place. Failure could occur along plane angles slightly steeper than this. lines 2 and 3. 11 Eqs. and dimensionless pore pressure ratio involved in failing an infinite slope Step: 1 2 3 4 5 Use: i. which is the same value obtained using 1-D infinite-slope analysis.96. Mello. For k ranging from 1=3 to 1=2 . along which M–C failure will occur) is ¾27º counterclockwise with respect to the horizontal. Pratson / Marine Geology 154 (1999) 339–356 Table 2 Method for estimating principal stresses. if pore pressure is increased. 8a. ¦n In equation(s): Eq. 7). −. 8b and 8c Eqs.82–0. L. which approximates the regional sea-floor slope in the vicinity of the Humboldt Slide (Fig. then the chances the failed sediments will move as a slide or mass flow down the slope begin to increase as well. 7). but it may open the possibility for Coulomb failure along a range of plane directions (Figs. significant mass movement may not be triggered because M–C failure will occur along a slip plane that is at a relatively high angle in the reverse direction to the slope surface (Fig. However. 3 and Eq. And once failure occurs. k ¦ 1. More interesting is the 0º plane (line 2 in Fig.82–0.9). 2B) are both oriented downslope but at a lower angle than the sea floor. because the potential for M–C failure appears to hinge on the magnitude of the stresses acting along the compressional slip-plane direction. we now consider the compressional solution for the principal stresses. If failure does occur . ½ must reach a near-lithostatic value of 0. 7) is of particular interest. Eq. this range will include potential failure plane directions that are oriented downslope. the slip-plane inclination along which Coulomb failure criterion is first satisfied (i. If pore pressure becomes high enough. 2B). 5. Applying the same analysis as before but for compression (Table 2).49 at this slip-plane angle.4. However. 2A) and the Cape Fear mudflow (Fig. at sufficiently higher values of ½ (0. Given that the basal slip surfaces for both the Humboldt Slide (Fig. 2A) and Cape Fear mudflow (Fig. Application to Humboldt Slide and Cape Fear mudflow The preceding examples demonstrating the relationship between pore pressure and the plane direction along which the Coulomb failure criterion is satisfied correspond to the 2-D extensional solution for the principal stresses (Table 2). 6b and 6c Eq. ! ¦ 1. 12 (C D extension. significantly enhancing the chances for mass movement. when ½ exceeds lesser values of 0.5. movement of the failed sediments along the planes would be aided by gravity rather than working against it. ½ varies from 0 to 0.F. However. 5. This is because pore pressure not only reduces the shear resistance of the sediments to failure. which is horizontal. 6 and 7). we can now develop a hypothesis for the relationship between M–C failure and frictional sliding due to gravity in mass movements. Furthermore. In a low-angle slope. this range (between plane angles of 0º and 2º. where the relationships converge on a lithostatic pore pressure when the slope inclination is 0º. 16 D compression) To determine: Direction of ¦ 1 Magnitude of ¦ 1 Magnitude of ¦ 2 − and ¦ n along slip-plane direction  ½ ³ =2 solution obtained by applying the approach outlined in Table 2. This is seen also in Fig. respectively.9. Model for slope-failure mechanics With the additional effect of pore pressure on slipplane direction. 6a.

Again.9 0. along one of these planes.8 0.7 0.0 1 1-D Infinite Slope Analysis Solution 2 3 φ = 30° i = 2° compressional environment k = 0.0 0. note that all the curves intersect at the slope inclination and ½ predicted by 1-D infinite-slope analysis.2 0.33 -25 -20 -15 -10 slip plane inclination (°) clockwise from horizontal -5 0 B.4 k = 0. Compressional stress state: Effect of pore pressure on the orientation of the plane direction satisfying the Coulomb failure criterion (Eq. then the failed sediment mass can continue sliding downslope after the initial failure simply due to its weight. 2C. L.T. the front of the failed sediment mass will be thrust from behind toward and onto the sea floor (Fig. 3) in an infinite slope inclined at 2º. Plane inclination is measured counterclockwise in degrees with respect to the horizontal.F.3 0. 3 2 1 Vertical Exaggeration 1:1 Extension along Headwall Failure Plane C.1 0. Pratson / Marine Geology 154 (1999) 339–356 355 A. At the point that mass movement is initiated. Mello.6 0. . 7C). 7. (A) Pore pressure (½) as a function of lateral stress ratio (k) and plane inclinations. (2) and (3) in A. (B) Orientations of the compressional slip planes corresponding to values at points (1).5 0. (C) Schematic of how slope failure could initiate along the horizontal plane (2).U. 1.5 λ k = 0. 2 Compression at Failure Front Frictional Sliding along Basal Failure Plane Vertical Exaggeration 5:1 Fig.4 0. Compare with Fig.

Cook. Fundamentals of Rock Mechanics (3rd ed. U. 1985.M. including the M–C failure slip plane (Fig.W. Domenico.356 U. 2. 7C).. The manuscript also benefited from the comments of G. London. Submarine slides.. 33–59. headless submarine canyons.. Lee. Limiting equilibrium and liquefaction potential in infinite submarine slopes. E. The Cape Fear landslide: slope failure associated with salt diapirism and gas hydrate decomposition.W. Geophys. Wiley. Mar. New York. 323–338. Oceanography 9. Breen. 1990. Application of infinite slope analysis to subaqueous sediment instability. Schmuck. Lee and two anonymous reviewers. Geol. 9. 537 pp. S. H.F. K. N.. N00014-97-1-0016).. Geol. Our analysis also suggests that if pore pressure becomes sufficiently high in a slope. R. 154. U. 1979. D. Seepage force. Lee.. 553 pp. 1996.C. As in the compressional environment. Surv. Studies of mass movements on continental slopes..). 1–10. But unlike the compressional-plane directions. Pratson / Marine Geology 154 (1999) 339–356 At the same time. 168–172.T.. Lee. Whitman. Hutton. M. Pratson. 1993.. H. P. Terzaghi. 1991.... the mass movement as a whole will be characterized by compressional failure along a low-angle basal shear plane that intersects the sea floor.L. D. P.C. F. Locat. The effects of fluid escape on accretionary wedges... Coakley. B. Popenoe..F. H. R. Iverson. NJ. K.N. Locat. Suppe. the compressional state of stress in the lower part of a slope appears to dictate whether or not significant mass movement will occur. J. D..A. 40–53. L... Mello.. 1969... Bull. Prior.F. 2002. 9277– 9295... J. 824 pp. Principals of Structural Geology. Mohrig. J.B. New York. Prior. the movement will reduce the stresses towards the rear of the sediment mass creating conditions for extensional failure to occur farther upslope (Fig. Mello. Wiley.P..E. W. Hampton. 299–312. Soil Mechanics. R. 14.B. Garcia. Jaeger. Res.). Nittrouer for his encouragement and detailed review of the manuscript...A. Conclusions Based on our 2-D infinite-slope analysis. Regardless of the plane angle along which extensional failure occurs. a range of plane angles along which Coulomb failure could occur become possible. and extensional failure farther upslope along a relatively high-angle headwall (Fig. Physical and Chemical Hydrogeology.. L. Choi. these will include planes that are oriented downslope. then extensional failure can also ensue farther up the slope.T. Humboldt Slide — a large shear-dominated retrogressive slope failure. This is the same basic failure geometry observed for slides and mass flows in Fig.. Geol. Pratson. Dillon. U.B. M. Martel. N.A. 1991. 1996.J. a range of extensional failure-plane directions becomes possible when pore pressure is greater than that necessary to cause M–C failure. J. D. E.J. 593 pp. 1967. 1979.. Wiley. If the pore pressure is high enough... IBM Research Report RC.V. as assumed in 1-D infinite-slope analysis. Methuen. 3). but at a lower angle than the slope surface. J.G. If the compressive stresses in this part of the slope are great enough to initiate failure. G. Orange and Breen. Geotechnol. Regional slope stability and slope-failure mechanics from the two-dimensional state of stress in an infinite slope: mathematical formulation. 1999. and to C. Mar.. J.P.. This implies that previous investigations of regional submarine slope stability that have used 1-D infiniteslope analysis (Prior and Suhayda. J. Parsons..-U. Peck. all the extensionalplane directions are oriented downslope at a steeper angle than the sea floor. Pratson (ONR Grant No. This pore pressure can be less than that needed to cause failure along a plane that parallels the slope surface. Field. Kravitz for supporting this work as part of STRATAFORM. Gardner. Eng.V. 97. 425 pp. 6. T. Englewood Cliffs. L. . Prentice-Hall. Soil Mechanics in Engineering Practice.J. Parker. Mello. (Eds. slope failure. J. Parker. Coulomb failure along any of these planes will be abetted by gravity. R. Delinger and Iverson. Lambe. 7C). 2C. H. 1992) may have overestimated the pore pressures that could cause slope failure. and vents. Thus.. W. D.C. Orange.S.. Suhayda.. References Delinger. 1998. Special thanks are extended to J. Acknowledgements This study was made possible by funding from the Office of Naval Research for L. Rev.. Submarine Landslides: Selected Studies in the U. 1979.. In: Schwab.S. Mississippi Delta.W. Israel. Schwartz. 34. Twichell. M. New York. Exclusive Economic Zone.A. 1992. S. Geophys.

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