Landslide initiation in saprolite and colluvium in southern Brazil
Field and laboratory observations
Willy A. Lacerda
Civil Engineering Program, COPPE – Instituto Alberto Luiz Coimbra de Pós-Graduação e Pesquisa,
UFRJ – Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Received 25 September 2004; received in revised form 4 December 2005; accepted 23 March 2006
Available online 30 November 2006
The weathering of granitic and gneissic rocks in tropical regions can reach depths of more than 100 m. In southeast Brazil there
are situations where landslide initiation depends on the fluctuation of the groundwater level, on the impact of falling rocks and on
intense rainfall, causing superficial slides. The fluctuation of groundwater induces cyclical variations of the pore water pressure,
and consequently of the effective stresses. This variation causes cyclic expansion and contraction of the structure of the saprolitic
soil, weakening the imbrication of grains and loss of the cementation that may exist. This could be called a “fatigue” phenomenon.
The practical effect is the lowering of the Mohr shear strength envelope, and a sudden rupture of the soil at a lower groundwater
level than that which would be compatible with the intact soil strength properties, initiating a landslide.
Another situation arises during intense rains, when a rock slab or a rock block detaches from the uppermost parts of a slope.
This occurs where steep rock outcrops exhibit relief joints or where residual blocks of granite roll down the slope, impacting the
compressible, saturated colluvial soil overlying the saprolitic soil. The sudden increase of pore pressure can liquefy the soil. Finally,
another mechanism is that of the advance of a saturation front in a steep slope of unsaturated saprolitic soil, reaching a depth below
the root zone. The loss of the cohesion due to suction, without the beneficial contribution of the roots to the shearing strength,
causes a sudden slide. During extreme rain episodes literally hundreds of such superficial slides, reaching 1 to 3 m in depth, occur
in a given basin. The concentrated runoff that flows along the surface of the thalweg of the basin carries this soil in a muddy state,
and a debris flow ensues.
© 2006 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
Keywords: Landslides; Debris flow; Tropical soils; Saprolite; Colluvium
In Fig. 1 the southeastern coast of Brazil is shown. A
shaded portion lies between a massive mountain range
(The “Serra do Mar”) and the Atlantic Ocean, between
parallels 20 °S and 30 °S. The basal rock is part of the
coastal shield, and is composed mainly of gneiss and
granite, with intrusions of basic rocks (diabase dykes are
common). From the highest elevation of the mountains
(reaching little more than 2000 m in isolated peaks, with
an average of 800 m) down to the coastal plains, sapro-
litic and colluvial soils cover the rock mantle, until the
alluvial plains are reached. It is along these slopes that
landslide phenomena that affect engineering works are
Geomorphology 87 (2007) 104–119
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2. Soil nomenclature
Blight (1997) defines “residual soil” as the weathered
material of the “in situ” rock, and which did not suffer
transport since its formation. In Brazil it is common, in
geotechnical literature, to call saprolitic soil “residual
soil”, meaning that the igneous rock was decomposed “in
situ” (Barata, 1969). A further distinction is made for the
superficial part of the saprolitic soil, in general cemented
by iron and aluminum oxides. It is usually called in
Brazil “mature residual soil”, and the underlying sapro-
litic soil, with no cementation, is referred to as “young
residual soil”. Colluvial soil, being a superficial deposit,
is also subject to this oxide forming process, and may be
mistaken as “mature residual soil”. In this paper the term
saprolitic soil will be used meaning both young and
mature residual soil. The term colluvium, in the present
paper, refers to both practically intact soil material from
slides with little transport to completely remolded
material of large and sudden landslides.
3. Some characteristics of saprolitic and colluvial
soil in a tropical environment
Ab'Saber (2003) describes the main characteristics of
saprolitic and colluvial soils in Southeastern Brazil:
• Deep weathering of crystalline rocks (up to 100 m or
• generalized occurrence of red yellow podzolic soils,
or latossols, along the hill slopes, developed on col-
luvial and eluvial deposits and on the top of rounded
hills, and also on the saprolitic soil derived from
these crystalline rocks;
• superposition of colluvial deposits, due to the cli-
matic fluctuations of the Quaternary, often separated
by stone lines, burying paleo-thalwegs;
• presence of “sugar loaves” in areas where the tectonic
joint spacing is abnormally large, of the order of
hundreds of metres, and where the relief jointing
system is more frequent;
• rivers and springs fed perennially by the phreatic
• perched water tables along the humic layer of the
These facts are also reported by Fookes et al. (2000),
who, commenting on their geomorphological model for
hot wet climate, state that the depth of weathering can be
many tens of metres, controlled by the distribution of
discontinuities in the rock mass. Also, duricrusts are for-
med where groundwater concentrates soluble weathering
products (Thomas, 1994). Deeply weathered colluvial
soils are often difficult to distinguish fromin-situ weathe-
ring profiles. Laterites are hard subsurface deposit of
oxides of aluminumand iron found in tropical soils where
the water table fluctuates with seasonal changes in preci-
pitation. This process is called “laterization”, and when
Fig. 1. The “Serra do Mar” region in Brazil.
105 W.A. Lacerda / Geomorphology 87 (2007) 104–119
the laterite is not present, the soil is called “lateritic soil”
by some authors, and this includes both colluvial and
saprolitic soil. These definitions were discussed in the
Progress Report of the Committee on tropical soils of the
ISSMFE (Committee on tropical soils of the ISSMFE,
1985). Fig. 2 shows the formation of colluvium in a
4. Stress–strain behavior of saprolitic and colluvial
A feature that shows the distinct behavior of sapro-
litic and colluvial soils is their stress–strain curves in
triaxial tests, or stress–displacement curves in direct
shear tests, as shown in Fig. 3 (Lacerda and Silveira,
1992). It can be seen that the saprolitic gneissic soil (a)
exhibits peaks up to 600 kPa, whereas the shear stress of
colluvial soil (b) is strain hardening.
Both colluvial and saprolitic soils near the surface
can form cementation due to iron and aluminum oxide
formation. In this case, a true cohesion exists, and the
stress–strain behavior of both soils is similar. In Brazil
the geotechnical engineers use “mature residual soil”, or
“lateritic soil” for this condition. Sometimes lateritic
colluvial soil exhibits peak and dilatancy at low normal
stresses, under 100 kPa.
Sandroni and Maccarini (1981) discussed the in-
fluence of feldspar, quartz and mica on the strength
envelope of drained direct shear of saprolitic soils. For
amounts of mica above 30% there is a tendency for
lower shear strength envelopes, with effective friction
angles below 20°, while for low mica content and high
feldspar/quartz content friction angles are above 25°,
5. Mechanisms of instabilization
Several authors (Barata, 1969; Costa Nunes, 1969;
Wolle, 1985 and Lacerda, 1997, 1999, 2004) have dealt
with the causes of instabilization in tropical regions.
The main mechanisms of instabilization of saprolitic
and lateritic soils and rock slopes operative in the Serra
do Mar range can be summarized as follows:
• Rupture by cyclic pore pressure in saprolitic soils
• Loss of suction
• Debris flows
• Rupture induced by fall of rock slabs onto saturated
colluvial or residual soils
• Rock slides along relief joints
• Slide reactivation due to artesian aquifers
• “Injection” of water from deeply seated permeable
• Obstacles to ground water flow
The main mechanisms of reactivation of colluvium
slopes with a near surface ground water level are:
• Cuts made at the toe of the slope
• Loads (usually road embankments) imposed from
their middle section up
• Elevation of the ground water table
6. Rupture of saprolitic soil by cyclic pore pressure
The stress state of an element of soil in a slope has
two components: the total stress state and the pore water
pressure (positive or negative) acting on it. The positive
Fig. 2. Formation or colluvium under a rock outcrop (Fookes, 1997).
106 W.A. Lacerda / Geomorphology 87 (2007) 104–119
pore pressure variation is due to the variation in the
ground water level. In this case, the total stress remains
constant, for practical purposes. Failure can then occur if
the pore pressure is such that the effective Mohr strength
envelope is reached. This mechanism of failure of satu-
rated saprolitic soil with one cycle of pore pressure
increase was called to attention by Brand (1981).
Lacerda (1989) noted the fact that many saprolitic
slopes may fail during a rainy period of lesser intensity
than previous ones, which were withstood without
failure. The natural conclusion is that the soil element
had been subjected to a higher pore pressure in the
past than that which caused failure in the present. Since
pore water pressures fluctuate seasonally, it could well
be that the soil undergoes a weakening of the inter-
granular bonds due to this cyclic behavior, which is
generally below the critical level of pore pressures that
lead to failure. The basic assumption is that the cycling
of pore pressure below the one cycle failure pore
pressure value breaks the interlocking of the soil
particles, and it may fail with a lower failure envelope.
This phenomenon could be interpreted as a fatigue
That is to say that the pore pressure cycling up to a
maximum pore pressure that is less than that necessary
to fail the specimen in a triaxial stress path with mono-
tonic increase of pore pressure. This cycling induces
accumulated shear strains that help the breaking of the
bonding or interlocking responsible for “true” (saturat-
ed) effective cohesion, thus lowering the Mohr strength
envelope, until the soil fails with a smaller pore pres-
sure. The hypothesis that ϕ′ is constant during this
process is not unreasonable, and is adopted.
So, the soil may fail under an effective stress state
below the failure envelope determined by shear strength
tests of intact soil specimens. This proposal was inde-
pendently put forward by Eigenbrod et al. (1987) for
Fig. 4 shows the typical situation in gneissic–granitic
rocks, where the range of variation of piezometric level
in the lower aquifer of the saprolitic soil is shown. Fig. 5
shows the failure by a monotonic increase of pore
Fig. 3. Normalized shear stress vs. displacement of residual (left column) and colluvial soils (right column) (Lacerda and Silveira, 1992).
107 W.A. Lacerda / Geomorphology 87 (2007) 104–119
pressure, with the total stresses maintained constant;
Fig. 6 defines pore pressures u
is that corresponding to an equilibrium
friction angle, such as the residual effective friction
angle. Pore pressure u
is that necessary to fail the soil
by a monotonic increase in pore pressure, and u
the maximum value of the applied cyclic pore pres-
sure in the cyclic triaxial test. The ratio U
) gives an idea of the degree of intensity of pore
pressure cyclic loading. U
=1 means rupture in just one
It is difficult to obtain field data of pore pressures
prior to a failure, since the exact location of the rupture
is often unpredictable, but a simulation of this mech-
anism can be made in the laboratory. Drained triaxial
tests with cyclic pore pressure (CPP tests) were per-
formed (Fig. 7). Tests were carried out on undisturbed
samples of a saprolitic soil from the Soberbo Road Slide
in Rio de Janeiro. The tests were performed using the
following procedure: (i) saturation by back pressure;
(ii) consolidation under isotropic condition; (iii) increase
of deviator stress with controlled stress (anisotropic
Fig. 4. Typical variation of piezometric levels in residual soils from gneissic–granitic rocks (Lacerda, 1989).
Fig. 5. Rupture by monotonic increase in pore water pressure (Brand,
1981). Fig. 6. Definition of pore pressures u
108 W.A. Lacerda / Geomorphology 87 (2007) 104–119
consolidation) until a desired value of shear stress; (iv)
application of cyclic pore water pressure. During the
CPP tests, axial and volumetric deformations were
measured. Santos Jr. et al. (1997) describe the testing
procedures in detail.
Lacerda and Santos Jr. (2000) obtained yield surfaces
for this granitic saprolitic soil in a saturated condition
from drained isotropic compression tests, which con-
firmed tests by Lacerda and Silveira (1992) on the same
soil, and from tests with failure induced by increasing
the pore pressure while maintaining the shear stress
constant (Fig. 8).
The same yield surface was defined by both tests. The
curve of the yield or limit states (Fig. 8) has the ap-
proximate shape of an ellipse in a p–q diagram, as also
shown by Sandroni and Maccarini (1981) and Leroueil
Fig. 9 shows these results (Santos et al., 1997). For a
cyclic pore pressure ratio U
of 67% failure is reached
after 400 cycles (for U
=1 the soil fails in the first cycle).
This is a possible mechanism that helps to explain some
slope failures under low accumulated rainfall.
It is important to note that this “fatigue” behavior
applies only to stress states below the yield line. When
the soil is in a stress state above the yield region the
cementation bonds have already been broken, and the
soil behaves essentially as a granular material. At shal-
low depths the soil stress state is within the yield region.
These results indicate that this hypothesis seems to be
true for a saprolitic granitic soil involved in the large
historic landslide at Soberbo Road.
7. Loss of suction
Loss of suction is a major instabilization process, and
the resulting unstable mass has been the source material
for some of the severest debris flows, when it occurs in
Vegetation increases the shear strength of the super-
ficial soil, which will show a cohesion intercept due to
the root reinforcement. In slopes where the phreatic
level is low, these slopes are essentially stable. Never-
theless, infiltration of rain water brings this superficial
soil to a near saturated state.
If the saturation front reaches a depth situated below
the root zone the loss of apparent cohesion may cause
the slope to fail (Fig. 10). Wolle and Hachich (1989)
have shown this phenomenon as the cause of thousands
of landslides near the summit of the coastal range near
Cubatão, Sao Paulo, during periods of extremely heavy
rainfall. The accumulated debris from the landslides in
the flatland near the sea was the cause of the mud
Fig. 7. Cyclic pore pressure triaxial tests.
Fig. 8. Yield surface of granitic residual soil.
Fig. 9. U
vs. number of cycles to failure.
109 W.A. Lacerda / Geomorphology 87 (2007) 104–119
covering the city of Caraguatatuba, near Santos in 1967
8. Debris flows
When the rain intensity is higher than 70 mm/h, and it
happens after a period of extended rain (typically
200 mm of accumulated rain in the last 7 days) there is
the danger of tens or thousands of shallow landslides
initiating almost at the same time. Jones (1973), as well
as Barata (1969) and Costa Nunes (1969), describe the
extreme events of 1966 and 1967 in this region. Locally,
rainstorms can affect just a small region, and isolated
landslides initiate debris flows. Sometimes the trigger of
a debris flow is a shock wave, produced by impact
loading of rock or of a landslide that suddenly covers a
saturated colluvium (Sassa, 1985; Barros et al., 1989).
9. Rupture induced by fall of rock slabs onto saturated
A debris flow of moderate proportions caused by the
impact loading of fragments of a large granite–gneissic
rock slab is described by Barros et al. (1989), and
Lacerda (2004). They explain the triggering factor of the
debris flow as follows. A slab of appreciable dimensions
(thickness from 2 to 4 m, length of more than 10 m)
detached from a gneissic scarp of the Corcovado massif
due probably to cleft water pressures. The event took
place in 1988, after 18 days of almost continuous rain
(total of 840 mm), which were more than sufficient to
completely saturate the 5 m thick colluvium, composed
of more than 30% of rock blocks, some of which more
than 4 m in diameter, at a 20° inclination. Sometimes
geologists in Brazil use the term “talus/colluvium” to
distinguish this particular type of colluvium. This
amount of rain was divided in three distinct periods by
Santos Barros and Brandão (1992); the accumulated
rainfall in the last 3 days was 441 mm, with a peak
hourly rainfall of 56 mm/hr in February 22, the day of
the debris flow. The slab fell from elevation 525 m and
was broken on its first impact on the rock scarp just
below, at elevation 400 m; the resulting flying blocks
(with an energy that cut some high trees in half)
impacted the colluvium at elevation 280 m. Figs. 11
Fig. 10. Shallow slide due to loss of suction.
Fig. 11. The Santa Genoveva Nursing Home accident: cross section
(Barros et al., 1989).
110 W.A. Lacerda / Geomorphology 87 (2007) 104–119
and 12 show the section and the plan view of the site.
The colluvium liquefied, and ran until a break in the
declivity of the slope, in which there was a nursing
home, at elevation 180 m. Another debris slide occurred
in an almost parallel paleo thalweg, also saturated, and
which usually carried superficial water flows during
storms. The two debris flows joined exactly at the
nursing home, indicated by the black arrow, as can be
seen in Fig. 12. About 53 people were killed in this
accident alone. Figs. 13 and 14 show respectively the
final position of the debris of the landslide, on a break of
the slope, where the buildings were situated.
10. Rock slides along relief joints
The upper part of rock outcrops is sometimes steeply
inclined, and the relief joints are subjected to water
pressures due to rain infiltration. This can lead to the
detachment of individual blocks or slabs. When these
blocks fall on the scarp below, they may either initiate a
debris flow, as discussed in Section 7, or, if the region is
forested, and the soil below is not saturated, can accu-
mulate on top of saprolitic or colluvial masses (Fig. 15),
and become part of it. In tropical regions it is rare to
observe true talus deposits, which are more common in
dry, or temperate regions with little or no saprolitic soil
11. Slide reactivation due to artesian aquifers
Saprolitic soils in the saturated state are often sepa-
rated from the upper colluvial cover by a clayey soil,
which can be an old mature residual soil that was covered
by the colluvium, or a layer with a concentration of
elluviated, fine material from the more impermeable
colluvium. In this case, the aquifer of the saprolitic soil
can be confined, and semi-artesian or even artesian pore
pressures can develop in the lower stratum if the rate of
infiltration from higher elevations is high. The example
of a slide due to this cause is that of Urubu's Hill in the
city of Rio de Janeiro, which occurred on April 8, 1966.
Several previous slides had been reported by the
Fig. 12. The Santa Genoveva Nursing Home accident: plan view
(Barros et al., 1989).
Fig. 13. Aspect of the nursing home 1 day after the landslide (Photo by Ary Maciel).
111 W.A. Lacerda / Geomorphology 87 (2007) 104–119
residents of the densely occupied area. These slides
happened 30 years before, and it is logical to assume that
even when the area was uninhabited they may have also
occurred, but had been unnoticed. The slide involved the
subsidence of the upper part of the slope, forming a scarp
with 4.5 m, cutting a house in half. At the foot of the
slope the ground suffered a heave of 1 m, and the soil and
the walls of the houses at this region were cracked. All
residents had time to evacuate their houses, because the
slide was not sudden. This accident is reported by
Moreira (1974). Fig. 16 shows the plan of the site. Rotary
drill borings with Denison sampling, piezometers and 4
inclinometers were installed. Sounding S-54, at the side
of inclinometer I-4, showed that the subsoil consisted of
a colluvium/talus up to 17 m thick resting on a clayey
Fig. 14. Aspect of the region washed through by the landslide. Gneissic rock appears where a 5 m thick colluvium/talus existed. At right and far left,
note the intact colluvium (Photo by the Author in 1989).
Fig. 15. Large fallen rock block, with more than 10 m in maximum
dimension, in a forested slope (Tijuca forest, Rio de Janeiro). Photo by
the Author. Fig. 16. Urubu's Hill plan (adapted from Moreira, 1974).
112 W.A. Lacerda / Geomorphology 87 (2007) 104–119
laterized residual soil 4 m thick. Below this mature soil,
“young” residual soil, or saprolitic soil was encountered
until a depth of 42 m. From42 to 47 mthe rock, a biotite–
gneiss was very fractured, with schistosity inclined
20 degrees to the horizontal; from 47 to 50 m, where
sound gneiss was finally reached. In the colluvium,
weathered boulders of gneiss were encountered, one
with 4.2 m in diameter, another with 2.7 m, as shown in
cross section A–A′, Fig. 17. This profile is typical of
many colluvium deposits in southeastern Brazil.
From the Denison “undisturbed” samples, classifica-
tion, drained direct shear and isotropically consolidated
undrained triaxial tests were performed. These results
are shown in Tables 1 and 2. It can be noticed that the
saprolitic soil effective friction angle is similar to the
peak friction angle, despite the 40% amount of clay.
Lacerda and Fonseca (2003) have shown that this occurs
in lateritic soils, which behave as granular materials.
The base rock is migmatite gneiss, and the existence of a
quarry at the other side of the hill permitted the visual
inspection of the sound rock.
Stability analyses carried out with the piezometric
lines indicated in section A–A′ were performed. For a
Safety Factor of 1.0 the contact between the colluvium
and the clayey residual soil or the contact between the
clayey residual soil and the saprolitic soil had to be in a
residual shear strength condition with c′ equal to zero
equal to 30°. The inclinometric data showed a
movement occurring along the thickness of the clayey
soil, with no movement in the saprolitic soil. The collu-
vium moved as a block, accompanying the movement at
the contact with the intermediate, clayey layer.
Fig. 18 shows the 25-day accumulated rainfall for the
summer of 1966 (January to March). It can be seen that
the rupture occurred in a period in which the accu-
mulated rainfall was of the order of 350 mm, while a
maximum of almost 600 mm was registered in January.
It is postulated that during this time lag (the slide oc-
curred in April 8) the pore pressure of the artesian
aquifer reached a critical level. A similar situation was
also reported by Jiao and Malone (2000).
12. “Injection” of water fromdeeply seatedpermeable
Water recharge by means of concealed springs con-
nected to water bearing fractures in the underlying rock
can alter significantly the flow pattern in its neighbor-
hood, and a suitably located piezometer would show
Fig. 17. Cross section A–A′ showing failure surface and piezometric lines (adapted from Moreira, 1974).
Average from several classification tests in each layer (Moreira, 1974)
Depth (m) Soil Atterberg
PI Clay Silt Sand
8–16 Colluvium matrix 42 22 21 33 17 50
1–15 Decomposed boulders – – NP 13 11 72
17–18.4 Residual, clayey 58 34 24 40 25 35
22–38 Saprolitic 48 32 16 14 11 75
Shear strength tests (Moreira, 1974)
Soil Test c′ (kPa) ϕ′ c′
Colluvium DST*, drained 24 29 – –
Clayey residual soil CIU** 29 30 – –
Saprolitic soil CIU** 19 32 5 30
*DST – direct shear test; submerged; **CIU – isotropically
consolidated triaxial test, saturated.
113 W.A. Lacerda / Geomorphology 87 (2007) 104–119
artesianism. Local artesianism can initiate landslides in
upper colluvial layers, as the Author has seen in Brazil.
In order to simulate this situation Borges and
Lacerda (1986) made Finite Element analyses of a
slope with an initially low water table, and then
applied a source with a piezometric pressure just above
ground level, as Fig. 19a) and b) from Lacerda (1999),
shows. The arrow indicates the direction of flow. The
water level is significantly altered to a position close
to the slope surface. If a cut were made in this slope
in the dry season, it would eventually fail during the
wet season, and, even without a cut, the slope would
certainly show signs of instability. The observation of
some slides in natural slopes just after a very heavy
rainy period shows springs of water near the crown of
13. Obstacles to ground water flow
The remnants of the of Soberbo Road debris flow
in the city of Rio de Janeiro, in 1967, have been
extensively studied (Soares et al., 1988; Lacerda and
Schilling, 1992). The material deposited after the flow
constitutes a colluvium, which moves continuously (in
reality, intermittently, according to the elevation of the
ground water table). Fig. 20 shows a partial plan of
the slide. Section C–C1 along zones C, B and D is
shown in Fig. 21. The two upper branches of this
complex slide present a colluvial layer on top of the
residual soil. The thickness of the colluvium lies
between 6 and 10 m. The water table is close to the
surface, except at two zones, when it appears actually
at the surface. At these points impermeable diabase
Fig. 18. 25-day accumulated rainfall in the summer of 1966.
Fig. 19. Influence of a hidden spring on the flow pattern of a slope (Lacerda, 1999).
114 W.A. Lacerda / Geomorphology 87 (2007) 104–119
dikes were found while perforating long (80 m)
horizontal drains. The dykes are shown in Fig. 21,
which also show the position of piezometers,
inclinometers and superficial marks. The accumulated
movement of the superficial marks can be seen to
increase as the diabase dykes are approached, as the
arrows in Fig. 20 show. Two piezometers and a water
level indicator were installed at most of the soundings,
and they are shown as positions A, B and C. The
arrows in this figure indicate the direction of
movement of the flow lines. They are seen to bend
upwards near the diabase dikes. The position of the
Fig. 20. Map of the Soberbo Road slide (Lacerda and Schilling, 1992).
115 W.A. Lacerda / Geomorphology 87 (2007) 104–119
more impermeable dikes influences the flow lines.
Thus, artesian pressures can be observed just before
the dykes, as shown. In the Soberbo Road case
artesianism was indeed observed, the water level of
the deepest piezometer just at the upper contact with
the dyke rising more than 1 m above the ground
elevation. Of course, the ground was very wet, with
rivulets of water springing at the surface.
Fig. 21. Section along the Soberbo Road Landslide showing two families of diabase dykes (Lacerda, 1999).
Fig. 22. Displacements measured by inclinometers in the region between the diabase dykes (Lacerda and Avelar, 2003).
116 W.A. Lacerda / Geomorphology 87 (2007) 104–119
The local stability of the colluvium is decreased just
above the obstacle to flow which the diabase dykes
represent. Indeed, superficial horizontal movements
were larger at this location, as already discussed, and a
succession of cracks and the inclination and displace-
ment of small trees and inclinometers showed the signs
of this instability (Fig. 22).
In order to clarify the behavior of colluvial masses
under seepage obstructed by barriers, such as the dia-
base dikes, a flume was constructed (Avelar, 2003), and
tests performed with different inclinations of the box,
filled with clean sand, under different inclinations. The
sand used in the tests was a washed, fine beach sand
consisting predominantly of quartz grains. The grain
size was between 0.149 and 0.420 mm (passing # 40
sieve, retained in the # 100 sieve), and its specific
gravity was 2647. The friction angles varied from 32 to
35.5 degrees under a confining pressure of 25 kPa, in
saturated–drained triaxial tests, with void ratios between
0.75 and 0.85 (near the loose state). The permeability
varied between 2 and 3×10
cm/s for this range of
void ratios. The dry density was in the range between
14.2 and 15.4 kN/m
The dry sand was loosely placed with the help of
spades, with the box resting horizontally. After this
loose placing the wand was wetted with a water hose
under low pressure, and its surface was straightened out
with a steel ruler. The end result was a plane surface,
with a depth of sand of 15 cm. The barrier consisted of a
piece of wood with a height of 10 cm, firmly glued to the
bottom and sides of the box.
Fig. 23 shows the Flume set up (Lacerda and Avelar,
2003). Water reservoirs at the top and bottom of the box
are maintained with a constant water level, and
observations are made during the steady-state seepage
pattern established. Electric and standpipe piezometers
Fig. 23. Flume set up (Lacerda and Avelar, 2003).
Fig. 24. Sequence of elevation of the water level inside the flume
(Lacerda and Avelar, 2003).
Fig. 25. Slide of the soil mass above the barrier (dyke) (Lacerda and
117 W.A. Lacerda / Geomorphology 87 (2007) 104–119
monitored the advance of saturation. The displacement
of the sand mass was measured at surface and with
colored vertical dark-stained sand “piles”, simulating
The procedure was to raise the box to the desired angle
and then begin the process of water percolation, through a
hose connected to the upper reservoir, maintaining a
constant water level. The phreatic line rose slowly, and the
first readings of the piezometers were in those nearest the
barrier. Fig. 24 illustrates this sequence, together with the
observed displacement of the sand mass. Tests were run
with the inclination of the box varying from10° to 30°, in
5° intervals. For tests with box inclinations between 20°
and 30° there was a clear formation of the shear zone just
before the barrier. Fig. 24 shows the shear zone, seen in
detail in the photograph of Fig. 25. The barrier forces the
shear zone to curve upward, corroborating field evidence
of near circular slides at this location. The shear zone
expands as the movement progresses.
14. Conclusions and remarks
1) Slides in shallow residual soils are generally sudden,
due to their brittle stress–strain response, at lowstress
levels. Deep seated slides in saturated saprolitic soils
may not be sudden, because the stress strain behavior
at confining stresses larger than about 1000 kPa is
generally strain hardening.
2) Saturated colluvium deposits are common in tropical
areas. Their brittle behavior is limited to confining
stresses lower than 50 kPa. They present a strain
hardening stress–strain behavior, which means that they
slide progressively, subject to pore pressure variation.
3) Many processes can destabilize colluvium:
• Elevation of ground water level in perched aquifers;
• Cuts made at the toe of long colluvium slopes;
• Embankments or loads applied to their middle or top
• Impact of loads (rock falls or slides);
• Effect of impermeable dykes or formations at some
point along the slope.
4) Some slides may occur after the cessation of rainfall,
due to the delay in the recharge of deep artesian aquifers.
The PRONEX program (from the National Research
Council - CNPq) has provided funds for the flume tests.
The author acknowledges Mr. Luiz de França, for the
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