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Proceedings of the XVI ECSMGE

Geotechnical Engineering for Infrastructure and Development


ISBN 978-0-7277-6067-8
The authors and ICE Publishing: All rights reserved, 2015
doi:10.1680/ecsmge.60678

Slope stability analysis for fill slopes using finite


element limit analysis

Analyse de stabilit des pentes pour remplir pentes en utilisant finis


lments limite analyse
K. Lim*1, A. Li1 , A. Lyamin2 and M. Cassidy3
1

Deakin University, Geelong, Australia


University of Newcastle, Newcastle, Australia
3
University of Western Australia, Crawley, Australia
*
Corresponding Author
2

ABSTRACT This paper investigates the stability of fill slopes often found in embankment cases where frictional fill materials are placed
on purely cohesive undrained clay with increasing strength. By using finite element upper and lower bound limit analysis for this investigation, the limit load can be truly bounded. It is known that two-dimensional analysis yields a more conservative result due to plain strain
condition when compared to three-dimensional analysis. Therefore, this paper will focus on three-dimensional (3D) slope stability analysis
and for comparison purposes two-dimensional analysis results will be employed. In fact, the final results are presented in the form of comprehensive chart solutions for the convenience of practicing engineers during preliminary slope design. The failure mechanism will also be
discussed in order to further illustrate the situation during failure. It should be highlighted that the failure mechanisms are obtained through
the numerical method itself and no prior assumptions are required, therefore, are more realistic and able to provide a better understanding
for the slope failure surfaces.
RSUM Ce document examine la stabilit des pentes souvent trouv en remblai cas o frictionnel matriaux de remplissage sont placs
sur un argile purement cohrent avec vigueur croissante. Aide par lments finis suprieur et infrieur li limite l'analyse de cette enqute,
la charge limite peut tre vritablement dlimite. Il est connu que analyse bidimensionnelle des rendements de plus conservateur grce
souche simple condition lorsque compar aux trois-analyse dimensionnelle. Par consquent, ce document se concentrera sur trois dimensions (3D) pente analyse de stabilit et des fins de comparaison analyse bidimensionnelle rsultats seront employes. En fait, les rsultats
finaux sont prsents sous la forme de comprhensives graphiques solutions pour la commodit des ingnieurs pendant pente prliminaire
design. La dfaillance du mcanisme seront galement abords, afin de mieux illustrer la situation lors de la dfaillance. Il convient de souligner que les mcanismes de dfaillance sont obtenus par la mthode numrique lui-mme et aucun avant hypothses sont requises, par
consquent, sont plus ralistes et capables de fournir une meilleure comprhension de la pente dfaillance du surface.
.

INTRODUCTION

For decades, many studies have been done to solve


the various geotechnical problems and challenges
ranging from slope stability (Li et al. 2010;
Michalowski 2010), trench stability (Fox 2004; Li et
al. 2014), bearing capacity (Saada et al. 2008; Kuo et
al. 2009) and many others. Slope stability analyses
have been an integral part of geotechnical engineering and therefore a number of methods were developed over the years. In fact, the most conventional
method used in slope stability analysis to date has

been the limit equilibrium method (LEM) which is


fairly simple and is based on the fundamental theorem of moment/force equilibrium. However, on the
other hand, it is well known that the use of the LEM
has its inherent limitations. The detailed discussion
of the LEM has been covered in the study by Duncan
(1996).
While many slope stability analyses have been
done in plain strain condition, it is significant to note
that physical boundary restrictions are an important
factor in the slope stability analyses which greatly influence the results. Such findings are supported and
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Geotechnical Engineering for Infrastructure and Development

shown in the studies by Cavounidis (1987) and Gens


et al. (1988). These authors show that slopes restricted by physical boundaries yielded a higher factor of
safety compared to the plain strain analysis. Based on
these findings, it is sufficient to say that using a plain
strain analysis on slopes where three-dimensional
conditions prevail will lead to over conservative results and hence unrealistic loading allowances.
The final results of this study will also be presented in the form of stability charts for the convenience
of practicing engineers during preliminary slope design. The use of stability charts can reduce time and
resources required, hence improving work efficiency.
While slope stability problems generally include
natural slopes, cut slopes or fill slopes (such as embankments, earth dams and levees), this paper investigated slope with frictional fill materials placed on
purely cohesive clay with increasing strength. This
type of slope is usually encountered in the construction of embankments in highway projects. In fact, for
comparison purposes, this paper has also incorporated the findings of plain strain analysis in addition
to those of three-dimensional analysis. The method
of analysis employed herein is the finite element limit analysis methods developed by Lyamin and Sloan
(2002b, 2002a) and Krabbenhoft et al. (2005). These
techniques superficially remove the limitations of the
LEM and limit analysis.
2

PREVIOUS STUDY

For the past decades within the context of slope stability analysis, methods such as the LEM, finite element method, limit theorem and others have been developed. While many of these methods have been
fine-tuned, the most popular method to date is still
the limit equilibrium method. This is due to the simplicity of the method which yield a factor of safety
based on the amount of available shear strength to resist the mobilized sliding shear stress. In addition,
this method can be further classified as satisfying
moment/force equilibrium or both (Bishop 1955;
Morgenstern & Price 1965; Spencer 1967; Janbu
1973).
Besides that, as mentioned previously, finite element method is another method that has been utilized
in slope stability analysis and has the capability to
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model stress and displacement. In fact, this method


has been utilized by Matsui and San (1992), Griffiths
and Lane (1999) and Manzari and Nour (2000). The
advantage of using this method is further portrayed
by Potts et al. (1997) and Troncone (2005) who investigated the delayed collapse of cut slope and effect of strain softening in progressive failure in their
respective studies.
On the other hand, within the framework of limit
theorem, researchers like Donald and Chen (1997),
Michalowski (2002) and Chen et al. (2003) have investigated different soil and rock slope stability problems. However, it should be noted that these studies
have all utilized only the upper bound limit theorem
and thus are less conservative compared to the lower
bound limit theorem solution.
In light of such limitations, Lyamin and Sloan
(2002b, 2002a) and Krabbenhoft et al. (2005) have
developed the finite element limit analysis methods
which can be applied on different geotechnical problems such as bearing capacity (Shiau et al. 2003;
Merifield et al. 2006), trench stability (Li et al. 2014)
as well as slope stability (Kim et al. 1999; Li et al.
2011). In fact, the finite element limit theorem has
the capability of analysis for both two-dimensional
and three-dimensional problems as stated by Sloan
(2013). Ever since, this finite element limit theorem
has been utilized by Yu et al. (1998), Loukidis et al.
(2003) and Li et al. (2009) and in their respective
studies of slope stability analysis albeit of different
type and nature of slopes. Thus these methods are also utilized herein.
3

PROBLEM DEFINITION

Figure 1 shows the typical slope geometry configuration for the problem presented in this paper. As this is
a fill slope of frictional fill materials placed on purely
cohesive undrained clay, the fill material will be regarded as Region 1 whose strength is defined by only
the friction angle, and the existing base soil will be
regarded as Region 2 and the strength is defined by
the following equation:
cu(z) = cu0 + z

(1)

Lim, Li, Lyamin and Cassidy

where cu0 is the undrained shear strength at the


slope base, is the rate of increase in the undrained
shear strength with depth and z is the depth from the
base of the slope. Hence, in this study of 0.25, 0.5,
0.75 and 1 are considered. For 3D numerical limit
analysis, a range of L/H is investigated.

For the numerical limit analysis modelling, the


mesh generation must follow two important guidelines, which are (1) The overall mesh dimensions are
adequate to contain the computed stress field (lower
bound) or velocity/plastic field (upper bound); and
(2) There is an adequate concentration of elements
within critical regions. The final element mesh arrangements (both upper and lower bound) were selected only after considerable refinements had been
made. The typical finite element meshes and boundary conditions of the upper and lower bound limit
analysis (2D and 3D) are shown in Figure 2 and Figure 3.

(a) Problem configuration for studied slope

(a) Upper bound

(b) Typical configuration for 3D slope geometry


Figure 1. Problem configuration and slope geometry

For three-dimensional illustration purposes, the


soil profile in Figure 1(a) has been extended in the xz plane by L/2 (L = Length) into the page as shown in
Figure 1(b). In fact, this extension of L/2 has also
been done to enable a symmetric 3D slope boundary
and thus reducing the elements and nodes. The
boundary conditions shown in the figure have been
applied in various previous studies (Li et al. 2009,
2010) and thus are used herein. It is to be noted that
for symmetric purposes, a boundary condition of =
0 has been assigned to the symmetric face.

(b) Lower bound


Figure 2. Typical two dimensional finite element meshes and
boundary conditions used in this study.

The final results are then presented in the form of


stability numbers as shown in Eq. (2) which is modi1599

Geotechnical Engineering for Infrastructure and Development

fied based on the stability number proposed by


Taylor (1937).
N = cu0/HF

(2)

where H is the slope height, is the unit weight


and F is the safety factor.

Table 1. 3D stability number for various , L/H and d/H.

0.25
0.5
0.75
1.0

d/H = 1.5
L/H = 2
0.076
0.072
0.069
0.067

N = cu0/HF (LB)
d/H = 2
L/H = 4
L/H = 2
0.115
0.078
0.108
0.073
0.103
0.069
0.098
0.067

L/H = 4
0.118
0.110
0.104
0.099

Table 2. 2D Stability number for various and d/H

0.25
0.5
0.75
1.0

d/H = 1.5
2D (UB)
0.137
0.128
0.120
0.114

N = cu0/HF
d/H = 2
2D (LB)
2D (UB)
0.142
0.145
0.132
0.131
0.123
0.122
0.117
0.114

2D (LB)
0.147
0.133
0.124
0.117

0.16
0.14

Figure 3. Typical three dimensional finite element mesh used in


this study.

Table 1 - 2 & Figure 4 are the results of this study


presented in the form of stability numbers, (N =
cu0/HF) for 2D and 3D analyses. The slope considered in this paper has a slope angle, = 30 with fill
material having a friction angle, = 35. The considered d/H is in the range of 1.5 - 2. It should be noted
that the true solutions (2D) are bracketed by the numerical limit analysis to within 3% or better. In addition to that, it can be observed that a decrease in the
stability numbers is observed when increases in
both the 3D and 2D solutions. This clearly shows that
as the strength of bottom relative to the top of Region
2 increases, the stability number drops which signifies a safer slope.
In addition, the 3D effects on slope are also distinctively shown here as it can clearly be observed
that the stability number increases when L/H ratio increases. In Table 1, for L/H = 2, the stability numbers
are seen to be constant when d/H increases from 1.5
to 2 while a slight increase is observed when L/H = 4.

N = cu0 /HF

RESULTS AND DISCUSSIONS

2D (LB)
2D (UB)
L/H = 4
L/H = 2

0.10
0.08
0.06
0.04
0.02
0.00

0.4

0.6

0.8

1.0

(a) d/H = 1.5.


0.16
0.14
0.12

N = cu0 /HF

0.12

2D (LB)
2D (UB)
L/H = 4
L/H = 2

0.10
0.08
0.06
0.04
0.02
0.00

0.4

0.6

0.8

1.0

(b) d/H = 2.
Figure 4. Stability numbers plotted against different

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Lim, Li, Lyamin and Cassidy

Table 3 shows the side by side comparison of 2D


analysis and 3D analysis (L/H = 2). It can clearly be
seen that the stability numbers obtained from the 2D
analysis are much larger than those from the 3D
analysis. This clearly shows that ignoring the 3D effects of slopes can result in a significant difference of
up to 70%. Hence, in other words with the consideration of 3D effects, more cost-effective designs can be
carried out. In fact, where 3D conditions prevail in
the slopes, 3D analysis allows for a more realistic
load allowance to be obtained. While more investigations are being done, it should be noted for discussion purposes, only lower bound solution are shown
here as it yields a more conservative result.

crest of slope compared to that from 2D analysis with


similar conditions shown in Figure 5(b).

(a) Failure mechanism for = 0.75 and d/H = 1.5

Table 3. Side by side comparison of 2D and 3D (L/H = 2) results


for d/H = 1.5 and 2.

0.25
0.5
0.75
1.0

d/H = 1.5
L/H = 2
0.076
0.072
0.069
0.067

N = cu0/HF (LB)
d/H = 2
2D
L/H = 2
0.142
0.078
0.132
0.073
0.123
0.069
0.117
0.067

2D
0.147
0.133
0.124
0.117

While failure mechanism can be a useful element


in slope stability analysis, it is well known that the
conventional LEM requires the failure surface to be
pre-assumed. Having said that, by using finite element upper and lower bound limit analysis methods,
the determination of failure surface is not required
prior to any safety factor calculation.
Figure 5 shows the plastic zones and velocities obtained in this study for = 0.75 and different d/H ratios. The plastic zones can be seen as the failure
mechanisms. It can be observed that the failure of the
slope can be regarded as base failure while movement in the fill material can also be seen. In addition,
a comparison between Figure 5(a) and (b) indicates
that the failure mechanism will not be always controlled by the ratio of d/H. As shown in Figure 5(b)
the failure surface does not touch the bottom rigid
base.
Figure 6 are the plastic points obtained from 3D
lower bound analysis for L/H = 4. It is shown that the
failure mechanism is influenced by the restricted
physical boundary. For instance, it can be seen that
the failure mechanism is shallower and closer to the

(b) Failure mechanism for = 0.75 and d/H = 2


Figure 5. Upper bound plastic zones and velocities

Figure 6. Failure mechanism for = 0.75, d/H = 2 and L/H = 4

CONCLUSION
This paper presented the slope stability assessment
for frictional fill materials placed on purely cohesive
soil with increasing strength by using finite element
limit analysis method. Then to further clarify the significance of 3D influence on slope stability assessment, both 2D and 3D analyses were performed.
From the comparisons, it can clearly be observed that
ignoring the 3D effects of slope can lead to a difference in stability evaluation of 70%. In other words, a
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Geotechnical Engineering for Infrastructure and Development

more cost effective design can be made when 3D


analyses are considered. Therefore, 2D analyses may
be too conservative and underestimate the factor of
safety. Finally, to produce more comprehensive slope
stability charts, more investigations are required in
the future.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENT
Kelvin Lim would like to thank his family members
for their support in completing this study and paper.
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