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Computers and Geotechnics 34 (2007) 127–136

Finite element analysis of slope stability using a nonlinear

failure criterion
X. Li *

Instituto Mexicano de Tecnologia del Agua, Paseo Cuauhnahuac 8532, Jiutepec, Morelos 62550, Mexico

Received 22 June 2006; received in revised form 22 November 2006; accepted 28 November 2006
Available online 22 January 2007


Nonlinear shear strength criteria of power-law type are implemented in a finite element slope stability analysis. Numerical solutions in
which failure mechanisms can also be estimated are favorably compared to those obtained using limit analysis and limit equilibrium
approach. Emphasis is made on the definition of two different stability numbers. One has been employed by some authors in the context
of rock slopes and the other is commonly used in soil mechanics. Depending on how the factors of safety are defined, the stability num-
bers computed using the two definitions may be different, and so the design charts prepared in each approach should be assessed with
caution. Earthquake effects are also analyzed by pseudo-static considerations. Stability numbers for different seismic coefficients are com-
puted and compared with other existing solutions. If Newmark’s displacement approach is used, calculation of earthquake induced
deformations is highly sensitive to stability analyses and thus to the assumption on failure mechanisms, and so a finite element analysis
provides advantages over other methods because no failure mechanism has to be assumed a priori.
 2006 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Keywords: Slopes; Stability; Plasticity; Shear Strength; Nonlinearity; Earthquake

1. Introduction posed a power-law relation for nonlinear strength criterion,

which has been widely used in subsequent nonlinear slope
The mechanical behavior of soils and rocks is nonlinear. stability analyses. At the same time, Zhang and Chen [24]
It is well recognized that stress–strain relations do not presented an effective numerical procedure for solving
remain linear, even for low stress levels. It is also known plane-strain stability problems of homogeneous slopes with
that strength parameters of both geomaterials depend on the power-law relation. The upper bound limit analysis
stress levels. Particularly, the linear failure criterion has technique is followed, considering perfectly plastic solids
been shown not to be a good approximation to describe with the associative flow rule. Drescher and Christopoulos
the failure mechanism of rock masses. Hoek and Brown [6] proposed a simpler alternative using the previously cal-
[11] developed an empirical failure criterion relating the culated linear stability numbers and obtaining solutions by
major and minor principal stresses. This criterion is the means of a series of linear failure surfaces that are tangent
generalization of Griffith’s classical model to describe to and exceed the actual nonlinear failure surface. Collin
the development of cracks in brittle materials. These et al. [3] presented a similar technique to evaluate the sta-
authors proposed a revised version of the original model bility of slopes for the material model proposed by Hoek
for heavily jointed rock masses (see [22]). Ucar [19] demon- and Brown [11]. Recently, Yang and Yin [21] and Yang
strated that the Hoek–Brown relation could be cast in the et al. [22] developed a ‘‘generalized tangential’’ technique
form of a power-law relation. Zhang and Chen [24] pro- that employs the tangential line of the nonlinear failure
curve but avoids the use of previously calculated linear sta-
Tel.: +527773293600; fax: +527773220492. bility solutions. The power-law relation and Brown and
E-mail address: Hoek criterion were considered in their analyses.

0266-352X/$ - see front matter  2006 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
128 X. Li / Computers and Geotechnics 34 (2007) 127–136

All these stability analyses with nonlinear failure criteria the pseudo-static method and Newmark’s displacement
have been conducted using limit equilibrium methods or approach is commonly made to determine earthquake-
limit analyses; although, the finite element (FE) method induced permanent displacements. The advantage of the
has shown to be effective in other slope stability analyses. FE method is shown as it provides critical seismic coeffi-
In their early work, Matsui and San [15] developed a shear cients without assuming a priori failure surfaces.
strength reduction technique. The principle behind the men-
tioned technique is to reduce the cohesion and friction angle 2. Analysis procedure
until failure occurs. They used hyperbolic stress–strain non-
linear elastic relations [7] to describe the dependence of soil A routine finite element procedure is followed in the pres-
behavior on shear strength parameters. Factors of safety ent analysis. Although the analysis can be carried out in
are obtained when a well-defined shear failure zone is slopes with heterogeneous mass and complex geometry,
developed, in which the shear strains exceed 15%. Ugai only a uniform two-dimensional slope is considered here.
and Leshchinsky [20] reported a numerical comparison of If the slope is defined by height H, unit weight c0, horizontal
predictions using a rigorous three-dimensional limit equilib- seismic coefficient kx and vertical seismic coefficient kz, the
rium analysis and the FE method. Good agreement was two-dimensional governing equilibrium equation is given by
found between both solutions when slopes were vertical cuts
with constant cohesion and friction angle, and when a orxx orxz
þ ¼ k x c0 ; ð1aÞ
pseudo-static seismic force component was included. Grif- ox oz
fiths and his collaborators [9,13,10] reported a series of orxz orzz
þ ¼ ðk z þ 1Þc0 ; ð1bÞ
studies of FE slope analyses. The FE analysis can be applied ox oz
to slopes with irregular slope inclination, inhomogeneous
rxx ; rxz and rzz are total stresses in the x–z plane. Both seis-
soils, arbitrary water flow pattern and external loadings.
mic coefficients may be positive or negative. These equa-
The most notable advantage of the FE slope stability anal-
tions can be reformulated so that
ysis over other methods relies on the fact that no failure
mechanisms have to be defined a priori, and so its use can orxx orxz
þ ¼ kc; ð2aÞ
be extended to a highly heterogeneous mass or even to ox oz
slopes with randomly distributed properties [10]. Recently, orxz orzz
þ ¼ c ð2bÞ
Yu et al. [23] analyzed three-dimensional slope stability of ox oz
rockfill dams using the FE technique. In this analysis, the with the seismic coefficient k
elasto-perfectly plastic constitutive model was applied to
the soil accepting the Mohr–Coulomb principle as yield kx
k¼ ð3Þ
function and the Drucker–Prager equation as plastic poten- 1 þ kz
tial function. The constant strength parameters are consid- and the modified unit weight c
ered for both functions. Global failure occurs when the
c ¼ ð1 þ k z Þc0 ; ð4Þ
finite element calculation diverges under certain conver-
gence criteria. Although the solution algorithm for the elas- kx is positive when the horizontal seismic force is directed
toplastic problem has not been mentioned, these authors towards the slope face and kz is positive when the vertical
compared their numerical results with analytical solutions seismic force takes the same direction as the gravity accel-
and some benchmark answers for various stability prob- eration. The reformulation of the governing equations
lems, reporting excellent agreement. make it possible to group earthquake effects occurring in
In the present paper, the finite element stability analysis two directions into only one coefficient k and one modified
of materials with power-law strength relation is described. unit weight c so the design charts computed uniquely for
The viscoplastic algorithm is used in the elastoplasticity horizontal seismic inputs can also be used to include verti-
analysis. Homogenous slopes of single inclination are ana- cal earthquake effects. If the critical seismic coefficient kcr is
lyzed. The numerical solution is compared with that previ- determined using this reformulation procedure, the critical
ously obtained by other authors, showing that the finite seismic coefficient on the horizontal direction can be back-
element procedure can be used for stability analysis with calculated as kx,cr = kcr(1 + kz).
nonlinear strength criterion. One of the main outputs of In the FE stability slope analysis, the elastic–perfectly
the present study relies on the distinction between two ways plastic constitutive equation is used to represent the
to introduce factors of safety or stability numbers into the stress–strain behavior of materials. For the linear Mohr–
linear and nonlinear strength criteria. Solutions for both Coulomb (MC) criterion, the yield function is given by
definitions are considerably divergent, and so design charts f = q  qf where the shear stress q is defined by q =
prepared using different definitions should be used with (r1  r3)/2. r1 and r3 are major and minor principal
caution. Earthquake loadings are taken into account by stresses that are taken as positive when in tension. In this
considering pseudo-static assumptions. Numerical results paper, all stresses are considered effective, so no pore pres-
of stability numbers for different seismic coefficients are sure effect is included and the material may be dry or fully
compared with other existing solutions. A combination of drained. qf is the shear stress at failure that can be
X. Li / Computers and Geotechnics 34 (2007) 127–136 129

expressed in terms of friction angle / and cohesion c as safety can be found when the elastoplastic solution fails to
qf = p sin / + c cos /, p = (r1 + r3)/2. By the relation converge [9]. The criterion of non-convergence is set up by
between Mohr circle and MC envelope, qf can also be given two user-specified measures: maximum number of itera-
in terms of the shear strength s on the failure plane, i.e., tions and tolerance control. This latter is defined as ratio
qf = s sec / where the shear strength is in turn a function between the maximum value of absolute incremental dis-
of the normal stress on the failure plane r:s = s(r). Note placements between two subsequent iterations and the
that the stress r in compression is positive. This last func- maximum value of absolute displacements at the last itera-
tion can be either linear or nonlinear. A specific expression tion [18].
will be given in the next section with reference to a nonlin-
ear function. Based on these considerations, the yield func- 3. Stability numbers for the power-law relation
tion f is preferably given by f = q  s sec /t for a general
MC criterion, where /t is the tangential value of the fric- Various strength functions have been proposed to repre-
tion angle that can be computed from tan/t = os/or. It sent nonlinear shear strength in soils and rocks. For soils,
can be also shown that a relation holds between the confin- semi-logarithmic and power-law functions have been used
ing stress p and the normal stress r, p  r = s tan /t, which [1,7,12]. For rocks, it is common to use the following
is useful to compute r from p. On the other hand, the plas- power-law relation:
tic potential function g is defined as g = q  p sin w where w  n
is the dilation angle. s ¼ s0 þ1 ; ð5Þ
The static equilibrium equation along with elastoplastic
constitutive relations is nonlinear and so its solution should where s0 is the unconfined shear strength and r0 is the
be obtained using iterative algorithms. The viscoplastic tensile strength. This equation can be extended for soils
(VP) method is one of early approaches to deal with plas- only when the linear shear strength is considered with
ticity problems [25] and has been shown to be useful to cal- n = 1. In this case, the ratio s0/r0 can be seen as a gener-
culate collapse loading for plastic materials in geotechnical alized coefficient of internal friction. The strength param-
problems such as bearing capacity, earth pressure and eters s0 and r0 have to be positive and should never be
slope stability. In spite of its limitations to model complex zero. The exponent n varies from 0.5 to 0.65 in typical
constitutive relations, the VP approach works well for sim- rock-like materials. In this paper, attention will be fo-
ple elastoplastic models such as Tresca and Mohr–Cou- cused on rock slopes, and so Eq. (5) will be considered.
lomb, as pointed out by Potts [17]. The implementation In Fig. 1, strength curves given by Eq. (5) are illustrated
of the VP algorithm has been detailed in many works with mark s for n = 1 and n = 0.5. For both cases, it is
[17,18,25]. Cormeau [4] derived the time step Dt necessary noted that s/s0 = 0 when r/r0 = 1; if r/r0 = 0, s/s0 = 1
to guarantee the numerical stability for the MC model, is always given. For smaller n values or an equivalently
Dt = 4(1 + m)(1  2m)/E/(1  2m + sin2 /) where E and m higher degree of the nonlinearity of the curves, the values
are modulus of elasticity and Poisson’s ratio, respectively. of s/s0 become larger at lower levels of r/r0 and smaller
/ is a constant value of the friction angle. For the analysis at higher r/r0 levels.
of nonlinear MC envelope, the tangential value of friction The FE stability analysis needs to introduce factors of
angles should be used, which varies during the solution safety into the strength law. The factor of safety is denoted
procedure, so the above time step is replaced Dt = by F1 with a subindex 1 and is referred to as the first-type
2(1 + m)(1  2m)/E/(1  m), which is valid for full range of factor of safety. This is because the other factor of safety,
/ including the maximum possible / value that is equal called the second-type, will be defined later. The shear
to p/2. In order to search for minimum factors of safety, strength expressed in Eq. (5) is factorized as
first it is necessary to introduce the factors of safety into  n
s0 rF 1
the nonlinear shear strength to obtain a factorized strength sF;1 ¼ þ1 ; ð6Þ
F 1 r0
sF = sF(r) from which the factorized yield function fF is
derived leading to the form fF = q  sF sec /tF, where the where sF,1 is the factorized shear strength for F1. In
tangential value of the factorized friction angle is computed Fig. 1, Eq. (6) is plotted for n = 1 and n = 0.5 considering
from tan /tF = osF/or. The nonlinear equation p  r = a value of 1.5 for F1. The curves are marked with sF,1.
sF tan /tF can be used to determine r. The solution for this For n = 1, the sF,1 line and the s line are parallel; sF,1
nonlinear equation is obtained using the Newton–Raphson is always smaller than s. The starting point of the first
procedure, assuming an initial guess of r = p. Only a few one is shifted from r/r0 = 1 to r/r0 = 1/F1 = 1/1.5.
iterations are needed to lead the convergent solution. Once For the nonlinear case, the starting point of the sF,1 curve
the value of r is given, the tangential friction angle and the is also located at r/r0 = 1/F1. At low values of r/r0, the
factorized shear strength are estimated, and thus the factor- sF,1 curve and the s curve are parallel, although this par-
ized yield function is determined. If the mentioned function allelism will disappear with high values of r/r0. The
is greater than zero, a plastic strain occurs and the plastic graphical representation of these curves makes a clear dis-
potential is computed using the non-associativity condition tinction between the original strength function and the
w = /tF. Using the factorized yield function, the factors of factorized one. The advantage of this representation will
130 X. Li / Computers and Geotechnics 34 (2007) 127–136

3 procedure used by them is the same limit analysis with only

a minor difference in numerical algorithms. The mass
herein analyzed consists of a uniform slope founded on a
foundation ground of the same material, as shown in
Fig. 2. Two meshes are used. For the fine mesh, 20 · 10
and 40 · 20 grids are used to represent the slope mass

τF,2 and the foundation, respectively, resulting in a total of

600 elements. The coarse mesh is composed of 325 elements
with 15 · 10 and 15 · 7 grids for the slope and foundation,
1 respectively. The slope is at an angle b to the horizontal.
The FE analysis is conducted using quadrilateral elements
for the condition of plane strain. Eight nodes and four
Gauss points are used. The slope mass is bounded by a lat-
0 eral vertical boundary. If H is the height of the slope, the
8 top of the slope is measured 5H and the bottom of the
slope equals to 5H + H cot b. The slope foundation is
extended to 5H far from the slope toe. The thickness of
6 F1=F2=1.5 τ the slope foundation is equal to the slope height H.
τF,1 In previous studies, s0 and r0 have been treated as two
5 independent parameters. However, the present analysis
shows that they are not independent and their combination
4 τF,2

results in a ratio s0/r0 that affects the results. Following the

3 example of Zhang and Chen (ZC) in which s0 = 90 and
r0 = 247.3 have been considered, the ratio s0/r0 = 90/
2 247.3 = 0.36393 is used in the present analysis. In Table
1, the computed stability numbers for two meshes are pre-
sented together with the ZC results. Results obtained by
0 other authors are not included because of their similarity
-1 0 1 2 3 4 5
to those of Zhang and Zhen. For the cases analyzed, seven
values of the parameter n are taken into account from 1 to
Fig. 1. Mohr–Coulomb envelope and its factorized curves. 0.4 and four slopes are considered with inclination angles
of 90 to 45. The tolerance limit for the iterative solution
be more noticeable later on when the other factorized is set to be equal to 106. The maximum numbers of itera-
strength function will be provided. tions for the fine and coarse meshes are 5000 and 2000,
If the stability number is defined as Ns,1 = cHF1/s0, Eq. respectively. Results obtained from the fine mesh are ana-
(6) can be rewritten as lyzed first. For the slope b = 90 with n = 1.0, the present
 n analysis provides a stability number of 5.87 in comparison
sF;1 1 r s0
¼ N s;1 þ 1 ð7Þ with 5.51 published by Zhang and Chen. An overestima-
cH N s;1 cH r0
tion of 6.5% is obtained in the present study. For the slope
and the tangential friction angle /tF,1 is given by b = 90 with n = 0.4, the present analysis and the ZC study
 n1 report values of 7.80 and 7.95, respectively. The herein
ns0 r s0
tan /tF;1 ¼ N s;1 þ 1 : ð8Þ computed stability number is underestimated by 1.8%.
r0 cH r0
In Eqs. (7) and (8), the stresses sF,1 and r are normalized
with respect to cH because the governing equations will
be solved in the normalized stress space. Assuming that
the thickness of the slope foundation is large enough that
the slip surface is not restricted by the rigid base, it can a b
be seen from Eqs. (7) and (8) that the stability number is
a function of two independent material parameters s0/r0
and n as well as the slope inclination b. Therefore, the sta-
bility number can be expressed as follows, Ns,1 = Ns,1(s0/
r0, cot b, n).
To show the validity of the present approach, the exam- c d
ple used by Zhang and Chen [24] is chosen. This example
has also been studied by other authors [3,6,21]. The results Fig. 2. Failure patterns for two slopes with two n values: (a) cot b = 1, n =
obtained by these authors are similar because the analysis 0.5; (b) cot b = 0, n = 0.5; (c) cot b = 1, n = 1; (d) cot b = 0, n = 1.
X. Li / Computers and Geotechnics 34 (2007) 127–136 131

Table 1
Comparison of first-type stability numbers sF,1 computed by the present solution with the results of Zhang and Chen [24]
n b=90 b=75 b=60 b=45
1.0 5.51 5.87 5.83 7.48 7.75 7.71 10.39 10.64 10.54 16.20 16.46 16.12
0.833 5.13 5.34 5.32 6.77 6.95 6.91 8.95 9.07 8.99 12.55 12.68 12.52
0.714 4.89 5.09 5.07 6.33 6.47 6.44 8.13 8.20 8.16 10.82 10.86 10.76
0.625 4.73 4.90 4.89 6.04 6.14 6.12 7.61 7.67 7.62 9.70 9.79 9.69
0.556 4.60 4.76 4.75 5.82 5.91 5.89 7.24 7.29 7.25 9.10 9.09 9.00
0.5 4.52 4.65 4.64 5.66 5.73 5.72 6.97 7.00 6.98 8.78 8.58 8.51
0.4 4.35 4.48 4.46 5.40 5.46 5.44 6.54 6.56 6.54 7.95 7.80 7.72
ZC = solution given by Zhang and Chen [24].
F = present study using fine mesh.
C = present study using coarse mesh.

For the case with b = 60 and n = 0.4, both solutions are in one to distinguish different kinematically admissible failure
closest agreement. Taking this last case as reference, the mechanisms that are shown by the vector field of the slip-
present solution provides larger stability numbers with ping mass. For the studied slope with b = 45, the failure
increasing b and n values; in contrast, smaller values of mass moves in a rotational manner. When the vertical cut
the stability number are computed by the present analysis with b = 90 is of concern, the failure remains rotational
when b and n values decrease. However, the difference but the rotation radius is much larger. This observation is
between both solutions is within 6.5% for all the analyzed true for any value of n. When the parameter n is reduced
cases. When the coarse mesh is used, the results do not from 1 to 0.5, the failure mass spreads considerably into
change significantly with respect to the fine mesh. The sta- the inside of the slope and the failure mass is much larger
bility numbers obtained by using the coarse mesh are at than for the linear case with n = 1. In both cases, slipping
most 2% smaller than those computed by the fine mesh. surfaces pass by the slope toe. For the linear strength crite-
So both meshes will be used indistinctly for the studies pre- rion, however, the slipping surfaces have no intersection
sented in the following study cases. These results show that with the foundation; in contrast, failure surfaces in slopes
the FE solution can generate results that are in good agree- with the nonlinear criterion slightly penetrate into the foun-
ment with those obtained by the limit analysis. From Table dation ground. This observation is supported by the fact
1, the nonlinearity of the strength envelope is observed to that changes in the flexibility of the foundation do not affect
have a notable influence on the results. The stability num- the stability number of the slope with linear criterion but
ber increases with an increasing n value. From n = 0.4 to modifies that of the slope with nonlinear criterions.
n = 1 the increase on the stability number (from 4.48 to In the example above, a single value of s0/r0 is involved,
5.87) is 31% for the vertical cut with b = 90; the men- and so it is desirable to study the influence of the parameter
tioned increase (from 7.80 to 16.46) is as high as 111% s0 /r0 on the results. To compute new results, the fine FE
for a flat slope with b = 45. mesh is considered. In Fig. 3, the stability numbers for
One of the important outcomes that can be obtained the vertical cut are shown as a function of s0/r0 that varies
from the limit equilibrium methods or limit analysis is the from 0 to 1.2. Three n values are considered: 1, 0.5 and 0.4.
geometry of the failure surface of slopes. Due to its inherent When the tensile strength of the material is much larger
nature of continuum formulation, the FE analysis can pro- than its shear strength, s0/r0 approaches zero. Under this
vide merely a diffuse indication of the failure mechanism. condition, it is observed from Eqs. (7) and (8) that the fac-
Some improvements have been attempted to enhance the torized shear strength and tangential friction angle depend
capability of capture and visualization of failure mecha- only on the stability number, so the stability number is no
nisms by finite elements. Griffiths and Kidger [8] reported longer a function of the parameter n. The computation
a regridding approach together with the use of incremental undertaken in the present analysis provides a unique Ns,1
displacements. Based on the basic ideas behind the work of value of 3.90 for all n values. For a certain n value, the sta-
these authors, the vectors of incremental displacements cor- bility numbers increase as the value of s0/r0 increases. For
responding to the unconverged solutions are plotted in the case n = 0.5, the increase is almost linear for the ana-
Fig. 2. The pictures shown are only a zoomed window of lyzed range of s0/r0that runs from 0 to 1.2. Therefore,
the complete analysis domain. The incremental displace- one can obtain a linear fitting such that Ns,1 = 3.9 +
ments are the difference between the displacements gener- 1.9s0/r0. For the case n = 1, the variation of the stability
ated in the last iteration just prior to failure and those number with the s0/r0 value is not linear; for a larger
obtained in the penultimate iteration. Four of the cases s0/r0 value, the increase in the stability number is greater.
analyzed in Table 1 are shown. They correspond to b = The stability numbers also vary with n value; given larger
45 , 90 and n = 1, 0.5 with respective stability numbers s0/r0 values, the increase in the stability numbers with
included in Table 1. This visualization technique allows increasing n value is also greater. For example, for
132 X. Li / Computers and Geotechnics 34 (2007) 127–136

13 shear strengths into factorized values. This was done in

Eq. (6). For the linear case with n = 1, Eq. (6) leads to
12 the form sF,1 = (s0/r0)r + s0/F1. The shear strength is com-
posed of two parts. The first one is internal friction repre-
11 cotβ =0
sented by ratio s0/r0. For the linear case, s0/r0 is the
constant coefficient of internal friction. The other part of
10 the shear strength is the cohesion represented by s0. It is
observed that the factor of safety is only applied to the
cohesion part if Eq. (6) is used. Nevertheless, the way in
which the factor of safety is introduced is not that conven-
tionally employed. For the linear case, one can express the

other factorized shear strength as sF,2 = r(s0/F2r0) + s0/F2.

Subindex 2 refers to the second-type factor of safety. In this
definition, which is used in most stability analyses for soils,
n=0.5 the factor of safety is applied to both parts of the strength.
The nonlinear counterpart of this new defined factorized
shear strength is given by
5  n
n=0.4 s0 r
sF;2 ¼ þ1 : ð9Þ
F 2 r0
In Fig. 1, the second-type factorized shear strength is
3 shown together with the original shear strength (Eq.
0.0 0.2 0.4 0.6 0.8 1.0 1.2
(5)) and the first-type factorized one. The difference be-
tween the two factorized strengths sF,1 and sF,2 is clearly
Fig. 3. First-type stability numbers for different n values in vertical cuts as revealed in the s/s0 and r/r0 plane. The origins of the
a function of ratio s0/r0. three curves are different, and are defined by r/r0 =
1, 1/F1 and 1 for s, sF,1 and sF,2 curves, respec-
s0/r0 = 0.4, Ns,1 increases by 29% if n changes from 0.5 to tively. The slopes of the three curves also diverge. For
1; for s0/r0 = 1.0, the increase is almost 80%. the linear case with n = 1, the slopes are s0/r0, s0/r0
Early studies considering nonlinear strength envelopes and s0/F2r0 for s, sF,1 and sF,2 lines, respectively. The
pay little attention to the valid range of the parameter n. normal stress r/r0 may be tensile or compressive. For
Collecting data from different sources, Charles and Soares any n value, if the normal stress is in tension, the first-
[2] noticed that, in all of the cases, experimentally deter- type strength is less than the second-type. When the nor-
mined n values were in the range 0.5 6 n 6 1. Jiang et al. mal stress becomes compressive, the trend is reversed.
[12] showed that, mathematically, the legitimate n value Due to the difference between the two factorized
should be in the range indicated by Charles and Soares strengths, it is expected that the assessment of global sta-
[2]. However, in the example presented by Zhang and Chen bility of slopes using two definitions will provide different
[24] the rational value of stability number was computed results. If the second-type stability number is introduced
for the case with n = 0.4 assuming a single value of as Ns,2 = cHF2/s0, Eq. (9) becomes
0.36393 for ratio s0/r0. Similar results have also been  n
reported by other authors [6,3,21]. This conclusion appar- sF;2 1 r cH
¼ þ1 ð10Þ
ently contradicts that drawn by Jiang et al. [12]. To clarify cH N s;2 cH r0
this point, the Ns,1 curve corresponding to n = 0.4 is com-
and the tangential friction angle is computed as
puted for all ranges of s0/r0 as illustrated in Fig. 3. Mean-
ingful results can be obtained only until s0/r0 = 0.8. For a  n1
n cH r cH
larger s0/r0 value, like 1.0 or 1.2, the stable numerical solu- tan /tF;2 ¼ þ1 : ð11Þ
N s;2 r0 cH r0
tion cannot be obtained. This result shows that although
the stability numbers can be computed for a small s0/r0 It can be seen that the second-type stability number is a
value when n value is given by 0.4, the legitimate range function of three parameters: cH/r0, cot b and n, that is,
of n for the full s0/r0 range should continue to be Ns,2 = Ns,2(cH/r0, cot b,n). Note that for this study the slip
0.5 6 n 6 1 as indicated by Jiang et al. [12]. surface is not affected by the rigid base of the slope foun-
dation. Three parameters affect the calculation of both
4. Stability numbers using conventional definition for factor Ns,1 and Ns,2. Two of these parameters are cot b and n.
of safety The additional parameter is s0/r0 or cH/r0 for Ns,1 and
Ns,2 respectively. The first-type stability number Ns,1 de-
To compute the stability numbers, the factors of safety pends only on the ratio between the material properties
have been introduced into the strength law converting s0/r0 and is not affected by slope height. However, the
X. Li / Computers and Geotechnics 34 (2007) 127–136 133

second-type stability number Ns,2 is a function of the Given values of cot b and n for uniform slopes, the single
material parameter and slope height. relations Ns,1 vs. s0/r0 and Ns,2 vs. cH/r0 exist. In spite of
To verify the accuracy of the FE formulation of the these two separate dependences, one can correlate both sta-
slope stability using the second-type factor of safety, a bility numbers. To do so, the number Ns,2 as a function of
slope founded on a base of the same material is analyzed, cH/r0 is reformulated as a function of two parameters
which is similar to that studied earlier in the present study. cH/r0 and s0/r0; this last ratio can be in turn linked to
The coarse mesh is used. If the linear strength envelope is the number Ns,1. Therefore, both numbers can be drawn
considered, the numerical results can be compared with in a single figure. In Fig. 5, results computed for n = 1
the classical solutions that have been given by various limit value and a vertical cut are depicted. cH/r0 value varies
equilibrium methods and limit analyses. Two slope inclina- from 0 to 14 and four values of s0/r0 are taken as 0.1,
tions are considered, cot b = 0 and 1. The variation of the 0.4, 0.8 and 1.2. For a certain s0/r0 value, Ns,2 varies for
stability number on the cH/r0 values is evaluated, as shown the whole range of cH/r0, while a unique number Ns,1 is
in Fig. 4. The present solution is compared with that given. This unique value of Ns,1 in each case is equal to
obtained by the limit analysis of Michalowski [16]. In the cH/s0 value and is independent from s0/r0 values. In fact,
same figure, the classical results are included for compari- one can observe that the condition Ns,2 = Ns,1 is obtained
son purposes for four values of cH/r0, 0, 1, 2 and 10. when Ns,1 = cH/s0 or equivalently the factor of safety is
The comparison data are extracted from the graphics equal to one, i.e. F1 = F2 = 1. In other words, both num-
included in the work of Michalowski [16]. A very good bers are equal only when the condition F1 = F2 = 1 or
agreement is observed for both solutions. For example, cH/s0 = Ns,1 = Ns,2 is satisfied. When cH/s0 < Ns,1, it is
for the slope cot b = 0, the classical solution provides given that Ns,2 < Ns,1; if cH/s0 > Ns,1 it results that
3.83, 4.73, 5.5 and 9.85 for cH/r0 = 0, 1, 2 and 10, respec- Ns,2 > Ns,1. The difference of magnitudes between both sta-
tively, as compared with values of 3.89, 4.89, 5.74 and bility numbers is relevant for design practices. For the sta-
10.18 obtained by the present solution. The overestimation bility assessment of slopes, the stability number and thus
of the present solution over the limit analysis is 1.5%, 3.3%, the factor of safety are computed and then compared to
4.3% and 3.3%. For the slope cot b = 1, values of 5.52, 8, the allowable factors of safety. Most of these allowable fac-
9.95 and 22.13 for the classical solution are compared with tors of safety are based on back analyses of failed slopes. If
5.41, 8.03, 9.95 and 21.9 for four cH/r0 values. The varia- these failed slopes are studied by using the concept of, for
tion of the present solution over the classical one is as small example, the second-type factor of safety, the actual design
as 1.9%, 0.3%, 0% and 1.0%. requires the use of the same concept: otherwise, slope sta-
bility may be under- or overestimated.

24 13

22 12
n =1 τ0 /σ0=1.2
Michalowski (2002) cot β =0.
20 Present study is used to indicate Ns,1

18 10
τ0 /σ0 =0.8



τ0 /σ0 =0.4

cotβ =0 6

τ0 /σ0 =0.1


0 2 4 6 8 10 0 2 4 6 8 10 12 14
γH/σ0 γ H/τ0

Fig. 4. Comparison of second-type stability numbers and existing limit Fig. 5. First and second-type stability numbers for vertical cuts using
equilibrium solutions for two slopes using n = 1. n = 1.
134 X. Li / Computers and Geotechnics 34 (2007) 127–136

30 slope analyses by applying a pseudo-static loading which

is equivalent to the gravity force factorized by the seismic
cot β =1, n =1
coefficients. This simplified analysis provides good results
τ0 /σ0=1.0 if seismic coefficients are correctly assigned, but this type
24 of analysis is more relevant when used in combination with
is used to indicate Ns,1
Newmark’s double integration method to determine the
extent of earthquake-induced permanent displacements of
20 slopes. For these analyses, a critical seismic coefficient is
determined, which is associated with the case in which
the factor of safety is equal to one. Crespellani et al. [5],
however, show that the prediction of displacements is

14 cot β =1, n=0.5 highly sensitive to how accurately the critical seismic coef-
ficients are determined. The assumption about failure
mechanisms is shown to be mostly important. The example
cot β =0, n=1 used by these authors is illustrated here. A slope is given by
a height of 5 m, slope inclination of 50, constant cohesion
of 10 kPa, constant friction angle of 15, and unit weight of
cot β =0, n=0.5
20 kN/m3. Assuming plane and log-spiral failure mecha-
4 nisms, the critical seismic coefficients are 0.174 and 0.028,
respectively. The corresponding displacements for a certain
earthquake are 18.1 cm and 148.9 cm respectively. The dif-
0 ference between both solutions is 723% and is only due to
-2 0 2 4 6 8 10 12 14 16
γ H/τ0
the difference of the geometries of slipping surfaces. Since
the FE formulation does not make assumptions about fail-
Fig. 6. First and second-type stability numbers for different slopes and n ure mechanisms but obtains them as analysis results, its
values as a function of cH/s0 with s0/r0 = 1. estimation on the critical seismic coefficients and conse-
quently on the earthquake induced deformations is
The influence of the nonlinearity of the shear strength is expected to be more realistic than those provided by the
shown in Fig. 6 for two slopes cot b = 0 and 1. Two n val- limit equilibrium approach or limit analysis (see Fig. 7).
ues are considered n = 1,0.5 along with a fixed value of
s0/r0 = 1. For each case, the number Ns,2 is computed as
a variation with the parameter cH/s0 from 0 to 14. The cal-
culated Ns,1 numbers are also indicated. Ns,2 numbers 28

increase with increasing n value. For the vertical cut, the

Present analysis
increase (from 5.80 to 10.31) is 77% when n value runs from Lescchinsky & San (1994)
0.5 to 1.0. For the slope with cot b = 1, however, Ns,1 num- n =1
24 τ0 /σ0=1
ber for n = 1 is so extremely high that it cannot be drawn in
Fig. 6. On the other hand, for cH/s0 = 0, no influence of n 22
value is observed. When cH/s0 increases, Ns,2 number is
more considerably affected by n value. For cH/s0 = 6, the 20

increase of Ns,2 is (from 5.84 to 8.24) 41% for the vertical

cut and 58% (from 10.27 to 16.32) for the slope cot b = 1. 18 cot β =1, γ H / (σ0 Ns,2 ) =0.5

For cH/s0 = 14, the increase in Ns,2 is (from 7.53 to

11.72) 56% for the vertical cut and 97% (from 13.86 to
27.31) for the flat slope. The influence of the nonlinearity 14
of the shear strength may be more or less considerable
for one definition of the factor of safety than the other, 12
depending on the combination of various parameters. Once
again, the slope stability may be not correctly assessed by 10
cot β =0, γ H/(σ0 Ns,2 ) =1
not making distinction between both definitions.

5. Earthquake effects 6

Earthquake loading is one of important sources to the 0.00 0.05 0.10 0.15 0.20 0.25

instability of slopes and should be included in any analysis k

of slopes when these are found in seismic regions. Tradi- Fig. 7. Comparison of the second-type stability numbers and existing limit
tionally, the dynamic earthquake effects are included in equilibrium solutions for pseudo-static seismic loadings.
X. Li / Computers and Geotechnics 34 (2007) 127–136 135

As the determination of the critical seismic coefficients with k = 0.1 and 0.2 are taken into account. For the range
with the factor of safety equal one is equivalent to the esti- of data analyzed, the variation of Ns,2 with n values is
mation of factors of safety or the stability number for a cer- found almost in a linear fashion for the three loading cases.
tain seismic coefficient, calculation results of stability The expression Ns,2 = 5.3–8.1k + (5.5  5.1k)n may be a
numbers will be described. First, the second-type stability good approximation for this linear variation. Leshchinsky
numbers Ns,2 are computed and compared to those and San [14] noticed that the earthquake loading extends
obtained by Leshchinsky and San [14] who developed the sliding surfaces and a much larger slipping mass should
design charts for uniform slopes using a variational limit- be mobilized under the pseudo-static loadings. To visualize
ing equilibrium approach and assuming circular failure this effect, failure patterns are plotted in Fig. 9 for the cases
mechanism. The coarse mesh is used for this analysis. This n = 0.6 and k = 0,0.2. For the static case with k = 0 the
mesh is consistent with the assumption used by these slipping surface passes by the slope toe with minor interac-
authors in that the foundation is extended to a depth equal tion with the slope foundation. A circular slipping surface
to the slope height. Two slopes with cot b = 0 and 1 are is well defined and rotational failure can be observed.
analyzed along with parameter cH/(r0Ns,2) equal to 1 When the pseudo-static loading is considered with
and 0.5. The s0/r0 value is fixed for 1. The Ns,2 numbers k = 0.2, the slipping mass is extended at horizontal and
are shown as a function of the seismic coefficient k, which vertical directions as indicated by Leshchinsky and San
runs from 0 to 0.25. The present analysis offers good agree- [14]. Compared to the static case, the displacements vectors
ments between both solutions but the present solution pro- rotate upward under the pseudo static loading. This com-
vides a slight overestimation for stability numbers in plex failure pattern can be captured in a FE formulation
almost all of the cases. The overestimation is larger for ver- without a priori assumptions regarding slipping surfaces.
tical cuts than for flat slopes. This result is consistent with In spite of that the present FE analysis and the limit equi-
that illustrated by Fig. 4 in which slightly overestimated librium approach provide good agreement for uniform
stability numbers are computed for high cH/r0 values in slopes, a major discrepancy will be expected for cases in
vertical cuts. The overestimations are approximately 7% which the slope mass is non-uniform and the problem
for the vertical cuts and 3% for the slope cot b = 1. The boundary is complex. This is when the FE formulation
nonlinearity of the shear strength law also influences the offers advantages over traditional slope analyses.
computed stability numbers, which are shown in Fig. 8 as
a function of the parameter n. A slope with cot b = 1 is con- 6. Concluding remarks
sidered along with 0.5 for s0/r0 value and 0.2 for s0/cH
value. The static case with k = 0 and two seismic loadings A power-law relation for shear strength is used to
compute stability numbers for which tensile strength and
non-confined shear strength are taken into account. Two-
dimensional governing equations are reformulated such

cot β =1
τ0 / σ0 =0.5
10.0 τ0 /γ H =0.2










0.5 0.6 0.7 0.8 0.9 1.0

Fig. 8. Second-type stability numbers as a function of n values for Fig. 9. Failure patterns for static and pseudo-static loadings: (a) k = 0;
different seismic coefficients. (b) k = 0.2.
136 X. Li / Computers and Geotechnics 34 (2007) 127–136

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