Influence of weathering and pre-existing large scale fractures on gravitational slope failure: insights from 3-D physical modelling
- Géosciences Azur, UMR 6526, Université de Nice Sophia-Antipolis, 250 rue Albert Einstein, Sophia-Antipolis, 06560 Valbonne, France
Abstract. Using a new 3-D physical modelling technique we investigated the initiation and evolution of large scale landslides in presence of pre-existing large scale fractures and taking into account the slope material weakening due to the alteration/weathering. The modelling technique is based on the specially developed properly scaled analogue materials, as well as on the original vertical accelerator device enabling increases in the "gravity acceleration" up to a factor 50. The weathering primarily affects the uppermost layers through the water circulation. We simulated the effect of this process by making models of two parts. The shallower one represents the zone subject to homogeneous weathering and is made of low strength material of compressive strength σl. The deeper (core) part of the model is stronger and simulates intact rocks. Deformation of such a model subjected to the gravity force occurred only in its upper (low strength) layer. In another set of experiments, low strength (σw) narrow planar zones sub-parallel to the slope surface (σw<σl) were introduced into the model's superficial low strength layer to simulate localized highly weathered zones. In this configuration landslides were initiated much easier (at lower "gravity force"), were shallower and had smaller horizontal size largely defined by the weak zone size. Pre-existing fractures were introduced into the model by cutting it along a given plan. They have proved to be of small influence on the slope stability, except when they were associated to highly weathered zones. In this latter case the fractures laterally limited the slides. Deep seated rockslides initiation is thus directly defined by the mechanical structure of the hillslope's uppermost levels and especially by the presence of the weak zones due to the weathering. The large scale fractures play a more passive role and can only influence the shape and the volume of the sliding units.