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- Chapter 2/19 of Rock Engineering
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TECHNICAL NOTES

THE INFLUENCE OF PROGRESSIVE FAILURE ON THE CHOICE OF

THE METHOD OF STABILITY ANALYSIS

A. W. BISHOP*

Studies in the distribution of stress in and beneath slopes (Bishop, 1952; La Rochelle,

1960; Bishop, 1967; Duncan and Dunlop, 1969; Dunlop and Duncan, 1970), whether of excavations or embankments, indicate significant non-uniformity of shear stress and stress ratio.

These are the pre-requisites of progressive failure under undrained and drained conditions respectively, and pose the question of the relevance of conventional methods of stability analysis

under these circumstances.

The problem has been discussed by Taylor (1948), Terzaghi and Peck (1948), Haefeli

(1951), Turnbull and Hvorslev (1967), Peck (1967) and Rowe (1969). It has been pointed out

by Bishop (1967) that the magnitude of the possible error involved is directly related to the

brittleness of the soil (Fig. 1) defined by the parameter I, where

I,=-

71-7,

Tf

The value of this parameter is strongly influenced by stress level, and in anisotropic soils

depends also on the orientation of the principal stresses.

By itself the value of I, given by equation (1) denotes only the difference which would be

obtained in the factor of safety by making the assumption that the whole of the rupture surface had reached the residual state at the moment at which failure eventually took place, in

place of the conventional assumption that the peak strength operated over the whole of the

surface. For a soil, whose shear strength parameters expressed in terms of effective stress are

not significantly dependent on time, there is no a priori reason why the last point on the surface to reach failure should be other than at the peak value, although other points on the surface may have moved towards the residual state by amounts controlled by their post-peak

strains, at the time of overall failure of the soil mass (as suggested, for example, by Terzaghi

and Peck, 1948, p. 91). While this is true in a general sense it raises two important questions.

(a) How is the point of failure defined for a slope consisting of a work-softening material?

(b) What is the role of the undrained changes in pore pressure resulting from movement

when the point in incipient failure is reached in soils of low permeability?

Consider a clay slope which is approaching failure under drained conditions due, for

example, to the re-establishment of steady state flow after the drop in pore water pressure

which results from the removal of load on the slope during excavation. The point of limiting

equilibrium will be reached when the fall-off in strength of these elements on a potential slip

surface which have passed the peak strength begins to exceed the increase in stress carried by

these elements that have not yet reached failure. As pointed out by Peck (1967) a detinitive answer to this problem would require a finite element solution for a work-softening

material.

However, the determination of this point is further complicated by the fact that the

strength changes consequent on any small displacement around a potential failure surface in a

soil of low permeability could be considered either on a drained or an undrained basis. If, as

proposed by Bjerrum and Kenney (1967) for quick clays, the collapse of the structural arrangement of the particles produces high enough pore pressures to offset the pre-peak increase in

frictional strength with strain, then under certain stress conditions the final stage of the failure

* Department of Civil Engineering, Imperial College of Science and Technology, London.

1 Since strains in clay are significantly time-dependent under drained conditions at constant effective

stress (Bishop and Lovenbury, 1969) the point of limiting equilibrium will itself be time-dependent.

TECHNICAL

Fig. 1.

Characteristics

NOTES

169

of brittle soil

will be undrained. In the example of the Furre landslide quoted by Bjerrum and Kenney

(1967), the average stress at failure was less than the drained peak or the drained residual

strength (assuming the value of residual strength to be similar to that of other Norwegian clays

quoted by Kenney, 1967).

On the other hand, if the undrained strength is at all stages likely to be higher than the

drained strength, the point of limiting equilibrium will be reached under drained conditions.

This is typically the case for slopes of overconsolidated clay. The post-peak displacements

are typically associated with a migration of water to the slip surface (e.g. Henkel, 1956)

indicating a tendency for displacement to be associated with a temporary decrease in pore

pressure. Therefore at the point of limiting equilibrium for a first time failure of a previously

intact slope, it follows that on some part of the slip surface the peak drained strength will be

mobilized while the post-peak and pre-peak strengths will be operative over the remainder of

the slip surface.

A small further displacement, which will be associated with a decrease in overall shearing

resistance (and if rapid with a small departure from the fully drained condition), will be suffi

cient to bring the whole surface into the peak and post-peak state. Complete failure will then

have occurred and the strength at all points will lie between the two limits of the peak and

residual states. The difference between the shearing resistance in this state and in the state

of limiting equilibrium will depend on the stress-deformation characteristics of the soil and on

the geometry of the problem, but it appears likely to be small on the basis of an approximate

analysis by Conlon quoted by Peck (1967).

At this stage the shear strength mobilized may be represented as shown in Fig. 2 by a local

residual factor R, similar to that defined by Skempton (1964) but varying along the slip surface,

the value of R, denoting the proportional drop from the peak to the residual strength (Fig.

2(b)) at any point along the surface.

Fig. 2.

Variation

surface

170

TECHNICAL

NOTES

u,::lb/q.

Fig. 3.

Shear

strength

In.

parameters

The distribution of R, values along the rupture surface and the range of values likely to be

encountered in practice are at this stage mainly speculative. Although at least some part of

the surface must be at an RI value of zero (i.e. it is just passing the peak of the stress-strain

curve), it is less certain whether any other part will have reached the residual state.

Tests on undisturbed samples of London clay in the ring shear apparatus at Imperial

College of Science and Technology (Garga, 1970) suggest that, although the initia1 drop in

strength after the peak is rapid, relative displacements of the earth masses of the order of one

foot or more are required before the residual is approached.2 Although this displacement may

be less than one per cent of the length of a typical slip surface in a full-scale problem, it may rule

out model tests as a method of determining the distribution of R, values, as displacements of

this magnitude would be associated with too large a change in geometry.3

Before embarking on a direct analytical attack on the problem, a few intuitively chosen

R, distributions are examined as a guide to the practical relevance of this approach.

Arguments may be advanced (Bishop, 1967) for postulating that under drained conditions

progressive failure advances from both ends of the rupture surface inwards. Field observations with an inclinometer installation (de Beer, 1967,1969) suggest that rupture may progress

predominantly from the toe towards the top of the slope.4 These may be simplified to the

two R, distributions shown in Fig. Z(a).

The rapid initial drop in strength with relative displacement across the rupture surface

suggests that the R, values will fall off rapidly on moving into the post-peak zone. Two cases

have been examined

(a) peak strength at th e upper end of the slip surface (strictly this should be at the base

of the tension crack zone)

(b) peak strength at the mid-point of the arc.

To make the example realistic, the slope dimensions and geometry of the rupture surface of

the Northolt slip analysed by Skempton (1964) have been used, and approximate to Fig. 2(a).

The slope is 23: 1,the height is 33 ft. The peak strength values quoted by Skempton have been

- 2 Tests on thinner specimens (La Gatta, 1970) suggest that the stress displacement relationship is not

entirely independent of sample thickness. Extrapolation to full-scale analysismust, at this stage, be tentative.

3 Rowe (1969) expressed an opinion on scale effects that is consistent with the view that model tests

could not be used to infer the extent of progressive failure in full-scale structures in sand.

4 The approximate analysis of a slope in Lake Agassiz clay by Conlon (quoted by Peck, 1967) leads to

the suggestion that in this case the upper portion of the failure surface had passed into the residual state,

while the central zone where the normal stress was highest was considered to be at the peak value.

The

shearing resistance of the lower portion was based on compatibility of shear deformations and corresponded

to values lower than the peak.

TECHNICAL

171

NOTES

used, although the field peak value is likely to be a little lower due to the effect of sample size

The residual strength values are those recently

on the drained strength of fissured materials.

obtained with the ring shear apparatus at Imperial College of Science and Technology (Fig. 3).

For the initial calculation the straight line residual plot has been used as this permits the

use of straight lines for the plots of constant R, value against ui. The values of F can be

corrected after V, has been calculated for each slice used in the analysis, the method of analysis

being that described by Bishop (1955).

A factor of safety of 1-O was taken by Skempton (1964) to correspond to the values c=

140 lb/sq. ft and += 18. Using these values and the same failure surface the average value

of the pore pressure parameter Y, has been calculated as 0.34. With this value of ru and R,

distributions corresponding to cases (a) and (b) the factor of safety has been recalculated for

the same surface.

For the two R, distributions which reflect the rapid fall-off in post-peak strength obtained

in the ring shear test and the full range in mobilized strength from the peak to the residual

the uncorrected value of F obtained for case (a) is O-61 and that for case (b) is O-73. A small

adjustment follows correction for the curved envelope, but this lies within the tolerance of the

initial R, assumptions.

These values of F lie below the anticipated value of 1-O but are in agreement with the

value obtained using the alternative hypothesis on the mechanism of failure of first time slides

put forward by Skempton (1969, 1970) who postulates the uniform mobilization of a fully

softened strength along the whole of the failure surface. On this basis the shear strength

parameters may be taken as c = 0 and 4 = 20 and the calculated value of F is found to be 0.72.

A similar result is obtained using the critical state strength parameters as recommended by

Schofield and Wroth (1968).

The underestimate of factor of safety in this case by the progressive failure hypothesis

suggests either that the assumed post-peak drop off curve was too pronounced (an alternative

curve was found which gave F = 1.0) or that the assumption that some point on the slip surface

had reached the residual strength when first time failure was initiated is not justified in this

particular example.

However, most cases in this stress range referred to by Skempton (1970)

lay close to the c=O, += 20 envelope, and for these cases the progressive failure hypothesis

with the residual strength as the limiting value would be in good agreement with the field

observations.

The good agreement in these latter cases is to some extent fortuitous, as the assumption

of a more rapid fall-off in post-peak strength away from the peak zone would lower the calculated factor of safety while a less rapid reduction would raise it. However, it serves to

establish the principle that a reasonable distribution of local residual factor R, can adequately

explain the published case records of first time slides in overconsolidated clay.

The implications of this principle are of considerable importance in the extrapolation from

experience with one clay type to another or from one stress range to another. The distribution of local residual factors around the slip surface at failure will be a function of the following

factors

(a) the relationship between post-peak drop off in strength and displacement

(b) the swelling characteristics

of the soil

conditions of stress change

(d) the value of the coefficient of earth pressure at rest before the formation of the slope

(e) the geometry and scale of the slope

cf) the long-term flow pattern of the ground water.

172

TECHNICAL

NOTES

A preliminary examination of some of these factors has been made by Bjerrum (1967) and

Christian and Whitman (1969).

It is unwise to generalize on the basis of slopes where the geometry, scale and soil properties

vary only over a limited range, until the relative importance of these variabIes has been established.

It should be noted that this hypothesis applies to clay slopes whether or not the clay is

fissured. The association of the problem of progressive failure with fissured clays may be

partly due to the fact that the brittleness index is much lower in other soils under drained

conditions.

It may also be that the fissures themselves are a consequence of the high brittleness index and swelling characteristics of clays and clay shales of high plasticity index.

The analysis based on progressive failure is of greater generality than the postulate of

uniform mobilization of a fully softened strength, ahhough its predictive vaIue will be no

larger until backed by analytical methods taking account of the factors outlined.

REFERENCES

BISHOP, A. W. (1952).

BISH;~P,A. W. (1955).

Ph.D. thesis, University of London.

The use of the slip circle in the stability analysis of slopes.

G&technique 5, No. 1,

. __.

BISHOP, A. W. (1967).

Progressive failure-with

special reference to the mechanism causing it. PYOC.

Geotech. Conf.., Oslo 2, 142-150.

BISHOP, A. W. & LOVENBURY, H. T. (1969).

Creep characteristics of two undisturbed clays.

Proc. 7th Int.

Conf. Soil Mech., Mexico 1, 29-37.

BJERRUM, L. (1967).

Progressive failure in slopes in overconsolidated plastic clay and clay shales. J. Soil

Mech. Fdns Div. Am. Sot. civ. Engrs 93, SM5, 3-49.

BJERRUM, L. & KENNEY, T. C. (1967).

Effect of structure on the shear behaviour of normally consolidated

quick clays.

PYOC.Geotech. Conf., Oslo 2, 19-27.

CHRISTIAN,J. T. &WHITMAN, R. V. (1969).

A one-dimensional model for progressive failure. Proc. 7th Int.

Conf. Soil Mech., Mexico 2, 541545.

DE BEER, E. (1967).

Discussion.

Proc. Geotech. Conf., Oslo 2, 184-186.

DE B;l~~~5,(1969).

Experimental data concerning clay slopes. Proc. 7th Int. Conf, Soil Mech., Mexico 2,

DUNCAN, J. M. 62 DUNLOP, P. (1969).

Slopes in stiff-fissured clays and shales. J. Soil Mech. Fdns Div. Am.

Sot. civ. Engrs 95, SM2, 467-492.

Development of failure around excavated slopes. J. Soil Mech.

DUNLOP, P. & DUNCAN, J. M. (1970).

Fdns Div. Am. Sot. civ. Engrs 96, SM2, 417-493.

GARGA, V. A. (1970).

Residual shear strength under large strains and the effect of sample size on the consolidation of fissured clay.

Ph.D. thesis, University of London.

HAEFELI, R. (1951).

Investigation and measurements of the shear strengths of saturated cohesive soils.

Gbotechnique 2, 186-208.

HENKEL, D. J. (1956).

Discussion on Earth movement affecting L. T. E. railway in deep cutting east of

Uxbridge.

Proc. Instn civ. Engrs 5, Part 2, 320-323.

KENNEY, T. C. (1967).

The influence of mineral composition on the residual strength of natural soils.

Proc. Geotech. Conf., Oslo 1, 123-129.

La GATTA, D. P. (1970).

Residual strength of clays and clay-shales by rotation shear tests.

Harvard Soil

Mechanics Series, No. 86. Report presented to U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Waterways Experiment

Station.

LA ROCHELLE, P. (1960).

The short-term stability of slopes in London clay.

Ph.D. thesis, University of

London.

PEC:o;14y;

(1967). Stability of natural slopes. J. Soil Mech. Fdns Div. Am. Sot. civ. Engrs 93, SM4,

ROWE, P. W. (1969).

Progressive failure and strength of a sand mass. PYOC. 7th Int. Conf. Soil Mech.,

Mexico 1, 341-349.

SCHOFIELD,A. N. & WROTH, C. P. (1968).

Critical state soi mechanics.

London : McGraw-Hill.

SKEMPTON, A. W. (1964).

Fourth Rankine Lecture: Long-term stability of clay slopes.

Gtotechnique 14,

No. 2, 77-102.

SKEMPTON,A. W. (1969).

Discussion in main session 5. Proc. 7th Int. Conf. Soil Mech., Mexico 3, 401-402.

SKEMPTON,A. W. (1970).

First-time slides in over-consolidated clays.

GCotechnique 20, No. 3, 320324.

TAYLOR, D. W. (1948). Fundamentals of soil mechanics.

New York: Wiley.

TERZAGHI, K. & PECK, R. B. (1948). Soil mechanics in engineering practice.

New York: Wiley.

TURNBULL, W. J. & HVORSLEV, M. J. (1967). Special problems in slope stability. J. Soil Me&. Fdns Div.

Am. Sot. civ. Engrs 93, SM4, 499-528.

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