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Landslides and Engineered Slopes – Chen et al.

© 2008 Taylor & Francis Group, London, ISBN 978-0-415-41196-7

Analysis method for slope stability under rainfall action

Xiao-dong Chen, Hong-xian Guo & Er-xiang Song

Department of Civil Engineering, Tsinghua University, Beijing, China

ABSTRACT: The slope stability concerning rainfall and infiltration is analyzed. Specially, two kinds of
infiltration (saturated and unsaturated) are introduced, and two slope failure modes (shallow failure and existing
slip failure) due to rainfall are considered. The effects of the change of shear strength, density, pore-water
pressure and seepage force in soil slices on the slope stability are explained. Based on Mein-Larson infiltration
mode and the limited equilibrium method, a convenient and general analytical mode for the analysis of slope
stability under rainfall action is set up. A quick response analysis method for landslide prediction is proposed.
Finally, a quantitative case study concerning the time and depth of infiltration in relationship to the soil, the slip
surfaces in different depth to the slope surface is presented to show the rainfall influence on slope stability.

1 INTRODUCTION action. Thus they may not be suitable in practical

design and rapid forecast. In this article, based on the
Landslides are widespread hazard in China especially classification of saturated and unsaturated infiltration,
in many mountainous and hilly regions subject to different effects of positive and negative pore pres-
heavy rainfall (Sun, G.Z., 1998, Lü, X.P. & Hu, sure are considered. And a general analysis method
H.T., 1993, Zhong, L.X., 1999, Li, Y. et al 2004). is set up based on the Mein-Larson mode modified
A lot of work has been done about rainfall induced by measured data and limited equilibrium methods
landslides, but the problem is still a focus. The ana- in order to estimate the safety of slope under rainfall
lytical method combining infiltration calculation with action quickly. Finally, a case study is given to show
slope stability is widely used. In this method, the how rainfall infiltration affects the stability of slope
calculation of slope stability always recurs to the lim- by quantitative analyses.
ited equilibrium method (LEM), whereas the analysis
of infiltration uses simplified methods (Lumb, P.B.,
1962, Fourie, A.B., 1996) and numerical methods 2 SUMMARY OF OTHER PEOPLE’S WORK
(Fredlund, D.G., 1987, 1989, 1997, Anderson, M.G.,
1988, 1998, Sammori, T. & Tsuboyama, Y., 1991, Many researchers had done a lot of work about the ana-
Aloso, E., 1995 and Shimada, K., 1995, Chen, S.Y., lytical method combining the calculation of infiltra-
1997; Brian D.C. & Dobroslav, Z., 2004). In 2006, tion with slope stability analysis. Here we summarize
Schmertmann, J.H. considered the rain infiltration some main conclusions.
mounding problem as the reverse of the sudden draw-
1. Rainfall induces the changes of soil behavior,
down problem and developed an approximate method
mainly include: the increase of volumetric water
for solving the mounding problem. But almost all
content (θ), saturated degree (Sr ), coefficient of
these methods restrict themselves in given conditions
permeability (k) and bulk density (γ ) (Wang, J.H. &
of rainfall or given response of slope to rain. For exam-
Huang, N., 2006); the decrease of effective cohe-
ple, some researchers consider that the infiltration is
sion (c ) and internal degree of friction (φ  ), the
sufficient and the water table mounds due to rain-
decrease or even disappearance of matrix suction
fall (Schmertmann, J.H., 2006), or only focus on the
(sa ) and the appearance and increase of pore-water
shallow landslide and recur to infinite slope method
pressure (u) (Xiong, G.C. et al., 2005, Hu, M.J.
(Lumb, P.B., 1962, Fourie, A.B., 1996, Brian D.C. &
et al., 2001), and the development of new strain
Dobroslav, Z., 2004), and some others refer to numer-
and displacement in the slope (Qi, G.Q. & Huang,
ical methods (Finite Element Methods or Finite Dif-
R.Q. 2004). Therefore the decrease of c , φ  and sa
ference Methods) in the analysis of infiltration. All
on the slip surface, the increase of γ in slope and
these would make the methods too simple or too com-
u on the slip surface during rainfall infiltration can
plicated to estimate the slope stability under rainfall
cause the decrease of slope stability.

2. How rainfall action influence slope stability is head condition. In 1973, Mein R.G. and Larson C.L.
dependent on the effective accumulative infil- developed Green-Ampt mode and applied it in steady
tration (I ) and the capacity of permeability (k) rainfall. In our paper, for stable rainfall, Mein-Larson
(NgWang et al., 1999). For a given slope, without mode with calibration of measured data is used; for
consideration of other factors, the bigger rainfall unstable rainfall, the average rainfall intensity R is
intensity (R) and the longer duration (tr ), the more applied and volumetric water content θ in the zone
I and the more decrease of slope stability. When affected by infiltration is assumed uniform and equal
we consider the rainfall which has a big intensity to the one at the slope surface θ0 . For a given area,
and a short duration, if the effective accumula- R and rainfall duration tr can obtain from the design
tive infiltration and depth of infiltration is small, curve of R versus tr (such as the curve given in ref-
then shallow landslides are induced frequently erence NgWang et al. 1999, which can be calculated
(Au, S.W.C. 1998, Lumb, P.B., 1975); if the infil- from the rainfall record using Gumbel method). In the
tration is sufficient and cause the water table mount following parts, we focus on the rainfall action on the
(Schmertmann, J.H. 2006), then it will induce deep- slope.
seated landslide (Huang, W. et al. 2006, Yan, S.J.,
2007). For a given rainfall, the larger capacity of
3.1 Types of rainfall infiltration
penetration, the more I and the lower slope stabil-
ity. I is a function of R: when R is smaller than There are two types of rainfall infiltration pat-
the capacity of soil penetration, water can go into tern: saturated and unsaturated infiltration (named
the slope directly; contrarily, parts of rainfall run S-infiltration and U-infiltration), as shown in Figure 1.
off down the slope and I will decreases with the For U-infiltration, the matrix suction decrease greatly
increase of R (Da, Z.H. et al. 1993). (even vanish) in the infiltrated zone and the degree
3. Landslides due to rainfall happen with an evident of saturation increase at the same time. But the posi-
delay (Au, S.W.C. 1998, Lumb, P.B., 1975). The tive pore-water pressures (u) do not appear (even keep
delay of shallow landslides (from several hours to some matrix suction Sa sometimes). For S-infiltration,
days) seems to be smaller than the lag of deep- not only Sa decrease but also u increase at the same
seated ones (several days or more). time, and exist a leap for the water head (positive and
4. The variation of matrix suction with rainfall in a negative) at the front of infiltration.
landslide is related to the rainfall at upper part of Indeed, there are some difference between the
unsaturated zone, the infiltration seems to follow capacity of permeability under saturated (κs ) and
1D seepage. But the situation is quite different at unsaturated (κu ) condition. If the ratio of κs to κu is
middle and lower part, it is a 3D problem (Huang, large, it is necessary to develop u to push water into
R.Q. & Qi, G.Q., 2004). the unsaturated zones and infiltration can keep going
on. Contrarily, water transfers more freely in slope and
Besides, the initial water table in slope, the vegeta- u do not need to develop (Collins, B.D. & Znidarcic, D.
tion and waterproof on the slope surface, the depth of 2004).
impermeable layers, the amounts of antecedent rainfall Generally, main ways of rainfall action include the
and the anisotropy of penetration also have a consider- increase of volumetric water content (θ), saturated
able effect on the slope stability under rainfall action. degree (Sr ), coefficient of permeability (k) and bulk
Therefore, landslide triggered by rainfall is a compli- density (γ ) and the decrease of effective cohesion (c )
cated process. In this article, based on the above 1) and internal degree of friction (φ  ). Besides them, Sa
and 2), the authors focus on the two types of infiltra- and u should be considered. In U-infiltration only
tion pattern (saturated and unsaturated), the two types Sa decrease or vanishes; in S-infiltration, not only
of failure modes (sallow and deep-seated failure) and Sa decreases but also u increase at the same time.
the four ways of affecting on slope stability in the rain- That is, besides the same action under U-infiltration,
fall (the decrease of soil shear strength, the increase of the action of rainfall under S-infiltration should con-
bulk density, the increase of algebraic of pore pressure sider the increase of u. Therefore, slope stability in
and the action of seepage force). U-infiltration and S-infiltration has some differences.
The difference is considered in our method.

3.2 Two rainfall induced failure modes
Lumb, P.B., Au, S.W.C. and other people pointed out
As early as 1911, Green, W.H. and Ampt, G.A. that the shallow landslide is main failure mode of
had studied the problem of rainfall infiltration (Lei, rainfall induced landslide. Meanwhile many records
Z.D. et al. 1988). Based on the capillary theory, indicate that existing deep-seated slip surface may
they established a analysis mothed in constant water cause landslide easily under the given rainfall (Yan, S.J.

0 Rainfall
0hr Rainfall
8 hr Slope
G E Surface
1 23 hr e

F d D Front of
39 hr
2 c

C Groundwater

3 b

Figure 2. State of slope under rainfall.
-4 -3 -2 -1 0 1
Water Head/m
(a) U-infiltration

Sa 0 Sa 0

r fa
r fa

ce uw
0hr 0.8hr Saturated
1 uw

2 Saturated uw Saturated

1.8hr H
H (a)
3 t = ta t = ta + ta
Rainfall Rainfall
Sa 0



-4 -3 -2 -1 0 1 Un-
saturated Un-
Water Head/m Front
(b) S-infiltration
Dry Recharge

Figure 1. The schematic of pore water pressure under Capillary Saturated

different infiltration (Anderson, M.G. et al. 1998). uw
Saturated (b)

et al., 2007). And the disaster of deep-seated landslide t = tb t = tb + tb
is heavier than the shallow one. In order to set up a
general analysis method, these two failure modes are
all considered as shown in Figure 2. One occurs as rel- Figure 3. Water head of soil slices under S & U-Infiltration.
atively shallow failure like the Slide 1 ABFG and the
other occurs along an existing potential slip like the
Slide 2 ABCDE. We will not only analyze the stability decrease the shear resistance, increase γ , θ, k, Sa and
of shallow potential slip surface but also the existing change other soil parameters. Mechanical action often
deep-seated slip surface after determining infiltration decrease the resistance forces and increase slide forces
scope. on the slip surface by developing u and seepage forces
(i) in saturated zone. All these changes can reduce the
stability and induce landslide in further. In our anal-
3.3 Action of rainfall to slope stability
ysis method, four influence factors are considered:
Groundwater can influence the slope stability in chem- 1) the decrease of shear strength (effective cohesion
ical, physical and mechanical actions (Zhang, L.J. and angle of internal friction), 2) the increase of bulk
et al., 2003). Chemical action is out of our consider- density (γ ), 3) the increase of algebraic values of pore
ation. As well known, physical action always leads to water pressure (matrix suction decrease and positive

Table 1. Details of states of slices under rainfall action.

Type Before infiltration∗ Type of infiltration∗∗ After infiltration Influence factors∗∗∗

a SA S/U Little influence 4

b1 P U Unsaturated recharge 1∼4
b2 P S Saturated recharge 1∼4
c P S/U No affection on slip surface 2, 4
d DA S/U No affection on slip surface 2, 4
e DA S/U All affected by infiltration 1∼4
∗ SA-Saturated all; P-Partly under water table; DA-Dry all.
∗∗ S-Saturated infiltration; U-Unsaturated infiltration.
∗∗∗ 1-the decrease of parameters of shear resistance (effective cohesion and angle of internal friction); 2-the increase of bulk
density (γ ); 3-the increase of algebraic values of pore water pressure (matrix suction decrease and positive pore-water pressure
increase); 4-seepage forces due to the hydraulic gradient.

pore-water pressure increase) and 4) seepage forces Conventional analysis data

caused by hydraulic gradient i.

3.4 State of slope after rainfall infiltration 1. To estimate the slope failure Improve design
stability before rainfall or alarm
In order to analyze the stability of infiltration slope
using limited equilibrium method, the states of soil
slices under infiltration should be discussed. Here
we focus on the changes of soil slices states under 2. To obtain the rainfall
U-infiltration and S-infiltration. In Figure 2, there is data and parameters for
of infiltration
a groundwater table before infiltration. The recharge Mein-Larson mode
for the slices under the water table has two completely Monitor
different types. The first one is saturated recharge data
where positive pore water pressures will add to the
initial groundwater table in a short time directly (a in 3. To estimate the slope Calibration
Figure 3). The second one is unsaturated recharge stability after rainfall of infiltration
where no positive pore water pressures will add when
the front of infiltration contacts with the initial water failure
table and only positive pore water pressures in the part
of slice below the initial water table can increase (b in 4. To forecast slope failure time
Figure 3).
Of course, the increase of positive pore water pres- Figure 4. Analysis flow.
sures will spend a period of time after recharge. As
shown in Figure 3, from time ta to ta + ta and from
time tb to tb + tb . This situation is also suitable for evaluate slope stability under rainfall is set up, as
the dry part CDE in Figure 2 before rainfall infiltra- shown in Figure 4.
tion, but more time is needed to develop positive pore
water pressures on slip surface. The recharge is not 1. To estimate slope stability before rainfall: Calculate
considered when no groundwater exist before rainfall the safety factor of critical or potential slip surface
or the location of groundwater is too deep to raise to Fu (including matrix suction) and Fs (excluding
slip surface under rainfall. Thus, the states of slices matrix suction), then estimate the stability of slope.
are classified as five types, noted by a∼e in Figure 2 2. To obtain rainfall data and parameters for Mein-
and explained in Table 1. Larson mode: According to the rainfall record
of local region, obtain the rainfall design curve
and calculate the average rainfall intensity (R) and
4 METHOD OF EVALUATING SLOPE duration (tr ), obtain the soil water characteristic
STABILITY UNDER RAINFALL ACTION curve, determine c (θ), φ  (θ) and θs , θi , ks and
sf (the physical meaning will be explained in case
Based on the aforementioned analysis, a compar- study). Usually, with the help of literature data and
atively simple and general calculation method to experiential formula, the initial slope stability is

estimated. It is better to calibrate the infiltration Table 2. Parameters used in the case study.
depth using the measured data. Otherwise the error
will be large. State Unsaturated Saturated
3. To evaluate slope stability during and after rainfall:
Volumetric water content θ (%) 28 42
Calculate the infiltration depth (effective accumu-
Bulk density γ (kN /m3 ) 19 20.4
lative infiltration I ) at any time t; then calculate Effective cohesion c (kPa) 10 5
the safety factor of critical or potential slip surface. Effective angle of friction φ  (◦ ) 29 27
Different infiltrations, different ways of rainfall Matrix suction Sa (kpa) −39.375 0
action and different failure modes are all consid- Permeability coefficient k (m/min) / 6 × 10−4
ered. Finally the curve of safety factor with time
F(t) is achieved and the stability of given slope is
4. To forecast the slope failure time under rainfall
action: Calculate the slope failure time tf accord- direction) and incline in the same direction with slope
ing to the curve of F(t) through linear interpolation; surface.
issue the warning information of slope failure.
5.1 Comparison of four ways of rainfall action
on slope stability
In Section 3, we summarize four rainfall action ways
Based on the analysis method, the computer code using (factors) on slope stability. Here, the safety fac-
C++ program language is compiled in order to calcu- tor reduced by only one way (the other three ways
late the safety factor of slope stability at any time under without change) is taken into consideration. We use
rainfall. Here we refer to the case given in literature F(cφ), F(γ ), F(u) and F(i) (in percentage)
(Li, Z.P. & Zhang, M., 2001) and study on the slope to express the reduction of safety factor due to the
stability influenced by different infiltration types, fail- change of shear strength, density, pore water pres-
ure modes and rainfall action ways. As shown in sure and seepage force in soil mass (Number code
Figure 5, five potential slips (from Slide 0 to Slide from Way 1 to 4, refer to Table 1) respectively.
4) are assumed. In the calculation, R equals 100 mm/h And let F(cφ) + F(γ ) + F(u) + F(i) =
with the duration (tr ) of 8 hours. The absorbed suc- 100%. Whereas, the safety factor reduced due to
tion at the front of infiltration (sf ) equals 4 m, and contribution of all four ways together is noted by
F(t). In the calculation, c = 5 kpa, φ  =
the angle about matrix suction φ b = arctan(0.5). The
2◦ , γ = 1.4 kN/m3 . The results are shown in
other parameters are given in Table 2.
Figure 6.
In this case, we apply Simplified Bishop Method to
Because the change of c , φ  and γ between satu-
calculate the safety factor of circle slip surface (Slide
rated and unsaturated condition is small, the reduction
1 to 4) and Infinite Slope Method to the slip surface
of safety factors of deep-seated slip surface are not too
Slide 0, respectively. Besides, we suppose that j (the
much, and F(cφ) − t, F(γ ) − t keep more steady.
unit volumetric seepage force) equals i ·γW (i = sin β,
The other two ways of rainfall action F(u) and
β is the angle from the slope surface to the horizontal
F(i) show different influence on four slip surfaces.
When the effects of four ways are all small (Slide 1),
F(cφ) takes up larger percent (about 20%) than the
other three slip surfaces (keeping at 10%). What is
interesting is that F(u) increases with the decrease
Front of Slide 0 of F(i) and vice versa, and the sum of F(u) and
(Front of infiltration) F(i) keeps steady (about 80% in Slide 2, 3 and 4).
Sl id

F(u) and F(i) in Slide 3 and 4 indicate clearly
Sl id
3 e


6m that the reduction of safety factor caused by seep-


d1 Sl o
Sli d
e2 110
age force has a considerable component (exceeding
e1 60%) and no less than the reduction caused by pos-
itive pore water pressure. Therefore the influence of
seepage force should be considered.
Slide1 Slide2 Slide3 Slide4
Besides, the curves of F(t) in Figure 6 show that
L (m) 8 5 2 0
the reduction of safety factor due to contribution of the
d (m) 2.3 1.3 0.9 0.7 four ways together is smaller than the total of each part
(100%). Furthermore, such difference becomes more
Figure 5. Profile of slope in case study. clearly with the strong infiltration (slip surface near

100 100
90 90
50 60

F(t) /%
F(t) /%

10 30
0 20
-30 0

(1) Slide 1 (2) Slide 2
Time/min Time/min
100 100

90 90

80 80

70 70

60 F(t) /% 60
F(t) /%

50 50

40 40

30 30

20 20

10 10

0 0

(3) Slide 3 Time/min (4) Slide 4 Time/min

Figure 6. Different influences for 4 slides during 8 hours rainfall.

4 0.8 of the four ways keep steady during rainfall, where

F(cφ), F(γ ) and F(u) takes up about 20%, 7.4%
3.5 0.7
and 85% respectively. The special is that the action of
3 0.6 seepage forces provides about 12.4 contribution to the
2.5 0.5 slope stability. This abnormal phenomenon should be
attributed to the assumption of the direction of seepage

2 0.4
forces. The seepage forces exist only at the infiltration
1.5 0.3 area and along the direction of slope surface. In this
1 0.2
case, β equals 70◦ . The horizontal component of seep-
age forces which has contribution to slide takes up little
0.5 0.1 percent.
0 0 In a word, the reductions of safety factor due
to the change of φ  and γ (always not too much)

Time /min between saturated and unsaturated condition are not

Slide 1 Slide 2 Slide 3
Slide 4 Slide 0 Depth
too much (F(γ ) is only 10% in this case). Seepage
force is also the important ways to influence slope
Figure 7. Safety factor and depth for different slides during stability under rainfall. Seepage force, pore water pres-
8 hours. sure and large change of c are the major influence
to the slope surface or long rainfall time). Therefore
F(t) does not equal to the sum of F(cφ), F(γ ),
5.2 Comparison of different failure modes
F(u) and F(i) directly.
For Slide 1, the deepest slip surface, the influenced The curves of F(t) for five potential slip surfaces with
area by rainfall is relatively small. The influences different infiltration depth are shown in Figure 7.

The safety factor reduces much more with slip to 72 min. Generally, the influence in S-infiltration
surface closing to slope surface, that is, shallow including the increase of positive pore water pressures
landslide failure mode will appear much more eas- in addition to the same influence in U-infiltration.
ily under rainfall. Slide 1, 2 and 3 do not failure Thus slope stability in S-infiltration is more serious
in the given rainfall duration, but rainfall infiltra- than in U-infiltration.
tion influence Slide 4 seriously and it will fail after
408 min (6.8h) rainfall. Curve F(t) of Slide 0 which
5.4 Effect due to the decrease of c
slip surface is at the front surface of infiltration is
also given in Figure 7. Obviously, Slide 0 fails after In the above calculation, the decrease of c (c )
312 m in rainfall its failure spends shorter time than from unsaturated state to saturated one is only 5 kpa.
the other shallow landslide Slide 4. Therefore, before Because the changes of c may be large, we calculate
the rainfall, if the properties of soil mass are the same, the safety factor reduction F(c ) for Slide 3 in five
then the shallow failure can appear easily during the different c with no change of other factors in order
rainfall. to compare the effect of c . The initial values of c in
the five situations are 10 kpa, 20 kpa, 40 kpa, 80 kpa,
160 kpa, respectively, and all reduce to 5kpa in sat-
5.3 Effect of U-infiltration and S-infiltration urated state. The result is given in Figure 9. During
As mentioned above, the effect of rainfall action under the 168 m in after rain the change of F(c) is a little
U-infiltration and S-infiltration is different. The posi- bit large, and then F(c) keeps at a steady percent
tive pore water pressures develop during S-infiltration, in 8.7%, 19.5%, 30.2%, 38.6% and 44.2% for the
but it is difficult to calculate. In this case study, we use five situations, respectively. All these indicate that the
the common method to calculate. Due to the small effect of c may take up a large percent (almost 45%
influence on Slide 1 and 2, only Slide 0, 3 and 4 are underc = 155 kpa) when c has a large decrease
considered. In Figure 8, the numbers 0, 3 and 4 rep- during rainfall.
resent the three slip surfaces and the letters s and u
represent saturated and unsaturated infiltration. It is 5.5 Calibration for depth of infiltration
shown that the reduction of safety factor due to rainfall
in S-infiltration is larger than the one in U-infiltration. The basic work in stability analysis of rainfall induced
Furthermore, the difference between these two reduc- landslides is the forecast or estimation of infiltration.
tions increases when the slices areas under infiltration We use Mein-Larson mode to estimate the infiltra-
increase. At 480 minutes after rainfall, safety factor of tion depth. But in the case, the infiltration depth from
Slide 0, 3 and 4 in s-infiltration is only 86.2%, 44.5% Mein-Larson mode is only one sixth of the measured
and 41.4% of the one in U-infiltration. It is shown data (Li, Z.P. & Zhang, M., 2001). Therefore it is nec-
that the time from the beginning of rainfall to failure essary to calibrate or modify the infiltration depth. We
of Slide 4 is 408 min and 480 min in S-infiltration apply the ratio (noted by kc ) of the Mein-Larson infil-
and U-infiltration, respectively. The delay reaches tration velocity (the depth of infiltration in unit time)

3 50
2.5 40
Safety Factor (Fs )



1.5 25
1 15


Time /min
Slide3 (s) Slide4 (s) Slide0 (s) Time /min
Slide3 (u) Slide4 (u) Slide0 (u) c = 5kpa c = 15kpa c = 35kpa
c = 75kpa c = 155kpa
Figure 8. Change of safety factor in S-infiltration and U-
infiltration during 8 hours. Figure 9. F(c) under different value of c.

5 1.4 landslides rapidly. It is safe for us here to draw some
general conclusions according to the analysis and case
4 study in this article. For S-infiltration, not only matrix
3.5 1 suction decrease but also positive pore water pres-

Infiltration Depth (m)

3 sures increase occurs at the same time, while only
Safety Factor(Fs )

2.5 matrix suction decrease without developing positive
2 0.6 pore water pressures in U-infiltration. Shallow failure
1.5 0.4
mode can appear easily during rainfall. Seepage force
1 may be the important way to influence the slope stabil-
0.2 ity under rainfall. Seepage force, pore water pressure
0 0 and large change of c are the major factors influencing
the slope stability. It’s necessary to calibrate the results










Time /min Slide3(pre-) Slide3(post-) of Mein-Larson mode when it is too much different
Slide4(pre-) Slide4(post-)
Slide0(pre-) Slide0(post-)
with the measured data.
Depth(pre-) Depth(post-) Of course, there are some assumptions in this paper
and also some problems to be studied further. Such as
Figure 10. Results of safety factor for 3 different slides and the actual critical envelop between S-infiltration and
infiltration depth before and after calibration. U-infiltration, the values and calculation methods of
pore water pressure in the zone due to S-infiltration,
the direction of seepage force, the validation of seep-
to the corresponding measured data to modify. In the age forces in U-infiltration and the improvement of
above case, kc = 6. After modification, the infiltration infiltration mode etc.
becomes rapid. The safety factors in 2 hours rainfall
are calculated again and the results are shown in Figure
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