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Controls on the evolution of strength and failure style in shallow rock slope failures

DE-VILDER, SASKIA,JOAN (2018) Controls on the evolution of strength and failure style in shallow rock slope failures. Doctoral thesis, Durham University.

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Rock fall failure comprises fracturing through zones of intact rock, known as rock bridges, and kinematic release along discontinuity surfaces. Understanding controls on magnitude – frequency relationships of rockfalls, and their associated failure characteristics aids susceptibility analysis and interpretation of pre-failure deformation. For failure to occur, these rock bridges must have been weakened, with this damage accumulation driven by a suite of weathering processes. This thesis aims to explore the spatial and temporal controls on weathering induced strength degradation and its subsequent influence on the mechanics of rockfall detachment. Within this, it examines the role of gravitational ambient stress, as dictated by slope topography and rock mass structure, which recent research suggests influences the efficiency of weathering processes.
The project integrates field observations, analogue experiments and numerical modelling over varying spatial scales. Terrestrial laser scanning and gigapixel photography are combined to forensically map rock bridge attributes within rockfall detachment surfaces. The role of slope geometry and rock mass structure in concentrating stress is assessed via conceptual finite element models. Finally, samples are subjected to stress conditions induced by the slope structure and environmental conditions in a series of weathering analogue experiments. Together, these results indicate that weathering significantly reduces intact rock strength with areas of stress concentration purely a mechanical control on rockfall release rather than a temporal control on weakening. Weaker rock is characterised by substantial post-peak strength, which requires multiple stages of brittle fracture before ultimate failure occurs. This in turn influences the stages of failure required through rock bridges before final failure, with this number of rock bridges dependent on rockfall size. Mechanically, failure mode is dependent on rock bridge proportion, distribution and location for individual rockfalls. A conceptual model describes magnitude-frequency characteristics and the observable pattern of pre-failure deformation expected for different stages of weathering.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Keywords:Rockfall, rock bridges, weathering, rock damage, topographic stress
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Social Sciences and Health > Geography, Department of
Thesis Date:2018
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:05 Oct 2018 10:53

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