Impacts of unsaturated zone soil moisture and groundwater table on slope instability

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Journal of Geotechnical and Geoenvironmental Engineering


The combined effect of soil moisture in unsaturated soil layers and pore-water pressure in saturated soil layers is critical to predict landslides. An improved infinite slope stability model, that directly includes unsaturated zone soil moisture and groundwater, is derived and used to analyze the factor of safety's sensitivity to unsaturated zone soil moisture. This sensitivity, the change in the factor of safety with respect to variable unsaturated zone soil moisture, was studied at local and regional scales using an active landslide region as a case study. Factors of safety have the greatest sensitivity to unsaturated zone soil moisture dynamics for shallow soil layers (<2 m) and comparatively deep groundwater tables (1 m). For an identical groundwater table, the factor of safety for a 1 m thick soil mantle was four times more sensitive to soil moisture changes than a 3-m thick soil. At a regional scale, the number of unstable areas increases nonlinearly with increasing unsaturated zone soil moisture and with moderately wet slopes exhibiting the greatest sensitivity. © 2010 ASCE.

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