, Volume 10, Issue 6, pp 701-711
Date: 07 Nov 2012

Inception of debris avalanches: remarks on geomechanical modelling

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Debris avalanches are complex phenomena due to the variety of mechanisms that control the failure stage and the avalanche formation. Regarding these issues, in the literature, either field evidence or qualitative interpretations can be found while few experimental laboratory tests and rare examples of geomechanical modelling are available for technical and/or scientific purposes. As a contribution to the topic, the paper firstly highlights as the problem can be analysed referring to a unique mathematical framework from which different modelling approaches can be derived based on limit equilibrium method (LEM), finite element method (FEM), or smooth particle hydrodynamics (SPH). Potentialities and limitations of these approaches are then tested for a large study area where huge debris avalanches affected shallow deposits of pyroclastic soils (Sarno-Quindici, Southern Italy). The numerical results show that LEM as well as uncoupled and coupled stress–strain FEM analyses are able to individuate the major triggering mechanisms. On the other hand, coupled SPH analyses outline the relevance of erosion phenomena, which can modify the kinematic features of debris avalanches in their source areas, i.e. velocity, propagation patterns and later spreading of the unstable mass. As a whole, the obtained results encourage the application of the introduced approaches to further analyse real cases in order to enhance the current capability to forecast the inception of these dangerous phenomena.