Modeling Slope Instability as Shear Rupture Propagation in a Saturated Porous Medium

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Abstract

When a region of intense shear in a slope is much thinner than other relevant geometric lengths, this shear failure may be approximated as localized slip, as in faulting, with strength determined by frictional properties of the sediment and effective stress normal to the failure surface. Peak and residual frictional strengths of submarine sediments indicate critical slope angles well above those of most submarine slopes—in contradiction to abundant failures. Because deformation of sediments is governed by effective stress, processes affecting pore pressures are a means of strength reduction. However, common methods of exami ning slope stability neglect dynamically variable pore pressure during failure. We examine elastic-plastic models of the capped Drucker-Prager type and derive approximate equations governing pore pressure about a slip surface when the adjacent material may deform plastically. In the process we identify an elastic-plastic hydraulic diffusivity with an evolving permeability and plastic storage term analogous to the elastic term of traditional poroelasticity. We also examine their application to a dynamically propagating subsurface rupture and find indications of downslope directivity.