Journal of Mountain Science

, Volume 15, Issue 4, pp 845–858 | Cite as

Mechanism of slope failure in loess terrains during spring thawing

  • Jian Xu
  • Zhang-quan Wang
  • Jian-wei Ren
  • Song-he Wang
  • Long Jin


Slope failure in loess terrains of Northern China during spring thawing period is closely related to the freeze-thaw cycling that surface soils inevitably experienced. Field surveys were carried out on natural and artificial slopes in thirteen surveying sites located in the Northern Shaanxi, the center of Loess Plateau, covering five characteristic topographic features including tablelands, ridges, hills, gullies and valleys. Based on the scale that is involved in freeze-thaw cycling, the induced failures can be classified into three main modes, i.e., erosion, peeling and thaw collapse, depending on both high porosity and loose cementation of loess that is easily affected. Model tests on loess slopes with gradients of 53.1°, 45.0° and 33.7° were carried out to reveal the heat transfer, water migration and deformation during slope failure. The surface morphology of slopes was photographed, with flake shaped erosion and cracks noted. For three slope models, time histories for the thermal regime exhibit three obvious cycles of freeze and thaw and the maximum frost depth develops downwards as freeze-thaw cycling proceeds. Soil water in the unfrozen domain beneath was migrated towards the slope surface, as can be noticed from the considerable change in the unfrozen water content, almost synchronous with the variation of temperature. The displacement in both vertical and horizontal directions varies over time and three obvious cycles can be traced. The residual displacement for each cycle tends to grow and the slopes with higher gradients are more sensitive to potentially sliding during freeze-thaw cycling.


Freeze and thaw Loess Slope failure Water migration Heat transfer 


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This research was financially supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (Grant Nos. 51478385, 51208409, 51778528 and 51408486). These supports are greatly appreciated. In addition, the authors thank Prof. Long Jin at the State Key Laboratory of Road Engineering Safety and Health in Cold and High-altitude Region, CCCC First Highway Consultants Co., Ltd., Xi’an, China, for his strong support.


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Copyright information

© Science Press, Institute of Mountain Hazards and Environment, CAS and Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Civil EngineeringXi’an University of Architecture and TechnologyXi’anChina
  2. 2.Institute of Geotechnical EngineeringXi’an University of TechnologyXi’anChina
  3. 3.State Key Laboratory of Road Engineering Safety and Health in Cold and High-altitude RegionCCCC First Highway Consultants Co., Ltd.Xi’anChina

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