Stability and failure mass of unsaturated heterogeneous slopes Academic Article uri icon


  • Rainfall infiltration in an unsaturated soil slope induces loss of suction (and even positive pore-water pressures), which can eventually lead to failure. This paper investigates the probability and the size of failure of an unsaturated slope with spatially variable void ratio, subjected to a constant intensity rainfall. The random finite element method is employed in conjunction with a Monte Carlo simulation to stochastically evaluate the factor of safety and the size of the sliding mass. The results indicate that the mean value and the variability of these two quantities depend on both correlation length and coefficient of variation of the void ratio field. This dependency is more prominent during the transient regime than at steady states. Notably, the factor of safety in some cases can be low but the corresponding sliding mass is relatively small, while in other instances, the factor of safety might remain large though the associated sliding mass is very sizeable. The correlation between the factor of safety and the size of the sliding mass shifts from positive to negative as the rainfall progresses. A simple quadrant plot is suggested to assess the risk associated with slope failure, taking into account both the factor of safety and the size of failure, rather than the factor of safety alone as it is usually the case. The study also demonstrates an application of a numerical approach to assess stability of geostructures composed of complex multiphase materials such as unsaturated soils or frozen soils.

published proceedings


altmetric score

  • 1.6

author list (cited authors)

  • Thi, M., Gallipoli, D., Sanchez, M., & Wheeler, S.

citation count

  • 25

complete list of authors

  • Thi, Minh Hue Le||Gallipoli, Domenico||Sanchez, Marcelo||Wheeler, Simon

publication date

  • January 1, 2015 11:11 AM