Internal soil moisture response to rainfall-induced slope failures and debris discharge

Ching Chuan Huang, Chien Li Lo, Jia Shiun Jang, Lih Kang Hwu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

53 Citations (Scopus)


Predictions of rainfall-induced fast-moving mass flow and/or debris flows require better knowledge of the mechanism controlling the debris discharge of slopes in debris source areas. A series of rainfall tests on 0.32 m-deep, 0.7 m-high, 1.35 m-wide sandy slopes resting on a bi-linear impermeable rigid base was performed. Soil moisture content and solid discharge measurements were performed to gain insights into the rainfall-induced retrogressive slope failure. The solid (or debris) discharge is a result of the wash-out of the fluidized slope toe by the interflow along the soil-bedrock interface. Characteristics of the failure process for the slopes are represented by mass wasting curves or 'solid discharge (Qs) vs. time (t)' curves which are functions of the rainfall intensity and/or the cumulative rainfall. The mass wasting curves have inflection points representing transitions from minor toe failures into remarkable retrogressive failures. The first inflection point of the soil moisture (ω) vs. t curve measured at the soil-bedrock interface signaling the arrival of the descending 'wet front', may serve as a precursor for predicting the onset of an abrupt solid discharge induced by shallow slope failures. The time of peak water content measured at the soil-bedrock interface may approximate the time of 5% total solid volume discharge. Up to the time of 5% of total slope volume discharge, a fully saturated state (Sr ≒ 100%) was never observed at the 0.2 m-below-surface zone; however, it was observed along the soil-bedrock interface at near-toe zone of the slope, regardless of the intensity of rainfall investigated. Retrogressive failures were essentially associated with nonuniformly distributed water content in the slope. For both the 0.2 m-below-surface zone and the soil-bedrock interface, a more uniform distribution of Sr along the full height of the slope was found for slopes subjected to high rainfall intensities of 47 and 65 mm/h than that for the slope subjected to a low rainfall intensity of 23 mm/h. At the inflection point of the Qs vs. t curve and 5% of total solid volume discharge, values of Sr at a certain distance from the toe for the soil-bedrock interface were higher than those measured at the same distance from the toe for the 0.2 m-below-surface zone, indicating the effect of infiltration-induced interflow along the soil-bedrock interface and its effects on the fluidization of the slope toe and the retrogressive failure of the slope.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)134-145
Number of pages12
JournalEngineering Geology
Issue number3-4
Publication statusPublished - 2008 Oct 17

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geotechnical Engineering and Engineering Geology
  • Geology

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