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Eurock '93, Ribeiro eSousa & Grossmann (eds) 1993 Balkema, Rotterdam 90 54103396

Stability assessment of slopes in closely jointed rock masses

Evaluation de la stabilite de talus de masses rocheuses densement fracturees
Standsicherheitsabschatzung von Abhangen in eng geklufteten Gebirgen
Civil Engineering Department, University of Auckland, New Zealand
former Graduate student, University of Auckland, New Zealand
ABSTRACT: A method for the assessment of the stability of slopes in closely jointed rock masses
is presented. A lower bound on the possible rock mass shear strength is obtained. As an example
of the method data on slope height-angle relations for the greywacke slopes at various locations
in the North Island of New Zealand are back analysed. The mobilised strength curves obtained
for the greywacke rock masses are compared with the shear strength envelopes derived from the
modified (1992) Hoek-Brown failure criterion.
RESUME: Une methode d'evaluation de la stabilite de talus de masses rocheuses fracturees
serrees fait I'objet de cette presentation. Une limite inferieure de resistance possible au
cisaiUement de la masse roche use est obtenue. A titre d'exemple de la methode presentee, des
donnees sur les rapports hauteur/angle du talus sont identifiees par back analysis pour des talus
de grauwacke situes dans differents endroits de I'ile Nord de la Nouvelle-Zelande, Les courbes
de resistance mobilisee obtenues pour les masses rocheuses de grauwacke sont ensuite comparees
avec les enveloppes de resistance au cisaiUement derivees du critere modifie de rupture Hoek-
Brown (1992).
ABSTRACT: Eine Methode zur Bewertung del' Stabilitat von Abhangen eng verfugter Felsmassen
wird vorgestellt. Eine untere Grenze del' moglichen Scherkraft in del' Felsmasse wird erhalten. AIs
Beispiel fur diese Methode werden Daten zuriickgerechnet, die die Beziehung zwischen
Abhangsh6he und Winkel von Grauwacke Abhangen an mehreren Orten auf del' Nordinsel
Neuseelands angeben. Die mobilisierten Krafkurven, die fur die Grauwacke Felsmassen erhhalten
Wurden, werden mit den Scherkraft Mantelkurven verglichen, die sich aus dem modifizierten
(1992) Hoek-Brown Versagenskriterium ergeben.
Much of the international rock mechanics
literature is concerned with two types of rock
mass. Firstly there is the so-called intact roc~,
Which is material that, to the naked eye, IS
without defect. Secondly there is the situatio.n
Where the behaviour of the rock mass IS
Controlled by a few well defined and wid.ely
spaced joints. Until recently scant attentl~n
has been given to a third class of rock mass In
W?ich the joint spacing is very cl?se .but
WIthout any particular joint, or J OInt direction,
having a dominant effect. This seems to be the
characteristic of many rock engineering
situations in New Zealand. Rock masses of
this type occur in other parts of the world,
notably the west coast of the United States, so
it is not a problem that is unique to New
Zealand. It is more likely that the difficulties
are just so great that no line of attack has
been readily apparent.
In this paper three separate threads are
developed, and then drawn together in an
example application. Firstly the difficulties
associated with closely jointed rock masses are
discussed in more detail. Secondly a method
for the assessment of existing stable slopes is
presented which gives a lower bound on the
possible rock mass shear strength. As an
example of the method existing data about
slope height-angle relations in the greywacke
slopes at various locations in the North Island
are back analysed. Thirdly there is some
discussion of the significance of a curved
failure envelope and the effect of earthquake
loading on a closely jointed rock mass.
The intention of the paper is to set out a
procedure for a rational approach to a diffic-
ult design problem. The basic philosophy of
the method recognises that, as it is unlikely
that an accurate assessment of the true
strength parameters for a given rock mass will
ever be available, an initial approach to
designing any alteration to the slope profile
should aim to ensure that the final state of the
slope is no worse than the initial state.
Although conservative, the method presented
has the advantage of providing a logical
approach which highlights areas of uncertainty.
The precedent method, that is paying due
attention to what has been successful in the
past and incorporating modest improvements,
has been one of the traditional approaches to
design in rock mechanics. The procedure
proposed in this paper aims at formalising the
underlying principles of the precedent method
for one type of application. The precedent
established by nature is also considered in the
paper along with the precedent established by
man-made slopes.
The major limitation of the method is the
unknown conservatism incorporated. If one
attempts to do no better than replicate the
status quo, an unknown factor of safety is
carried forward. In some cases this unknown
factor of safety could be excessive and so an
economic penalty is unwittingly carried by the
project. On the other hand the method is
simple and inexpensive, thus it is a useful step
in the design process.
In this section some features of closely jointed
rock masses are discussed briefly to support
the above assertion that the material presents
the geotechnical engineer with great
2.1 The term closely jointed
A rock mass is described as closely jointed
when the joint spacing is small in relation to
the scale of the project in question. The cuts
in the greywacke slopes in and around the city
of Wellington in New Zealand provide a good
example. In these rock masses, and at many
other locations throughout NZ, the joint
spacing is a fraction of a metre. It is,
therefore, very much smaller than the scale of
the cut slopes which are many tens of metres
high. Furthermore at many locations there is
no clearly defined characteristic joint direction
(notwithstanding that plotting a large number
of joint directions may indicate other than
random joint orientations). As the individual
joints do not seem to have great continuity, a
particular joint cannot exert a dominant effect
on the rock mass behaviour. The behaviour of
the mass is thus a consequence of the
combined action of a large number of
individual joints.
At stress levels of interest in slope stability
assessment, the strength of the intact rock
between the joints is usually so high that
failure of the mass is controlled, in a
complicated way, by the joint system.
2.2 Strength measurement
The standard method for assessing the
strength of a geotechnical material is to
recover a sample and test it in laboratory. In
the case of a jointed rock mass it is clearly not
possible to recover a sample that is large
enough to represent the joint system.
The next possibility is to measure the
strength of the intact material between the
joints. This is often done as a standard item
of a classification procedure for a rock mass.
Although the strength of intact rock
contributes some information to the overall
picture, and has an important place in the
modified Hoek-Brown failure criterion (Hoek
et al (1992)), it still falls well short of giving
the strength of the rock mass.
Another possibility is to test individual joint
specimens and, assuming that the details of the
joint geometry are known, employ some
process for estimating the rock ma~s
properties from given joint properties. ThIS
approach is suspect because scale effects are
known to occur on measured joint strengths -
the larger the area sheared the smaller the
measured strength, Bandis et al (1981).
Yet another approach is in-situ testing.
Apart from expense, this is also subject to the
additional complication of scale effects. Pratt
et al (1974) have demonstrated this for joints
in diorite, and Bieniawski and Van Heerden
(1975) have shown a similar effect in the
underground testing of coal pillars, which are
closely jointed rock masses by virtue of the
cleat in the coal. As the size of the pillars
increased the observed strength decreased.
Only in pillars with side lengths greater than
1.5m was a size independent strength
The approach presented herein is to perform
a back analyses of stable slopes to estimate the
mobilised strength required to explain the
apparent stability of the slope. In principle
there is nothing new about the method of back
~nalysis of existing slopes. The main emphasis
Inthis paper is the application of the method
where no procedure of direct strength
measurement is possible. The back analysis
process gives the shear resistance that must be
mobilised in the slope to maintain stability.
This in turn gives a lower bound on the actual
shear strength for the rock mass.
3.1 Assumptions
If the mobilised strength curve is assumed to
be linear and the rock mass homogeneous the
many slope stability charts available can be
Used. To use stability charts in this manner
one, in effect, makes an additional assumption
that the factor of safety is unity. The strength
parameters which give a marginal state of
stability of the slope provide some information
about the mobilised strength curve. The real
~actor of safety of an apparently stable slope
IS, of course, in excess of 1.0 by an unknown
Assumptions about the type of failure
mechanism are also required. In closely jointed
media it seems appropriate to assume that ~he
material is approximately homogeneous, I.e.
there are no clearly defined joint planes or
joint sets which control the form of the failure
mode. With this assumption of homogeneity
it is necessary to search for the critical case of
each type of failure mechanism. If, for
example, a circular failure mode is under
investigation then a search has to be made
until the critical circle is found.
A further starting assumption involves the
water pressures in the slope. It may be that
for a given rock slope the position of the water
table in the slope is known. Input about water
pressures is then available. However, in most
cases the water pressures are not known and
some assumption has to be made. This
assumption clearly has an important effect on
the analysis. Since one of the objects of the
back analysis is to arrive at the lower bound
set of strength parameters it is apparent that
a lower bound on the actual rock mass
strength is obtained if the slope is assumed to
be dry.
The back analysis procedure starts with the
plotting of slope height and angle data from a
given region for a given rock type. In cases
with a large amount of data it is likely that the
points will plot on a slope-height slope-angle
diagram with scatter. Since it has been
assumed that the closely jointed rock mass is
approximately homogeneous this scatter
represents slopes with various factors of safety.
The lowest factor of safety will exist in the
slopes represented by the upper bound on the
data. The next step is to investigate what
mobilised strength is required to explain the
state of stability of the slope.
3.2 The Casagrande resistance envelope
As more than one parameter is required to
specify a given mobilised strength curve, a
method of obtaining more than one data point
is needed. If attention is concentrated on one
slope geometry this additional information is
obtained by using the Casagrande resistance
envelope concept, Casagrande (1950), J anbu
(1977). In this procedure one analyses a
number of slip surfaces and calculates for each
the average shear stress and effective normal
stress (these values are obtained from
equilibrium considerations alone, no
rock mass nnit
weight: y
. . .
0.1 0.2
//AV'/~/. /.
Fig. 1 The resistance envelope for a dry
slope with a tension crack behind the crest
(after Baikie (1988)).
assumption of strength parameters is needed).
These average values are plotted, usually in
terms of dimensionless stress quantities, for a
number of trial failure surfaces. The envelope
of all these points gives a boundary on stre.sses
mobilised in the slope analysed. The techruque
is elegant and has much appeal. Salt (1986)
gives an example of the application of t~e
method to slopes in schist in Central Otago In
the South Island of NZ. A possible
disadvantage of the method is the need to
evaluate the average stresses around the
failure surface. To obtain this would require
some post processing of. the output from .a
conventional method of slices stability analysis
programme. Baikie (1988) helps in this regard
by converting the Hoek and ~ray (198~)
stability charts for a dry slope Into a resistance
upper bound slope angle
slope height relation


. . . ,

' Q)
.J ::





. - . . :

75 90
15 30 45 60
Slope angle ( 0 )
Fig. 2 Slope height slope angle data for the
Kawakawa Bay slopes .
envelopes, Fig. 1. The Hoek and Bray ch~rts
are based on the assumption of a tenSIOn
crack exists behind the crest of the slope. It
could be argued that it would be more
consistent with the philosophy spelt out above
if tension cracks were ignored, as ~he
mobilised strength required without te~SlOn
cracks is less than with them. Compansons
given by Baikie show that tension cracks have
little effect on the results for low angle slopes
but there is a significant difference in the tWO
resistance envelopes for steep slopes.
3.3 The mobilised strength curve
As an example of the application of Baikie's
resistance envelopes the observed height-angle
data for slopes in greywacke at Kawakaw
Bay near Auckland, have been analysed. The
, .. . ple
height-angle data, obtained USIn~ sirn d
surveying techniques by Free (1987), ISploU
in Fig. 2. The resistance envelopes for four
slope angles, 30
, 45
, 60
and 75
, have .b.e:~
replotted from Fig. 1 and the mobilis
strength curve has been drawn as an
envelope to the four resistance envelopes. (FO~
the calculations the unit weight of the roc
mass was assumed to be 25kN/m
At this stage a small point of terminology
0. 4
Un (MPa) 0. 4
mobilised strength
0.5 1.0 1.5
o, (MPa)
Fig. 3 Mobilised strength curve for the
Kawakawa Bay slopes.
deserves clarification. As originally formulated
by Casagrande the resistance envelope refers
to one particular slope geometry and gives us
the stress combinations in the slope that are
required to satisfy equilibrium. The advantage
of working with different slope geometries is
apparent in Fig. 3 as the steep slopes give
greater mobilised shear stresses at low normal
stresses whilst the resistance envelopes from
the flatter slopes extend the mobilised strength
data over a wider range of normal stresses. As
each resistance envelope lies beneath the
failure envelope, the envelope of the separate
r~sistance envelopes, such as that drawn in
FIg. 3, gives a better bound on the failure
envelope for the material in the rock slopes.
Herein the term resistance envelope is
cOnfined to information derived from a single
Slope geometry and the term mobilised
strength curve is used when information is
g~ined from the back analysis of slopes with
dIfferent geometries. Extrapolating from the
separate resistance envelopes to the mobilised
strength curve involves the assumption that the
rack mass conditions for each slope are similar
and that no special geological condition is the
explanation for a particular slope geometry.
The resistance envelopes plotted by Baikie
are particularly convenient. It is also possible
to work directly from the Hoek and Bray, or
any other stability charts, to achieve an
equivalent back analysis.
The process outlined above has been applied
to slopes in jointed greywacke at several
locations in the North Island of NZ. The
extremes of the resulting mobilised strength
curves are plotted in Fig. 4. More details are
given by Pender (1990).
Greywacke is the basement rock for much of
the North Island of New Zealand. In the
unweathered state the intact rock would be
classified, following Hoek et al (1992), as
strong. The close jointing is a consequence of
a complex history of faulting as part of the
boundary between the Pacific and Australia-
India plates passes through the country.
From Figs. 3 and 4 it is apparent that the
mobilised strength curves are not linear c,
relations. This could in part be a consequence
of the back analysis process but it also thought
that the existence of a curved failure envelope
is characteristic of a closely jointed rock mass.
A consensus has gradually emerged among the
rock mechanics community that the failure
envelope for a closely jointed rock mass is
curved rather than linear.
At low normal stresses the apparent friction
angle is large and the apparent cohesion is
small. At high normal stresses the apparent
friction angle is smaller and the apparent
cohesion larger. The above back analyses of
greywacke slopes lend support to this idea
although the mobilised strength curves do not
necessarily have the same form as the failure
envelope for the material. The idea of a
nonlinear failure envelope is further justified
after reviewing strength tests on rough joint
surfaces, Barton (1973); on materials such as
granulated marble, Rosengren and J aeger
(1969) and Gerogiannopoulos and Brown
(1978), that are thought to model closely
1. 0
0.5 1.0
an (MPa)
Fig. 4 Range of the mobilised strength curves
for the greywacke slopes analysed.
jointed media; and on assemblages of carefully
fitted blocks, Brown (1970).
Hoek et al (1992) propose a modification to
the Hoek-Brown failure criterion that gives a
curved failure envelope and caters for closely
jointed rock masses by requiring a zero
cohesion intercept. This new criterion has the
where: a
is the unconfined compressive
strength of the intact rock, a and mb are
parameters describing the intensity of the
jointing and the condition of the rock mass.
Following the classification given by Hoek et al
(1992) the surface condition of the. of the
joints in the greywacke mass would typically be
in good category, and the structure would be
blocky/seamy. Taking an unconfined
compressive strength of 50 MPa, a =0.5 a~d
mb =1.2 gives the failur.e envelope plott~? in
Fig. 5. To match approximately the mobilised
strength envelope values of the three
parameters which are quite unrealistic have to
be used. Thus we conclude that the closely
jointed rock masses, for which the mobilised
strength curves are given in Fig. 4, have a
reasonable factor of safety, assuming, of
course, the applicability of the modified Hoek-
Brown failure criterion to the closely jointed
greywacke rock masses in New Zealand.
1. 5
" 2
modified Hoek
and Brown:
0', = 50 MPa,
a =0.5, m, =1.2
mobilised strength curve
for Wellington greywacke
o 0.5 1.0
an (MPa)
1. 5
Fig. 5 Comparison between the mobilised
strength curve for the closely jointed
greywacke rock masses in Wellington and ~he
failure envelope derived with the modified
Hoek-Brown criterion.
An additional effect that could have been
considered in the above analysis of the
Wellington slopes is the affect of earthquake.s.
All the slopes for which data are plotted rn
Fig. 4 will have been subjected to nu~erous
earthquakes. The inclusion of a honzontal
acceleration to represent an earthquake would
improve the apparent strength 'para~eter~
derived, in the same way as the mclu~J On 0d
water improves the strength. The analysis use
above is easily adapted to handle this case.
Instead of finding the strength parameters t~at
give the required slope height-angle relatlo~
under static conditions, i.e. zero honzon
acceleration, the strength parameters ar~
estimated for some non zero value of th,
horizontal acceleration. The omission of thIS
consideration is further confirmation that the
mobilised strength curves in Fig. 4 are lower
bounds on the actual failure envelopes.
The requirement for satisfactory earthquake
behaviour is another reason for prefe~r~ng ~
curved failure envelope for a closely J omte
rock mass. This is a consequence of the stress
. an
changes that occur in a slope during
earthquake. The application of a honzonwl
curved failure envelope for a
closely jointed rock mass
c, cl> extrapolation of the ~
cu~,ure enve,:/
./' stress path during an earthquake
initial average stress on a
failure surface
Fig. 6 Earthquake loading and the effect of
a curved failure envelope.
acceleration to a slope reduces the normal
stress on potential failure surfaces. A c,
envelope, which models the curved failure
envelope at high normal stresses, will tend to
overestimate the strength available during an
earthquake. This is illustrated in Fig. 6. In a
different context, Hoek (1983) makes a similar
point about the need to be aware of the
Consequences of failure envelope curvature.
A further aspect of earthquake behaviour
relates to allowable deformations in such an
event. Newmark (1965) and Sarma (1975 &
1979) have treated the earthquake response of
earth dams and slopes on the basis that failure
for a short period, during which limited
deformation occurs, is acceptable. In the case
of a closely jointed rock mass this is not so
clear. Any deformation during a failure
excursion will lead to loosening of the rock
mass with a consequent loss in the available
~trength, much of which is derived from the
Interlocking of the closely jointed blocks of
rock. This concept is illustrated in Fig. 7.
The difficulty of estimating the shear strength
of a closely jointed rock mass has be~n
explained. A procedure for the back analysis
of existing slopes is put forward as a means of
estimating the mobilised strength required to
failure envelope for a
closely jointed tightly
t interlocked rock mass
failure envelope for a
loosened rock mass
Fig. 7 Change in the failure envelope for a
closely jointed rock mass during loosening.
explain existing states of stability. If the slopes
are assumed to be dry and prior earthquake
performance is not considered, then the back
analysis will yield a lower bound to the actual
failure envelope.
A nonlinear mobilised strength curve was
found to give better modelling of the observed
relation between the slope height and angle
than a linear c, envelope. However the
modified Hoek-Brown failure criterion, when
used with what seem appropriate parameters
from the classification in Hoek et al (1992),
gives strengths greater than those from the
mobilised strength curves.
The mobilised shear strength envelope
derived for closely jointed greywacke confirms
that the material has a high apparent friction
angle at low normal stresses. If used for design
of different slope configurations this envelope
provides a means of arriving at man-made
slopes which have factors of safety as good, or
as poor, as those of the natural slopes. The
major limitation of the method is the unknown
conservatism incorporated as the back analysis
process provides no information about the
actual failure envelope for the rock mass
under consideration.
The assistance, with field work costs, of the
Structures Committee of the of the Road
Research Unit of the former New Zealand
National Roads Board is gratefully
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