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Technical Note

Analytical solutions for toppling failure


A. Bobet*
Purdue University, School of Civil Engineering, 1284 Civil Engineering Building, West Lafayette, IN 47907-1284, USA
Accepted 18 July 1999
1. Introduction
The toppling of rock slopes is often associated with
rock masses with traverse fractures which produce
blocks of dimension not negligible compared with the
slope size [1]. This type of failure is likely to occur for
all rock masses, including some hard soils, as long as
they are characterized by joint sets having the appro-
priate attitude (dip direction and dip). An example is
shown in Fig. 1, which is a photograph of toppled
schists in a slope in the Furka-Pass, Switzerland.
The stability analysis of toppling failure is based on
the limiting equilibrium approach. This approach con-
siders the rotation of a block about some xed base
[24]. Numerical routines can be implemented in
which the forces acting in each block of the slope are
obtained. The slope stability is then ascertained by
determining the force necessary for equilibrium of the
block at the toe of the slope. More sophisticated nu-
merical techniques such as the DEM (distinct element
method) can also be used [1,5].
These numerical techniques appear to give reason-
able predictions for laboratory experiments and in
practice, but they can be computationally very
demanding. Slopes with a large number of blocks will
require a long computation, specially when searching
for a safe slope design since this usually requires a trial
and error approach. The close-form solutions pre-
sented in this paper can alleviate this problem. They
can be used as an alternative to numerical methods in
problems with large number of blocks, or as prelimi-
nary input for more sophisticated analyses.
The toppling mechanism considered is of `block top-
pling' type in 2D-plane conditions, i.e. the solutions
are not applicable when spacing of discontinuities par-
allel to the section considered is small.
2. Formulation
There are numerous examples in the literature of
block toppling failure of large slopes in which the limit
of material disturbance (base plane) coincides with a
plane approximately normal to the weak, in-dipping
discontinuities, and passes approximately through the
toe of the slope, [3,611]. A similar interpretation is
possible for the toppling failure of the slope shown in
Fig. 1. This is the type of problem that will be
addressed in the following discussion.
Figure 2 shows the model for the analysis. The fol-
lowing list provides a description of all the variables
used:
a Angle of the base plane (limit of toppling
failure) with the horizontal; 90-a dip of the
blocks
F Friction angle of the in-dipping joint
g Unit weight of the rock mass
g
w
Unit weight of water
j Friction angle at the base of the block
k Seepage coecient
o Angle of the natural ground with the base
plane
c Angle of the slope with the base plane
L Slope length measured along the base plane
H Slope height
P
n
Normal force at the block interface
Q
n
Shear force at the block interface
R
n
Normal force at the base of the block
S
n
Shear force at the base of the block
U
l
U
r
Net seepage force at the block interfaces
U
b
Seepage force at the base of the block
International Journal of Rock Mechanics and Mining Sciences 36 (1999) 971980
1365-1609/99/$ - see front matter # 1999 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.
PII: S0148- 9062( 99) 00059- 5
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* Tel.: +1-765-494-5033; fax: +1-765-496-1364.
E-mail address: bobet@ecn.purdue.edu (A. Bobet).
Fig. 1. Toppling of schists. Furka-Pass, Switzerland. (Courtesy of H.H. Einstein, MIT).
Fig. 2. Model for toppling slope analysis.
A. Bobet / International Journal of Rock Mechanics and Mining Sciences 36 (1999) 971980 972
W
n
Weight of the block
x Abscissa
x
o
Abscissa of the intersection between the slope
and the ground
y Block height
The slope is divided into two zones, I and II, which
are limited by the intersection of the cut slope with the
natural ground. In the present analysis it will be
assumed that the thickness of the blocks is very small
compared to a characteristic dimension of the slope
(i.e. failure involves a large number of blocks). With
this assumption, the problem can be solved as a con-
tinuous medium rather than as a discrete assemblage
of blocks. Fig. 3(a) shows a single block with all the
forces acting on it. The analysis is carried out through
the following steps:
1. Find the force P
nt
I
required to prevent toppling of
the last block of zone I.
2. Find the force P
ns
I
required to prevent sliding of the
last block of zone I.
3. The maximum of P
nt
I
and P
ns
I
is the force acting on
the rst block of zone II.
4. The maximum of P
nt
II
(the force required to prevent
toppling of the last block of zone II) and P
ns
II
(the
force required to prevent sliding of the last block of
zone II) is the force required at the toe of the slope
to achieve equilibrium.
5. Find the angle c for which the slope is stable (i.e.
the force at the toe of the slope is zero).
Following the work of Hoek and Bray [2] and
Aydan et al. [3], the toppling equilibrium of a block in
zone I can be written, by taking moments at point O,
as (Fig. 3(a)):
P
I
nt
y dy Q
I
nt
dx
1
2
dW
n
sin a y
1
2
dW
n
cosa dx
P
I
nt
dP
I
nt
y 0,
where P
nt
is the load that prevents toppling, and
dW
n
=gy dx; Q
nt
I
=P
nt
I
tan F; dQ
nt
I
=dP
nt
I
tan F.
The height of the blocks can be expressed as:
y=x tan o; dy = dx tan o.
Substituting these expressions into (1), one gets
dP
I
nt
P
I
nt
_
1
tan F
tan o
_
dx
x

1
2
g sin a tan o x dx 0
(2)
which is the dierential equation for toppling failure.
Equation (2), with the boundary condition P
nt
I
=0
for x = 0, results in
P
I
nt

1
2
g sin a
tan o
3 tan F=tan o
x
2
3
Sliding equilibrium of the block along the base
plane (see Fig. 3(a)) can be written as:
P
I
ns
P
I
ns
dP
I
ns
S
n
dW
n
sin a 0
Q
I
ns
Q
I
ns
dQ
I
ns
dW
n
cos a R
n
0
4
where P
ns
is the load that prevents sliding, and
S
n
=R
n
tan j, Q
ns
I
=P
ns
I
tan F, dQ
ns
I
=dP
ns
I
tan F.
Substituting these expressions in (4), the dierential
equation for sliding is
Fig. 3. Forces on a single block (zone I).
(1)
A. Bobet / International Journal of Rock Mechanics and Mining Sciences 36 (1999) 971980 973
dP
I
ns
tan j tan F 1
gx tan osin a cos a tan jdx 0,
5
which, for the boundary condition, P
ns
I
=0 for x = 0
has the solution
P
I
ns

1
2
g sin a
tan o1 tan j=tan a
1 tan j tan F
x
2
6
The blocks in zone I can topple or slide. The mode
of failure is determined by the greatest of the forces
given by (3) and (6). In (6), sliding failure (P
ns
I
> 0) is
possible only if a >j (given the condition tan j
tan F < 1). However, in this case the entire slope
slides along the base plane (see Fig. 2), and the sol-
ution for a stable slope is trivial: c=0 (i.e. excavation
of the entire slope down to the base level). The case of
interest is for a <j, which requires P
n
I
< 0. Hence,
the maximum P
n
I
is given by Equation (3), i.e. toppling
failure.
The limit equilibrium equations for zone II can be
obtained as for zone I. For toppling failure, the
moment equilibrium gives (see Fig. 3(a))
P
II
nt
y Q
II
nt
dx
1
2
dW
n
sin a y

1
2
dW
n
cos a dx P
II
nt
dP
II
nt
y dy 0
7
where, dW
n
=gy dx, Q
nt
II
=P
nt
II
tan F, dQ
nt
II
=dP
nt
II
tan F.
From geometrical considerations, the height of the
block can be expressed as: y=(Lx)tan c;
dy=tan c dx.
Substituting into (7), the dierential equation for
toppling failure is
dP
II
nt
P
II
nt
_
1
tan F
tan c
_
dx
L x

1
2
g L xsin a tan c dx 0
8
With the boundary condition P
nt
I
=P
nt
II
for x=x
o
(the toppling force on the rst block of zone II is the
resulting force on the last block of zone I, given by
Eq. (3)), the solution is
P
II
nt

1
2
g sin a tan o
_
1
3 tan F=tan o

tan o=tan c
3 tan F=tan c
_
x
o
2
_
x
o
tan o
tan c
_
1tan F=tan c
L x
tan F=tan c1

1
2
g sina tan c
L x
2
3 tan F=tan c
9
The values of x
o
and L are given by: x
o
H sinc=
tan o sina c; L H=sina c sin c=tan o
cos c
From Eq. (9), one can observe that for c >F, and
as x 4L, the force required for equilibrium goes to
innity. Hence equilibrium is possible only if c <F.
Note that Eq. (9) has singular solutions for c=F and
tan F=3 tanc; these cases will be discussed later.
Sliding equilibrium in zone II can be formulated as
(see Fig. 3(a))
P
II
ns
P
II
ns
dP
II
ns
S
n
dW
n
sin a 0
Q
II
ns
Q
II
ns
dQ
II
ns
dW
n
cos a R
n
0
10
or as the dierential equation
dP
II
ns
tan j tan F 1
g L x tan csin a cos a tan jdx 0
11
In zone II the block movement starts as toppling.
However, as the movement progresses downwards to
the toe of the slope, failure may change to sliding.
Sliding may start at some point `x=z' where the load
necessary for toppling, given by Eq. (9), will be equal
to the load necessary for sliding, which is given by the
solution of (11). Using this condition, which can be
expressed as P
ns
II
=P
nt
II
for x=z, the solution of (11) is
P
II
ns

1
2
g sin a
tan c1 tan j=tana
1 tan j tan F
L x
2

1
2
g sina tan o
_
1
3 tan F=tan o

tan o=tan c
3 tan F=tan c
_
x
2
o
_
x
o
tan o
tan c
_
1tan F=tan c
L z
tan F=tan c1

1
2
g sin a tan c
_
1 tan j=tan a
1 tan j tan F

1
3 tan F=tan c
_
L z
2
12
Of all values of `z', sliding will occur at a location
such that P
ns
II
is maximum for x=L. In other words,
@P
II
ns
=@zj
xL
0. With this condition, slippage will be
produced at
L z
tan F=tan c3

g sin a tan c
C 1 tan F=tan c
_
1 tan j=tan a
1 tan j tan F

1
3 tan F=tan c
_
,
13
A. Bobet / International Journal of Rock Mechanics and Mining Sciences 36 (1999) 971980 974
where
C
1
2
g sina tan o
_
1
3 tan F=tan o

tan o=tan c
3 tan F=tan c
_
x
2
o
_
x
o
tan o
tan c
_
1tan F=tan c
Note that for the condition (Lz ) R0, sliding does
not occur, and the solution is given by Eq. (9). In this
case the force at the toe of the slope (for x=L) is
nite only if F >c.
Substituting (13) in (12), the force necessary for
equilibrium at the toe of the slope (x=L) is given by
P
II
ns
g sin a tan c
_
1
1 tan F=tan c

1
2
_
_
1 tan j=tan a
1 tan j tan F

1
3 tan F=tan c
_
L z
2
14
There is no diculty in nding the critical angle
c
critical
for which P
ns
II
=0 for x=L. That is, the angle
at which the slope will be in equilibrium. Disregarding
the case z=L, and the especial case tan F=3 tan c
(see later), the solution is given by
tan c
critical

tan F 1 tan j=tan a
2 tan j tan F 3 tan j=tan a
15
It can be noticed that the solution is independent of
the angle o and the height H of the slope.
The especial cases F=c and tan F=3 tan c are
included for completeness, and they do not present ad-
ditional diculties. Following the preceding reasoning,
one obtains
For F=c,
P
II
nt

1
2
g sin a tan o
_
1
3 tan F=tan o

1
2
tan o
tan c
_
x
o
2

1
4
g sina tan c L x
2
P
II
ns

1
2
g sin a
tan c1 tan j=tan a
1 tan j tan F
L x
2

1
2
g sina tan o
_
1
3 tan F=tan o

1
2
tan o=tan c
_
x
o
2

1
2
g sin a tan c
_
1 tan j=tan a
1 tan j tan F

1
2
_
L z
2
Sliding starts at: (Lz )=0 (i.e. there is no sliding),
which gives
P
II
nt

1
2
g sina tan o
_
1
3 tan F=tan o

1
2
tan o
tan c
_
x
2
o
16
This expression is always greater than zero. Hence,
a slope with F=c will never be stable.
For the case tan F=tan c 3,
P
II
nt

_
1
2
g sin a
tan c
_
ln
_
x
o
tan o
tan c
_

tan c=tan o
3 tan F=tan o
_

1
2
g sina tan c lnL x
_
L x
2
P
II
ns

1
2
g sin a
tan c1 tan j=tan a
1 tan j tan F
L x
2

_
1
2
g sina tan c
_
ln
_
x
o
tan o
tan c
_

tan c=tan o
3 tan F=tan o
_

1
2
g sina tan c lnL z

1
2
g sin a tan c
1 tan j=tan a
1 tan j tan F
_
L z
2
Sliding occurs for
lnL z ln
_
x
o
tan o
tan c
_

tan c=tan o
3 tan F=tan o

1
2

1 tan j=tan a
1 tan j tan F
and
P
II
ns

1
4
g sina tan c L z
2
17
3. Water seepage
The preceding solutions can be easily extended to a
slope with water seepage. Fig. 4 shows a slope in
which the water table is at the surface with water ow,
A. Bobet / International Journal of Rock Mechanics and Mining Sciences 36 (1999) 971980 975
as a rst approximation, parallel to the ground sur-
face. Under this condition, the pore water pressure is
linear with depth, and can be expressed by the
equation:
u g
w
k y
The seepage coecient k can be approximated as
k u
m
=d (see Fig. 4).
Figure 3(b) shows the forces acting on a block with
water seepage. As before, the slope is divided into two
zones I and II, and the analysis is carried out through
the same steps. For each zone both sliding and top-
pling equilibrium equations can be written as follows:
Toppling in zone I:
P
I
nt
y dy Q
I
nt
dx
1
2
dW
n
sin a y

1
2
dW
n
cos a dx P
I
nt
dP
I
nt
y U
l
U
r

y
2
0
Sliding in zone I:
P
I
ns
P
I
ns
dP
I
ns
S
n
dW
n
sin a U
l
U
r
0
Q
I
ns
Q
I
ns
dQ
I
ns
dW
n
cos a R
n
U
b
0
Toppling in zone II:
P
II
nt
y Q
II
nt
dx
1
2
dW
n
sin a y

1
2
dW
n
cos a dx P
II
nt
dP
II
nt
y dy
U
l
U
r

y
2
0
Sliding in zone II:
P
II
ns
P
II
ns
dP
II
ns
S
n
dW
n
sin a U
l
U
r
0
Q
II
ns
Q
II
ns
dQ
II
ns
dW
n
cos a R
n
U
b
0
with
U
l
1=2 y dy=2
2
g
w
k
U
r
1=2 y dy=2
2
g
w
k
U
b
=g
w
y k dx.
The solution of these dierential equations is
Fig. 4. Assumed water seepage in the slope.
A. Bobet / International Journal of Rock Mechanics and Mining Sciences 36 (1999) 971980 976
P
II
nt

_
1
2
g sina x
2
o
tan o
_
1
3 tan F=tan o

tan o=tan c
3 tan F=tan c
_

1
2
g
w
k
x
2
o
tan
2
o
_
1
3 tan F=tan c

1
3 tan F=tan o
_
_

_
x
o
tan o
tan c
_
1tan F=tan c
L x
tan F=tan c1

1
2
g sin a g
w
k tan c

tan c
3 tan F=tan c
L x
2
P
II
ns

1
2
g sin a cos a tan j g
w
k tan j tan c
1 tan j tan F
tan c
L x
2

_
1
2
gsinax
o
2
tan o
_
1
3 tan F=tan o

tan o=tan c
3 tan F=tan c
_

1
2
g
w
kx
o
2
tan
2
o
_
1
3 tan F=tan c

1
3 tan F=tan o
_
_
_
x
o
tan o
tan c
_
1tan F=tan c
L z
tan F=tan c1

1
2
tan c
_
g sin a cos atan j g
w
ktan j tan c
1 tan jtan F

gsina g
w
ktan c
3 tan F=tan c
_
L z
2
L z
tan F=tan c3

_
g sin a cos a tan j g
w
ktan j tan c
1 tan j tan F

gsina g
w
ktan c
3 tan F=tan c
_
tan c
C 1 tan F=tan c
20
where
C
_
1
2
gsin a x
o
2
tan o
_
1
3 tan F=tan o

tan o=tan c
3 tan F=tan c
_

1
2
g
w
kx
o
2
tan
2
o
_
1
3 tan F=tan c

1
3 tan F=tan o
_
_
_
x
o
tan o
tan c
_
1tan F=tan c
Note that in Eq. (18), for F <c, and as x 4L,
P
nt
II
41. A nite solution only exists if F >c. As
before, the conditions F=c and tan F=3 tan c are
special cases.
Substituting (20) into (19) and for x=L, the force at
the toe of the slope required for equilibrium is:
P
II
ns
g sin a tan c
_
1
1 tan F=tan c

1
2
_
_
1 tan j=tan a g
w
=g ktan j tan c=sin a
1 tan j tan F

1 g
w
=g ktan c=sina
3 tan F=tan c
_
L z
2
21
P
ns
II
has a value of zero at the toe of the slope (i.e.
P
ns
II
=0 for x=L) for z=L, which is a trivial solution,
for tan F=3 tan c (see later), or for
_
g
w
k2 tan j tan F
_
tan
2
c

_
g sina
_
2 tan j tan F 3
tan j
tan a
_
g
w
k3tan j tan F
_
tan c

_
g sin a
_
1
tan j
tan a
_
tan F g
w
k tan j tan F
_
0
22
Equation (22) is a second order equation in tan c,
which will give the value of c
critical
, at which the slope
is stable. As before, the solution is independent of the
angle o and the height H of the slope.
The especial cases F=c and tan F=3 tan c are
included for completeness.
For F=c,
(18)
(19)
A. Bobet / International Journal of Rock Mechanics and Mining Sciences 36 (1999) 971980 977
P
II
nt

1
4
_
g sin a
_
2
3 tan o tan F

1
tan c
_
g
w
k
_
1
2
3 tan F=tan o
_
_
x
o
2
tan
2
o

1
4
g sin a g
w
k tan c tan c L x
2
and
P
II
ns

1
2
g sin a cos a tan j g
w
k tan j tan c
1 tan j tan F
tan c L x
2

1
4
_
g sin a
_
2
3 tan o tan F

1
tan c
_
g
w
k
_
1
2
3 tan F=tan o
_
_
x
o
2
tan
2
o
1
2
_
g sin a cos a tan j g
w
ktan j tan c
1 tan j tan F

1
2
g sin a g
w
k tan c
_
tan cL z
2
Sliding occurs at (Lz )=0, and
P
II
nt

1
2
g sina tan o
_
_
1
3 tan F=tan o

1
2
tan o
tan c
_

1
2
g
w
g
k
tan o
sina
_
1
2
3 tan F=tan o
_
_
x
o
2
23
For the case tan F/tan c=3
P
II
nt

_
C
1
2
g sina g
w
k tan c tan c lnL x
_
L x
2
,
where
C
1
2
_
g sina
_
ln
_
x
o
tan o
tan c
_

tan c=tan o
3 tan F=tan o
_
g
w
k tan c
_
ln
_
x
o
tan o
tan c
_

1
3 tan F=tan o
_
_
tan c
P
II
ns

1
2
g sin a cos a tan j g
w
ktan j tan c
1 tan j tan F
tan c L x
2

_
C
1
2
g sina g
w
k tan ctan clnL z

1
2
gsin a cos a tan j g
w
ktan j tan c
1 tan j tan F
tan c
_
L z
2
Sliding occurs for
lnL z
2 C
gsina g
w
k tan c tan c

1
2

g sin a cos a tan j g


w
k tan j tan c
1 tan j tan F g sina g
w
k tan c
and
P
II
ns

1
4
g sina tan c
_
1
g
w
g
k
tan c
sina
_
L z
2
24
Note that all above formulations reduce to the pre-
vious case of dry slope when k=0. For k > 0 the
force at the toe of the slope required for equilibrium is
always greater than for the case of dry slope. This can
be observed by comparison of Eqs. (14), (16) and (17)
with Eqs. (21), (23) and (24), respectively, where ad-
ditional terms appear due to seepage. These additional
terms increase the magnitude of the load. As the see-
page coecient k increases, the load at the toe of the
slope increases. As a consequence, the angle c
critical
at
which the slope is stable is smaller with seepage, and is
reduced as the seepage coecient k increases.
4. Verication
Verication of the preceding derivation has been
done by solving the following cases with both the ana-
lytical method and the numerical method proposed by
Hoek and Bray [2].
Case 1 (no water seepage): a=308, c=308, o=308,
H = 10 m, F=358, j=408, g=25 kN/m
3
, g
w
=9.81
kN/m
3
, k=0.
Case 2 (water seepage): a=108, c=208, o=108,
H = 10 m, F=358, j=408, g=25 kN/m
3
, g
w
=9.81
kN/m
3
, k=1.
Figure 5 shows a comparison between analytical and
numerical results for the force at the toe of the slope
(P
o
in the gure), and for a+c
critical
as a function of
the block size, Dx, which in the gure is plotted in
dimensionless form as H=Dx (height of the slope over
A. Bobet / International Journal of Rock Mechanics and Mining Sciences 36 (1999) 971980 978
block size). The analytical solution gives accurate
results, within 10% of the numerical solution, for
H=Dx ratios larger than 50. With decreasing ratios the
errors from the analytical solution increase rapidly.
This is an anticipated result since one expects the ana-
lytical solution to be more accurate as the block size
decreases. Also, the analytical solution appears to give
a safe condition for smaller values of the height to
length ratio (a+c
critical
smaller than the values
obtained with the solution by Hoek and Bray).
5. Conclusions
From the preceding results, it can be concluded that:
1. For F >c the force required for equilibrium can
be obtained from Eqs. (14) or (17) if there is no
water seepage. If there is water seepage, from Eqs.
(21) or (24).
2. The largest possible stable slope angle is a+c
critical
,
where c
critical
is given by Eqs. (15) or (22) if there is
water seepage. Hence, toppling can occur only if
c >c
critical
.
3. For F=c the force required for equilibrium is
given by Equations (16) or (23) if there is seepage.
None of the blocks slide, and the stable slope angle
is a (i.e. c=0).
4. For F <c the force required for equilibrium is
given by Eqs. (9) or (18) if there is seepage. As in
(3), no blocks slide, and the stable slope angle is a
(i.e. c=0).
These solutions can be applied in conjunction with
stereographic projection methods [10,12], which can be
used to quickly determine what joint sets need to be
further analyzed. Kinematic conditions for toppling
failure require that [10]: (1) the strike of the in-dipping
joint set is within 308 of the strike of the slope. (2)
cyF. The following recommendations can then be
used for slope stability associated with the joint sets
that satisfy the kinematic conditions.
. The stable slope angle is a+c
critical
, where c
critical
is
given by Eqs. (15) or (22) if there is water seepage.
In these equations the friction angles j and F
should be decreased with the appropriate factors of
safety.
. The stable slope angle is independent of the height
of the slope, H, and of the angle o.
. It should be veried that j >a (i.e. friction at the
base of the blocks is smaller than the base plane
angle); otherwise failure occurs through sliding
Fig. 5. Comparison between analytical and numerical solutions. Case 1: a=30, c=30, o=30, H = 10 m, F=35, j=40, g=25 kN/m
3
, g
w
=9.81
kN/m
3
, k=0. Case 2: a=10, c=20, o=10, H = 10 m, F=35, j=40, g=25 kN/m
3
, g
w
=9.81 kN/m
3
, k=1.0.
A. Bobet / International Journal of Rock Mechanics and Mining Sciences 36 (1999) 971980 979
along the base plane, and the stable slope angle is a
(i.e. c=0).
This method can be applied only to block toppling
failures in which: (i) three-dimensional eects are negli-
gible; (ii) the dip and the base plane angles are comp-
lementary; (iii) the size of the blocks is small compared
to a characteristic dimension of the slope. The method
provides simple analytical solutions which can be used
as a preliminary design, or as a rst iteration for com-
plex numerical models.
References
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Institution of Mining and Metallurgy, 1981.
[3] Aydan O

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