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CHAPTER 6: SLOPE STABILITY ANALYSIS BY NUMERICAL MODELLING

6.0 Introduction
Numerical models are mathematical models that use some sort of numerical time-stepping procedure
to obtain the models behavior over time. These are computer programs that represent the mechanical
response of a rock mass subjected to a set of initial conditions such as in situ stresses and water
levels, boundary conditions and induced changes such as slope excavation. Numerical models divide
the rock mass into zones. Each zone is assigned a material model and properties. The result of a
numerical model can be extrapolated confidently outside its database in comparison to empirical
methods in which the failure mode is explicitly defined. It can also incorporate geologic features
such as faults and ground water, providing more realistic approximations of behavior of real slopes
than analytical models.

Numerical modelling techniques have been widely used to solve complex slope problems, which
otherwise, could not have been possible using conventional techniques. These models are used to
simulate rock slope as well soil slope with complex conditions. All rock slopes involve many
discontinuities such as joint, fault, bedding plane, etc. Precise representation of discontinuities in
numerical models depends on the type of model.
Numerical methods of analysis used for rock slope stability investigations may be divided into three
approaches:

Continuum modeling

Discontinuum modeling

Hybrid modeling

6.1 Continuum modeling


Continuum modeling is best suited for the analysis of slopes that are comprised of massive, intact
rock, weak rocks, and soil-like or heavily fractured rock masses. Figure1 shows the discritiesed view
of slope by continuum code using phase2 software. Continuum codes assume that material is
continuous throughout the body. Discontinuities are treated as special cases by introducing interfaces
between continuum bodies. This model cannot handle many intersecting joints. It can typically
simulate less then 10 non-intersecting discontinuities. The fundamental importance to continuum
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models and deformable blocks in discrete element models is representation of the rock mass
behaviour. Discrete fractures such as faults and bedding planes can be incorporated in most
continuum models. However, these models cannot be used to simulate highly fracture rock mass.
Finite difference, finite element and boundary element methods are based on this modeling theory. In
this method, the problem domain is discretized into a set of sub-domains or elements. The solution
procedure may be based on numerical approximations of the governing equations. Two-dimensional
continuum codes assume plane strain conditions, which are frequently not valid in inhomogeneous
rock slopes with varying structure, lithology and topography.
Complex behaviour of slope can be modeled using continuum codes. Groundwater, pore pressures
and dynamic interaction can also be simulated. It requires input properties such as constitutive model
(e.g. elastic, elasto-plastic, creep etc.), groundwater characteristics, shear strength of surfaces and in
situ stress state (figure 2 & 3). During modeling, effects of boundary, mesh aspect ratios, symmetry,
hardware memory restrictions are important factors. Figure1 shows the discritiesed view of mne
dump slope in 3D by continuum method. Some softwares based on continuum modeling like Phase2
(rocscience), FLAC2D, FLAC3D (Itasca 1997) and VISAGE (VIPS, 2001), PLAXIS () are well
suited for slope stability problems.

Figure 1: Finite-element model showing descritised slope.

Figure 2: Finite-element mesh of a rock slope having a coal seam.

Figure 3: Simulation of rain water infiltration by Finite-element method.

Figure 4: simulation of mine waste dump by FLAC based on finite difference method

6.2 Discontinuum Modeling

Discontinuum modeling methods treat the rock slope as a discontinuous rock mass by considering it
as an assemblage of rigid or deformable blocks. The analysis includes sliding and opening of rock
discontinuities controlled by the normal and shear stiffness of joints. It allows the deformation and
movement of blocks relative to each other so it can model complex behaviour and mechanisms. It
requires representative slope and discontinuity geometry, intact constitutive criteria, discontinuity
stiffness and shear strength, groundwater characteristics and the in situ stress state. The major
limitation of discontinuum modeling is that it requires representative discontinuity geometry
(spacing, persistence, etc.) along with joint data and properties of each block. Discontinuities divide
the problem domain into blocks that may be either rigid or deformable while continuum behavior is
assumed within deformable blocks. The most widely used discrete element codes for slope stability
studies are UDEC (Universal Distinct Element Code; Itasca Consulting Group, 2000) and 3DEC (3Dimensional Distinct Element Code; Itasca Consulting Group, 2003). Several variations of the
discrete element methodology are:

Distinct element method;


Discontinuous deformation analysis
Particle flow codes.

Discontinuum methods treat the problem domain as an assemblage of distinct, interacting bodies or
blocks subjected to external loads and expected to undergo significant motion with time. This
methodology is collectively referred as the discrete element method (DEM) (Figure 5 to 7). The
development of discrete-element procedures represents an important step in the modelling and
understanding of the mechanical behaviour of jointed rock masses. This method of analysis permits
sliding along and opening or closure between blocks or particles. The equation of dynamic
equilibrium for each block in the system is formulated and repeatedly solved until the boundary
conditions and laws of contact and motion are satisfied. The method thus accounts for complex nonlinear interaction phenomena between blocks.
UDEC (11) uses a force-displacement law specifying interaction between the deformable joint
bounded blocks and Newtons second law of motion, providing displacements induced within the
rock slope. It is particularly well suited to problems involving jointed media and has been used
extensively in the investigation of both landslides and surface mine slopes. The influence of external
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factors such as underground mining, earthquakes and groundwater pressure on block sliding and
deformation can also be simulated.

The discontinuous deformation analysis, DDA, developed by Shi (18) has also been used with
considerable success in the modelling of discontinuous rock masses, both in terms of rockslides (19)
and rockfalls (20).

DDA) is a type of discrete element method originally proposed by Shi in 1988. DDA is somewhat
similar to the finite element method for solving stress-displacement problems, but accounts for the
interaction of independent particles (blocks) along discontinuities in fractured and jointed rock
masses. DDA is typically formulated as a work-energy method, and can be derived using the
principle of Minimum Potential Energy (e.g., Shi) or by using Hamilton's principle. Once the
equations of motion are discretized, a step-wise linear time marching scheme in the Newmark family
is used for the solution of the equations of motion. The relation between adjacent blocks is governed
by equations of contact interpenetration and accounts for friction. DDA adopts a stepwise approach
to solve for the large displacements that accompany discontinuous movements between blocks. The
blocks are said to be "simply deformable". Since the method accounts for the inertial forces of the
blocks' mass, it can be used to solve the full dynamic problem of block motion.

DDA models a discontinuous material as a system of individually deformable blocks that move
independently without interpenetration (Shi, 1988 and 1993). Its formulation is based on a dynamic
equilibrium that considers the kinematics of individual blocks as well as friction along the block
interfaces. The displacements and deformations of the blocks are the result of the accumulation of a
number of small increments, corresponding to small time steps. The transient formulation of the
problem, which is based on minimization of potential energy, makes it possible to investigate the
progression of block movements with time.

Particle flow code allows the rock mass to be represented as a series of spherical particles that
interact through frictional sliding contacts. Clusters of particles may be bonded together through
specified bond strengths in order to simulate joint bounded blocks. High stresses induced in the rock
slope breaks the bonds between the particles simulating the intact fracture of the rock in an
approximate manner.

Figure 5: Simulation of highly intersecting joint by discontinuum code

Figure 6: Rock slope distinct-element model showing discretization of geometry blocks into finitedifference elements.
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Figure 7: 3D Simulation of rock slope by 3Dec software based on finite difference method

6.3 Hybrid approach


Hybrid approaches are increasingly being adopted in rock slope analysis. This may include combined
analyses using limit equilibrium stability analysis and finite-element groundwater flow and stress
analysis as adopted in GEO-SLOPE (Geo-Slope 2000). These models have been used for a
considerable time in underground rock engineering including coupled boundary finite element and
coupled boundary-distinct element solutions. Recent advances include coupled particle flow and
finite-difference analyses using PFC3D and FLAC3D (Itasca 1999).

The coupling of finite-distinct element codes, for example in ELFEN (Rockfield 2001), allows
modeling of both the intact rock behaviour and the development and behaviour of fractures (figure
8). These methods use a finite element mesh to represent either the rock slope or joint bounded
blocks coupled together with discrete elements to model deformation involving joints. If the stresses
within the rock slope exceed the failure strength within the finite-element continuum, a discrete
fracture is initiated. Adaptive remeshing allows the propagation of the cracks through the finiteelement mesh to be simulated. Coupled finite-/distinct element models are able to simulate intact
fracture propagation and fragmentation of jointed and bedded rock (figure 9). However, complex
problems require high memory capacity, comparatively little practical experience in use and
requirement of ongoing calibration are major constraints.

Figure 8: Hybrid finite-/discrete-element rockslide analysis showing several progressive stages of


brittle failure (from Eberhardt et al. 2002).

Figure 9: 3D Simulation of Rock fall using hybrid approach


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The important points and basic issues that should be considered during the numerical modeling of
slope are as follows:

6.4 Important considerations

6.4.1

Two-dimensional analysis versus three-dimensional analysis

The slope can be simulated in 2D or 3D by numerical modeling (figure 10 & 11). It depends on
many factors such as time require for simulation, critical parameter, requirement of simulation, field
condition and computer configuration. Most design analyses for slopes assume a two- dimensional
geometry comprising a unit slice through an infinitely long slope under plane strain conditions, i.e.
the radius of both the toe and the crest are assumed to be infinite. However, three-dimensional
analyses are required when the direction of major geological discontinuities does not strike within
2030 of the strike of the slope or the distribution of geomechanical units varies along the strike of
the slope. This also becomes necessary when the slope geometry in plan cannot be represented by
two-dimensional analysis, which assumes axisymmetric or plain strain condition.

Figure 10: 3D Simulation by Ansys software based on Finite element method

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Figure 11: 2D Simulation by Geoslope software based on Finite element method

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6.4.2

Continuum versus discontinuum models

In general, slope stability problems involve discontinuities at one scale or another. If rock mass of
slope can be represented as an equivalent continuum, continuum models should be used to solve
these types of problems (figure 12). Therefore, many analyses begin with continuum models. If the
slope under consideration is unstable without structure, there is no point in going to discontinuum
models (figure 13).

In contrast to the above, if the discontinuities can be represented in terms of equivalent rock mass
properties and the number of intersecting joints are large, than discontinuum code may provide better
solution. However, these models require in-depth knowledge of the properties of discontinuities of
rock and their mutual interaction and are very difficult to determine. Therefore, one can go for
simulation of rock slope mass by using continuum code in many cases.

Figure 12: 2D simulation of bench slope by FLAC based on finite difference method

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Figure 13: 3D simulation of slope 3DEC software based on discontinuum modeling

6.4.3

Selecting appropriate zone size

The next step in the process is to select an appropriate zone size. The finite difference zones assume
that the stresses and strains within each zone do not differ with position within the zone. It is
necessary to use relatively fine discretizations in order to capture stress and strain gradients within
the slope adequately. Finite element programs using higher-order elements require less zones than the
constant strain/constant stress elements common in finite difference codes. As shown in figure 14 the
coarse model(a) yields a very crude approximation of the factor of safety. A properly descritized
model as shown in figure 14(b) provides a fair estimate of the safety factor without compromise is
solution accuracy and time as compared to an intensively descritized model (c).

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Figure 14: Shows the different view discritized view of internal dump slope

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6.4.4

Initial conditions

Initial conditions are those conditions that existed prior to mining. The important initial conditions at
mine sites are the in situ stress field and the ground water conditions. Numerical models can be used
to evaluate the effect of in situ on stability of rock and soil slopes. Three-dimensional models should
be used for solving slope stability problem under anisotropic in situ conditions.

6.4.5

Boundary conditions

Boundaries are either real or artificial. Real boundaries in slope stability problems correspond to the
natural or excavated ground surface that is usually stress free. All problems in geomechanics
including slope stability problems require that the infinite extent of a real problem domain be
artificially truncated to include only the immediate area of interest. Figure 15 shows typical
recommendations for locations of the artificial far-field boundaries in slope stability problems.

Artificial boundaries can be of two types: prescribed displacement or prescribed stress. Prescribed
displacement boundaries inhibit displacement in either the vertical or the horizontal direction, or
both. Prescribed displacement boundaries are used to represent the condition at the base and the toe
of the slope model. Displacement at the base of the model is always fixed in both the vertical and
horizontal directions to inhibit rotation of the model.

The far-field boundary location and its condition must be specified in any numerical model for slope
stability analyses. The general notion is to select the far-field location so that it does not significantly
influence the results. In most slope stability studies, a prescribed-displacement boundary is used.

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Figure 15: Typical recommendations for locations of artificial far-field boundaries in slope stability
analyses.

6.4.6

Water pressure

The effect of water pressure in reducing effective stresses is very important in slope stability analysis.
As the effect of various assumptions regarding specification of pore pressure distributions in slopes is
not well understood, two methods are commonly used to specify pore pressure distributions within
slopes. The most rigorous method is to perform a complete flow analysis, and use the resultant pore
pressure in the stability analyses (figure 16). A less rigorous but more common method is to specify a
water table, and the resulting pore pressures are given by the product of the vertical depth below the
water table, the water density and gravity.

The water table method under-predicts the actual pore pressure concentrations near toe of a slope,
and slightly over-predicts the pore pressure behind toe by ignoring the inclination of equipotential
lines. Seepage forces must also be considered in the analysis. Flow analysis automatically accounts
for seepage forces resulting due to difference in hydraulic gradient between any two points at the
elevation.

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Figure 16: Simulation of rain water infiltration and generation of water table

6.4.7

Excavation sequence

Simulating excavations in numerical models poses no conceptual difficulties. However, the amount
of effort required to construct a model depends on the number of excavation stages to be simulated.
The most accurate solution is obtained using the largest number of excavation steps, because the real
load path for any zone in the slope is closely followed (Figure 17). A reasonable approach regarding
the number of excavation stages has evolved over the years. Using this approach, only one, two or
three excavation stages are modeled. For each stage, two calculation steps are taken. In the first step,
the model is run elastically to remove any inertial effect caused by sudden removal of a large amount
of material. Second, the model is run allowing plastic behavior to develop. Following this approach,
reasonable solutions to a large number of slope stability problems have been obtained.

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Figure 17: Show the sequential excavation

Important factors that control the stability of rock slope are jointed discontinuities and water whereas,
in soil the cohesion and water. Numerical modeling depends on both site conditions and the potential
mode of failure. Numerical techniques can be applied to complex translational rock slope
deformations where step-path failure necessitates degradation and failure of intact rock bridges along
basal, rear and lateral release surfaces.

Initiation or trigger mechanisms may involve sliding movements which can be analysed using limit
equilibrium theory. However, creep in rock, progressive deformation, and extensive internal
disruption of the slope mass cannot determined by using limit equilibrium approach. The factors
initiating eventual sliding may be complex and not easily allowed for in simple static analysis.
Recent advances in the characterization of complex rock slope deformation and failure using
numerical techniques have demonstrated significant potential for broadening our understanding of the
mechanisms and the associated risk. Numerical modelling of slopes is now used routinely in the civil
and mining engineering sectors as well as in academic research. The major benefits of numerical
modeling are that

Both the stress and the displacements can be calculated,

Different constitutive relations can be employed.

The advantages of a Numerical approach to slope stability analysis over traditional limit equilibrium
methods can be summarized as follows:
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(a) No assumption needs to be made in advance about the shape or location of the failure surface.
Failure occurs `naturally' through the zones within the soil mass in which the soil shear strength is
unable to sustain the applied shear stresses.
(b) Since there is no concept of slices in the numerical approach, there is no need for assumptions
about slice side forces. Numerical method preserve global equilibrium until failure is reached.
(c) If realistic soil compressibility data are available, numerical solutions can give information about
deformations at working stress levels.
(d) Numerical methods are able to monitor progressive failure including overall shear failure.

Basic outline in simulating the slope problem using numerical modeling

Define the problem

Understand the failure mechanism

Select appropriate method

Model the problem

Define the boundary conditions

Initial in situ conditions

Input the material properties

Solve the problem

Analysis the results

6.5 Important failure indicators in slope analysis


6.5.1 Factor of Safety
In conventional limit equilibrium methods, the factor of safety is defined as the ratio of resisting
movements to the overturning movement. It can also be defined as the ratio of actual shear strength to
the assumed value of reduced shear strength leading to failure. When the uncertainty and the
consequences of failure are both small, it is acceptable to use small factor of safety, of the order of 1.3
or even smaller in some circumstances. However, when the uncertainties or the consequences of failure
increase, larger factor of safety is necessary. Large uncertainties coupled with large consequences of
failure represent an unacceptable condition irrespective of the calculated value of the factor of safety.
Typical minimum acceptable value of factor of safety is about 1.3 for end of construction and
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multistage loading, 1.5 for normal long-term loading conditions, and 1.1 to 1.3 for rapid drawdown in
cases where it represents an infrequent loading condition (ref). In cases where rapid drawdown
represents a frequent loading condition, as in pumped storage projects, the factor of safety should be
higher. The use of a factor of safety greater than 1.5 for static analyses is recommended. Fractured or
jointed cemented slope could be analyzed using peak strength parameters which are derived from high
quality samples of unfractured material (Hoek and Bray 1981).
The shear strength reduction technique has two advantages over the conventional approach. The critical
failure surface is found automatically and it is not necessary to specify the shape of the failure surface.
In general, the failure mode of slopes is more complex than simple circles or segmented surfaces.
Further, numerical methods automatically satisfy the translational and the rotational equilibrium
conditions, whereas, not all the limit equilibrium methods satisfy these conditions. To perform slope
stability analysis with the shear strength technique, simulations are run for a series of increasing trial
factor of safety, F, actual shear strength properties cohesion (c) and internal friction angle ( ) are
reduced for each trial using equations (1) and (2). If multiple materials are present, reductions are made
simultaneously for all materials. The trial factor of safety is gradually increased until the slope fails. At
failure, the safety factor equals the trial safety factor.

C trial =

1
F trial

trial = arctan(

.(1)
1
F trial

tan )

..(2)

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6.5.2 Unbalanced Force


A grid point in a numerical model is surrounded by the adjoining zones that contribute forces to the
grid point. At equilibrium, the algebraic sum of these forces is almost zero (i.e., the forces acting on one
side of the grid point nearly balance those acting on the other). Unbalanced force approaching a
constant non-zero value indicates elastic equilibrium and /or plastic flow occurring within the model
(figure 18). A very low value of unbalanced forces indicates balance of forces at all grid points,
however, steady plastic flow may occur without acceleration. In order to distinguish between these two
conditions, other indicators of slope failure should also be examined.

Figure 18: unbalance force solving slope stability by FLAC based on finite difference method

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6.5. 3 Gridpoint Velocities


The gridpoint velocities may be assessed either by plotting the complete field of velocities or by
selecting certain key points in the grid and tracking their velocities with histories/time solution. Steadystate conditions are indicated, if the velocity histories show horizontal traces in their final stages. If they
have all converged to near zero (in comparison to their starting values), then absolute equilibrium has
occurred. If a history has converged to a non-zero value, then steady plastic flow occurs at the grid
point corresponding to the recorded history. If one or more velocity history plots show fluctuating
velocities, then the system is likely to be in a transient condition. To confirm that continuing plastic
flow is occurring, a plot of plasticity should be examined (figure 18). When the model is stable, the
gridpoint velocities decrease to zero and the velocity vectors often appear random in direction.
However, for unstable model, the gridpoint velocities have converged to a non-zero value; it is likely
that steady plastic flow is occurring in the model. In this case, the velocity vectors show some
systematic orientation.

Figure 18: Result of slope in terms of Gridpoint Velocities and velocity vector

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6.5.4 Plastic Indicators


For plasticity models, the those zones/elements satisfying the yield criterion can be displayed. Such an
indication usually denotes that plastic flow is occurring, but it is possible for an element to simply sit
on the yield surface without any significant flow taking place. In such cases it is important to examine
the whole pattern of plasticity indicators to see if a failure mechanism has developed. Two types of
failure mechanisms are indicated by the plasticity state: shear failure and tensile failure (figure 19).

Figure 19: Simulation Result of slope in terms of plastic and yield zones or elements

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6.5.5 Displacement
An unstable model is usually characterized by a non-zero, often fluctuating, maximum unbalanced
force, as well as increasing velocities and displacements (figure 19). The model can also collapse due to
displacements becoming very large, thus distorting the individual elements badly and prohibiting
further timestepping.

Figure 19: Result of slope in terms of X and Y displacement

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6.5.6 Failure Surface


Once unstable or steady plastic flow has been identified, the location of failure surface can be judged
by plasticity indicators, displacement field and localization of shear strain. The extent of the zone of
actively yielding elements forms the outer limit where failure surface can develop. By looking at the
displacement pattern in the model, a more precise estimate can be made (figure 20).

Figure 20: shear strain rate in slope after simulation by finite element method

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