Slope stability

Slope stability refers to the condition of inclined soil or rock slopes to withstand or undergo movement. The stability condition of slopes is a subject of study and research in soil mechanics, geotechnical engineering and engineering geology. Slope stability analyses include static and dynamic, analytical or empirical methods to evaluate the stability of earth and rock-fill dams, embankments, excavated slopes, and natural slopes in soil and rock. The analyses are generally aimed at understanding the causes of an occurred slope failure, or the factors that can potentially trigger a slope movement, resulting in a landslide, as well as at preventing the initiation of such movement, slowing it down or arresting it through mitigation countermeasures.

The stability of a slope is essentially controlled by the ratio between the available shear strength and the acting shear stress, which can be expressed in terms of a safety factor if these quantities are integrated over a potential (or actual) sliding surface. A slope can be globally stable if the safety factor, computed along any potential sliding surface running from the top of the slope to its toe, is always larger than 1. The smallest value of the safety factor will be taken as representing the global stability condition of the slope. Similarly, a slope can be locally stable if a safety factor larger than 1 is computed along any potential sliding surface running through a limited portion of the slope (for instance only within its toe). Values of the global or local safety factors close to 1 (typically comprised between 1 and 1.3, depending on regulations) indicate marginally stable slopes that require attention, monitoring and/or an engineering intervention (slope stabilization) to increase the safety factor and reduce the probability of a slope movement.

A previously stable slope can be affected by a number of predisposing factors or processes that make the safety factor decrease - either by increasing the shear stress or by decreasing the shear strength - and can ultimately result in slope failure. Factors that can trigger slope failure include hydrologic events (such as intense or prolonged rainfall, rapid snowmelt, progressive soil saturation, increase of water pressure within the slope), earthquakes (including aftershocks), internal erosion (piping), surface or toe erosion, artificial slope loading (for instance due to the construction of a building), slope cutting (for instance to make space for roadways, railways or buildings), or slope flooding (for instance by filling an artificial lake after damming a river).


Figure 1: Simple slope slip section

As seen in Figure 1, earthen slopes can develop a cut-spherical weakness area. The probability of this happening can be calculated in advance using a simple 2-D circular analysis package.[1] A primary difficulty with analysis is locating the most-probable slip plane for any given situation.[2] Many landslides have only been analyzed after the fact. More recently slope stability radar technology has been employed, particularly in the mining industry, to gather real time data and assist in determining the likelihood of slope failure.

Landslide Böschungsrutschung
Figure 2: Real life landslide on a slope

Real life failures in naturally deposited mixed soils are not necessarily circular, but prior to computers, it was far easier to analyse such a simplified geometry. Nevertheless, failures in 'pure' clay can be quite close to circular. Such slips often occur after a period of heavy rain, when the pore water pressure at the slip surface increases, reducing the effective normal stress and thus diminishing the restraining friction along the slip line. This is combined with increased soil weight due to the added groundwater. A 'shrinkage' crack (formed during prior dry weather) at the top of the slip may also fill with rain water, pushing the slip forward. At the other extreme, slab-shaped slips on hillsides can remove a layer of soil from the top of the underlying bedrock. Again, this is usually initiated by heavy rain, sometimes combined with increased loading from new buildings or removal of support at the toe (resulting from road widening or other construction work). Stability can thus be significantly improved by installing drainage paths to reduce the destabilising forces. Once the slip has occurred, however, a weakness along the slip circle remains, which may then recur at the next monsoon.

Slope stability issues can be seen with almost any walk down a ravine in an urban setting. An example is shown in Figure 3, where a river is eroding the toe of a slope, and there is a swimming pool near the top of the slope. If the toe is eroded too far, or the swimming pool begins to leak, the forces driving a slope failure will exceed those resisting failure, and a landslide will develop, possibly quite suddenly.

Analysis methods

Figure 3: Slope with eroding river and swimming pool
Pett bish
Figure 4: Method of slices

If the forces available to resist movement are greater than the forces driving movement, the slope is considered stable. A factor of safety is calculated by dividing the forces resisting movement by the forces driving movement. In earthquake-prone areas, the analysis is typically run for static conditions and pseudo-static conditions, where the seismic forces from an earthquake are assumed to add static loads to the analysis.

Slope stabilization

Stability of slopes can be improved by:

  • Flattening of slope results in reduction in weight which makes the slope more stable
  • Soil stabilization
  • Providing lateral supports by piles or retaining walls
  • Grouting or cement injections into special places
  • Consolidation by surcharging or electro osmosis increases the stability of slope.

See also


  1. ^ "Slope Stability Calculator". Retrieved 2006-12-14.
  2. ^ Chugh, Ashok K. (2002). "A method for locating critical slip surfaces in slope stability analysis: Discussion". Canadian Geotechnical Journal. 39 (3): 765–770. doi:10.1139/t02-042.


  • Coduto, Donald P. (1998). Geotechnical Engineering: Principles and Practices. Prentice-Hall. ISBN 0-13-576380-0
  • Fredlund, D. G., H. Rahardjo, M. D. Fredlund (2014). Unsaturated Soil Mechanics in Engineering Practice. Wiley-Interscience. ISBN 978-1118133590
Engineering geology

Engineering geology is the application of the geology to engineering study for the purpose of assuring that the geological factors regarding the location, design, construction, operation and maintenance of engineering works are recognized and accounted for. Engineering geologists provide geological and geotechnical recommendations, analysis, and design associated with human development and various types of structures. The realm of the engineering geologist is essentially in the area of earth-structure interactions, or investigation of how the earth or earth processes impact human made structures and human activities.

Engineering geology studies may be performed during the planning, environmental impact analysis, civil or structural engineering design, value engineering and construction phases of public and private works projects, and during post-construction and forensic phases of projects. Works completed by engineering geologists include; geological hazard assessments, geotechnical, material properties, landslide and slope stability, erosion, flooding, dewatering, and seismic investigations, etc. Engineering geology studies are performed by a geologist or engineering geologist that is educated, trained and has obtained experience related to the recognition and interpretation of natural processes, the understanding of how these processes impact human made structures (and vice versa), and knowledge of methods by which to mitigate against hazards resulting from adverse natural or human made conditions. The principal objective of the engineering geologist is the protection of life and property against damage caused by various geological conditions.

The practice of engineering geology is also very closely related to the practice of geological engineering and geotechnical engineering. If there is a difference in the content of the disciplines, it mainly lies in the training or experience of the practitioner.

Final cover

Final cover is a multilayered system of various materials which are primarily used to reduce the amount of storm water that will enter a landfill after closing. Proper final cover systems will also minimize the surface water on the liner system, resist erosion due to wind or runoff, control the migrations of landfill gases, and improve aesthetics.A final cover system can include a top soil layer composed of nutrient rich soil, a protective layer to reduce the effects of freeze/thaw, a drainage layer which moves storm water, a barrier layer, and a grading layer.

Geotechnical engineering

Geotechnical engineering is the branch of civil engineering concerned with the engineering behavior of earth materials. Geotechnical engineering is important in civil engineering, but also has applications in military, mining, petroleum and other engineering disciplines that are concerned with construction occurring on the surface or within the ground. Geotechnical engineering uses principles of soil mechanics and rock mechanics to investigate subsurface conditions and materials; determine the relevant physical/mechanical and chemical properties of these materials; evaluate stability of natural slopes and man-made soil deposits; assess risks posed by site conditions; design earthworks and structure foundations; and monitor site conditions, earthwork and foundation construction.A typical geotechnical engineering project begins with a review of project needs to define the required material properties. Then follows a site investigation of soil, rock, fault distribution and bedrock properties on and below an area of interest to determine their engineering properties including how they will interact with, on or in a proposed construction. Site investigations are needed to gain an understanding of the area in or on which the engineering will take place. Investigations can include the assessment of the risk to humans, property and the environment from natural hazards such as earthquakes, landslides, sinkholes, soil liquefaction, debris flows and rockfalls.

A geotechnical engineer then determines and designs the type of foundations, earthworks, and/or pavement subgrades required for the intended man-made structures to be built. Foundations are designed and constructed for structures of various sizes such as high-rise buildings, bridges, medium to large commercial buildings, and smaller structures where the soil conditions do not allow code-based design.

Foundations built for above-ground structures include shallow and deep foundations. Retaining structures include earth-filled dams and retaining walls. Earthworks include embankments, tunnels, dikes and levees, channels, reservoirs, deposition of hazardous waste and sanitary landfills. Geotechnical engineers are extensively involved in earthen and concrete dam projects, evaluating the subsurface conditions at the dam site and the side slopes of the reservoir, the seepage conditions under and around the dam and the stability of the dam under a range of normal and extreme loading conditions.

Geotechnical engineering is also related to coastal and ocean engineering. Coastal engineering can involve the design and construction of wharves, marinas, and jetties. Ocean engineering can involve foundation and anchor systems for offshore structures such as oil platforms.

The fields of geotechnical engineering and engineering geology are closely related, and have large areas of overlap. However, the field of geotechnical engineering is a specialty of engineering, where the field of engineering geology is a specialty of geology. Coming from the fields of engineering and science, respectively, the two may approach the same subject, such as soil classification, with different methods.

Interferometric synthetic-aperture radar

Interferometric synthetic aperture radar, abbreviated InSAR (or deprecated IfSAR), is a radar technique used in geodesy and remote sensing. This geodetic method uses two or more synthetic aperture radar (SAR) images to generate maps of surface deformation or digital elevation, using differences in the phase of the waves returning to the satellite or aircraft. The technique can potentially measure millimetre-scale changes in deformation over spans of days to years. It has applications for geophysical monitoring of natural hazards, for example earthquakes, volcanoes and landslides, and in structural engineering, in particular monitoring of subsidence and structural stability.


The term landslide or less frequently, landslip, refers to several forms of mass wasting that include a wide range of ground movements, such as rockfalls, deep-seated slope failures, mudflows, and debris flows. Landslides occur in a variety of environments, characterized by either steep or gentle slope gradients, from mountain ranges to coastal cliffs or even underwater, in which case they are called submarine landslides. Gravity is the primary driving force for a landslide to occur, but there are other factors affecting slope stability that produce specific conditions that make a slope prone to failure. In many cases, the landslide is triggered by a specific event (such as a heavy rainfall, an earthquake, a slope cut to build a road, and many others), although this is not always identifiable.

National Society of Consulting Soil Scientists

The National Society of Consulting Soil Scientists (NSCSS), was integrated into the Soil Science Society of America as of August, 2011. NSCSS was a scientific and professional society of soil scientists, principally in the U.S. but with non-U.S. members as well. Members engaged primarily in environmental consulting, but consulting was not a requirement of membership, and the member body included soil science educators as well as government soil scientists. Society consulting soil scientists provided professional services in the form of agricultural and environmental consulting with respect to using soil as a natural resource, especially as it relates to nutrient management, waste management, septic systems, wetlands, erosion, slope stability, land use planning, and land degradation.

Newmark's sliding block

The Newmark's sliding block analysis method is an engineering that calculates permanent displacements of soil slopes (also embankments and dams) during seismic loading. Newmark analysis does not calculate actual displacement, but rather is an index value that can be used to provide an indication of the structures likelihood of failure during a seismic event. It is also simply called Newmark's analysis or Sliding block method of slope stability analysis.

Nicholas Ambraseys

Nicholas Neocles Ambraseys FICE FREng (Greek: Νικόλαος Αμβράζης του Νεοκλή, 19 January 1929 – 28 December 2012) was a Greek engineering seismologist. He was emeritus professor of Engineering Seismology and Senior Research Fellow at Imperial College London. For many years Ambraseys was considered as the leading figure and absolute authority in earthquake engineering and seismology in Europe.

Rock mass classification

Rock mass classification systems are used for various engineering design and stability analysis. These are based on empirical relations between rock mass parameters and engineering applications, such as tunnels, slopes, foundations, and excavatability. The first rock mass classification system in geotechnical engineering was proposed in 1946 for tunnels with steel set support.


STABL is a computer program initially developed as a public domain program by engineers at Purdue University. The program is used for slope stability analysis. The windows version of the program allows analysis of unreinforced slopes, slopes with tiebacks, as well as slopes reinforced with nails or geogrids using the Bishop, Janbu simplified, and Spencer methods.


SVSLOPE is a slope stability analysis program developed by SoilVision Systems Ltd.. The software is designed to analyze slopes using both the classic "method of slices" as well as newer stress-based methods. The program is used in the field of civil engineering to analyze levees, earth dams, natural slopes, tailings dams, heap leach piles, waste rock piles, and anywhere there is concern for mass wasting. SVSLOPE finds the factor of safety or the probability of failure for the slope. The software makes use of advanced searching methods to determine the critical failure surface.

Sarada K. Sarma

Sarada Kanta Sarma is a geotechnical engineer, emeritus reader of engineering seismology and senior research investigator at Imperial College London. He has developed a method of seismic slope stability analysis which is named after him, the Sarma method.

Sarma method

The Sarma method is a method used primarily to assess the stability of soil slopes under seismic conditions. Using appropriate assumptions the method can also be employed for static slope stability analysis. It was proposed by Sarada K. Sarma in the early 1970s as an improvement over the other conventional methods of analysis which had adopted numerous simplifying assumptions.

Slope stability analysis

Slope stability analysis is performed to assess the safe design of a human-made or natural slopes (e.g. embankments, road cuts, open-pit mining, excavations, landfills etc.) and the equilibrium conditions. Slope stability is the resistance of inclined surface to failure by sliding or collapsing. The main objectives of slope stability analysis are finding endangered areas, investigation of potential failure mechanisms, determination of the slope sensitivity to different triggering mechanisms, designing of optimal slopes with regard to safety, reliability and economics, designing possible remedial measures, e.g. barriers and stabilization.Successful design of the slope requires geological information and site characteristics, e.g. properties of soil/rock mass, slope geometry, groundwater conditions, alternation of materials by faulting, joint or discontinuity systems, movements and tension in joints, earthquake activity etc. The presence of water has a detrimental effect on slope stability. Water pressure acting in the pore spaces, fractures or other discontinuities in the materials that make up the pit slope will reduce the strength of those materials.

Choice of correct analysis technique depends on both site conditions and the potential mode of failure, with careful consideration being given to the varying strengths, weaknesses and limitations inherent in each methodology.Before the computer age stability analysis was performed graphically or by using a hand-held calculator. Today engineers have a lot of possibilities to use analysis software, ranges from simple limit equilibrium techniques through to computational limit analysis approaches (e.g. Finite element limit analysis, Discontinuity layout optimization) to complex and sophisticated numerical solutions (finite-/distinct-element codes). The engineer must fully understand limitations of each technique. For example, limit equilibrium is most commonly used and simple solution method, but it can become inadequate if the slope fails by complex mechanisms (e.g. internal deformation and brittle fracture, progressive creep, liquefaction of weaker soil layers, etc.). In these cases more sophisticated numerical modelling techniques should be utilised. Also, even for very simple slopes, the results obtained with typical limit equilibrium methods currently in use (Bishop, Spencer, etc.) may differ considerably. In addition, the use of the risk assessment concept is increasing today. Risk assessment is concerned with both the consequence of slope failure and the probability of failure (both require an understanding of the failure mechanism).Within the last decade (2003) Slope Stability Radar has been developed to remotely scan a rock slope to monitor the spatial deformation of the face. Small movements of a rough wall can be detected with sub-millimeter accuracy by using interferometry techniques.

Slope stability probability classification

The slope stability probability classification (SSPC) system is a rock mass classification system for slope engineering and slope stability assessment. The system is a three-step classification: ‘exposure’, ‘reference’, and ‘slope’ rock mass classification with conversion factors between the three steps depending on existing and future weathering and damage due to method of excavation. The stability of a slope is expressed as probability for different failure mechanisms.

A rock mass is classified following a standardized set of criteria in one or more exposures (‘exposure’ classification). These values are converted per exposure to a ‘reference’ rock mass by compensating for the degree of weathering in the exposure and the method of excavation that was used to make the exposure, i.e. the ‘reference’ rock mass values are not influenced by local influences such as weathering and method of excavation. A new slope can then be designed in the ‘reference’ rock mass with compensation for the damage due to the method of excavation to be used for making the new slope and compensation for deterioration of the rock mass due to future weathering (the ‘slope’ rock mass). If the stability of an already existing slope is assessed the ‘exposure’ and ‘slope’ rock mass values are the same.

The failure mechanisms are divided in orientation dependent and orientation independent. Orientation dependent failure mechanisms depend on the orientation of the slope with respect to the orientation of the discontinuities in the rock mass, i.e. sliding (plane and wedge sliding) and toppling failure. Orientation independent relates to the possibility that a slope fails independently from its orientation, e.g. circular failure completely through newly formed discontinuities in intact rock blocks, or failing partially following existing discontinuities and partially new discontinuities.

In addition the shear strength along a discontinuity ('sliding criterion') and 'rock mass cohesion' and 'rock mass friction' can be determined.

The system has been used directly or modified in various geology and climate environments throughout the world. The system has been modified for slope stability assessment in open pit coal mining.

Soil mechanics

Soil mechanics is a branch of soil physics and applied mechanics that describes the behavior of soils. It differs from fluid mechanics and solid mechanics in the sense that soils consist of a heterogeneous mixture of fluids (usually air and water) and particles (usually clay, silt, sand, and gravel) but soil may also contain organic solids and other matter. Along with rock mechanics, soil mechanics provides the theoretical basis for analysis in geotechnical engineering, a subdiscipline of civil engineering, and engineering geology, a subdiscipline of geology. Soil mechanics is used to analyze the deformations of and flow of fluids within natural and man-made structures that are supported on or made of soil, or structures that are buried in soils. Example applications are building and bridge foundations, retaining walls, dams, and buried pipeline systems. Principles of soil mechanics are also used in related disciplines such as engineering geology, geophysical engineering, coastal engineering, agricultural engineering, hydrology and soil physics.

This article describes the genesis and composition of soil, the distinction between pore water pressure and inter-granular effective stress, capillary action of fluids in the soil pore spaces, soil classification, seepage and permeability, time dependent change of volume due to squeezing water out of tiny pore spaces, also known as consolidation, shear strength and stiffness of soils. The shear strength of soils is primarily derived from friction between the particles and interlocking, which are very sensitive to the effective stress. The article concludes with some examples of applications of the principles of soil mechanics such as slope stability, lateral earth pressure on retaining walls, and bearing capacity of foundations.

Stable vector bundle

In mathematics, a stable vector bundle is a (holomorphic or algebraic) vector bundle that is stable in the sense of geometric invariant theory. Any holomorphic vector bundle may be built from stable ones using Harder-Narasimhan filtration. Stable bundles were defined by David Mumford in Mumford (1963) and later built upon by David Gieseker, Fedor Bogomolov, Thomas Bridgeland and many others.


UTEXAS is a slope stability analysis program written by Stephen G. Wright of the University of Texas at Austin. The program is used in the field of civil engineering to analyze levees, earth dams, natural slopes, and anywhere there is concern for mass wasting. UTEXAS finds the factor of safety for the slope and the critical failure surface. Recently the software was used to help determine the reasons behind the failure of I-walls during Hurricane Katrina.

Vegetation and slope stability

Vegetation and slope stability are interrelated by the ability of the plant life growing on slopes to both promote and hinder the stability of the slope. The relationship is a complex combination of the type of soil, the rainfall regime, the plant species present, the slope aspect, and the steepness of the slope. Knowledge of the underlying slope stability as a function of the soil type, its age, horizon development, compaction, and other impacts is a major underlying aspect of understanding how vegetation can alter the stability of the slope. There are four major ways in which vegetation influences slope stability: wind throwing, the removal of water, mass of vegetation (surcharge), and mechanical reinforcement of roots.

Retaining walls
Numerical analysis


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