Soil moisture storage and hillslope stability

A. Talebi, R. Uijlenhoet, P. A. Troch

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

40 Scopus citations


Recently, we presented a steady-state analytical hillslope stability model to study rain-induced shallow land-slides. This model is based on kinematic wave dynamics of saturated subsurface storage and the infinite slope stability assumption. Here we apply the model to investigate the effect of neglecting the unsaturated storage on the assessment of slope stability in the steady-state hydrology. For that purpose we extend the hydrological model to compute the soil pore pressure distribution over the entire flow domain. We also apply this model for hillslopes with non-constant soil depth to compare the stability of different hillslopes and to find the critical slip surface in hillslopes with different geometric characteristics. In order to do this, we incorporate more complex approaches to compute slope stability (Janbu's non-circular method and Bishop's simplified method) in the steady-state analytical hillslope stability model. We compare the safety factor (FS) derived from the infinite slope stability method and the more complex approach for two cases: with and without the soil moisture profile in the unsaturated zone. We apply this extended hillslope stability model to nine characteristic hillslope types with three different profile curvatures (concave, straight, convex) and three different plan shapes (convergent, parallel, divergent). Overall, we find that unsaturated zone storage does not play a critical role in determining the factor of safety for shallow and deep land-slides. As a result, the effect of the unsaturated zone storage on slope stability can be neglected in the steady-state hydrology and one can assume the same bulk specific weight below and above the water table. We find that steep slopes with concave profile and convergent plan shape have the least stability. We also demonstrate that in hillslopes with non-constant soil depth (possible deep landslides), the ones with convex profiles and convergent plan shapes have slip surfaces with the minimum safety factor near the outlet region. In general, when plan shape changes from divergent to convergent, stability decreases for all length profiles. Finally, we show that the applied slope stability methods and steady-state hydrology model based on the relative saturated storage can be used safely to investigate the relation between hillslope geometry and hillslope stability.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)523-534
Number of pages12
JournalNatural Hazards and Earth System Science
Issue number5
StatePublished - 2007

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Earth and Planetary Sciences


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