Progressive shear-surface development in cohesive materials; implications for landslide behaviour

J. M. Carey, D. N. Petley

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21 Citations (Scopus)


The aim of this study was to investigate mechanisms of progressive shear surface development using a series of specialised triaxial cell tests. Intact and remoulded samples of Gault Clay from the Ventnor Undercliff on the Isle of Wight in southern England were subjected to pore pressure reinflation (PPR) testing in a triaxial cell, in which failure is generated by increasing pore pressure under a constant total stress state. In addition, a novel very long term (> 500 days) creep test was undertaken, in which the sample eventually failed at a constant stress state below the failure envelope.

The experiments showed that undisturbed samples of the Gault Clay failed in a brittle manner, generating a linear trend when plotted using the Saito technique. On the other hand, remoulded samples showed ductile behaviour, as indicated by a non-linear Saito trend. A number of otherwise identical PPR tests were conducted in which the rate of increase in pore water pressure was varied. These tests showed that strain rate generated at any point in the PPR tests depended on both the effective stress and the rate of change of effective stress. The latter is important because a change in stress generates a change in strain. Thus, whilst tests at different rates of change of effective stress are similar when plotted in q–p′ space and in strain–p′ space, they are markedly different in strain rate–p′ space.

The long term creep test failed when the stress state had been constant for over 80 days. This mechanism was reminiscent of creep rupture, occurring below the failure envelope defined in the conventional experiments.

We conclude that first time failure in the Gault Clay is a progressive mechanism dominated by the development of micro-cracking, which leads to strain localisation and the development of one or more shear surfaces at failure. Whilst this mechanism may usually occur in response to a change in stress, the study indicates that failure can develop progressively. In the remoulded Gault Clay shear strains cannot localise along a singular shear surface.

The results provide new insight into the mechanisms of landslide movement operating within the Ventnor landslide complex and indicate that present movements are likely to be occurring on a pre-existing shear surface. The lab tests suggest that this material is unlikely to undergo catastrophic failure.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)54-65
Number of pages12
JournalEngineering Geology
Publication statusPublished - 22 Jul 2014


  • Landslides
  • Strain localisation
  • Microcracks
  • Failure
  • Deformation

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