The role of graphite layers in gravitational deformation of pelitic schist

Shintaro Yamasaki, Masahiro Chigira, David N. Petley

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Deep-seated landslides in pelitic schists are common in many countries, but are poorly investigated and understood. In this study we present the first detailed examination and modelling of landslide mechanisms in these materials. We found that pelitic schist commonly contains black, graphite-rich layers on a scale of millimeters to centimeters thickness that are typically weaker than neighboring layers. By examining microscopic textures in borehole samples obtained from landslide masses of pelitic schist, we find that ductile gravitational shearing commonly occurs within these weaker layers, accompanied by brittle fracture in the surrounding layers. To investigate this mechanisms, we have performed high-precision direct shear tests, using a novel back-pressured shearbox, on artificial rock samples both with and without graphite layers placed between pre-cut shear surfaces. The tests used normal stresses up to 800 kPa (equivalent to 32 m depth of burial). We found that the coefficients of friction for samples with graphite layers embedded in the artificial rock samples (0.30, representing an angle of internal friction of 16.7°) were much lower than those without graphite layers on the pre-cut surface (0.85). The shear strength of the artificial rocks with embedded layers of graphite decreased abruptly with increasing areal extent of the graphite layer along the shear surface, from which it can be inferred that the continuity of a graphite layer in natural pelitic schist has a considerable effect on shear resistance. These results suggest that even comparatively low dip angles of schistosity in pelitic schist could initiate microscopic slip along the graphite-rich layers.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)29-38
Number of pages10
JournalEngineering Geology
Early online date20 Apr 2016
Publication statusPublished - 24 Jun 2016


  • landslide
  • deep-seated gravitational slope deformation
  • pelitic schist
  • graphite
  • shear strength

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