Significance of substrate soil moisture content for rockfall hazard assessment

Vick, Louise Mary; Zimmer, Valerie; White, Christopher; Massey, Chris; Davies, Tim

Rockfall modelling is an important tool for hazard analysis in steep terrain. Calibrating terrain parameters ensures that the model results more accurately represent the site-specific hazard. Parameterizing rockfall models is challenging because rockfall runout is highly sensitive to initial conditions, rock shape, size and material properties, terrain morphology, and terrain material properties. This contribution examines the mechanics of terrain impact scarring due to rockfall on the Port Hills of Christchurch, New Zealand. We use field-scale testing and laboratory direct shear testing to quantify how the changing moisture content of the loessial soils can influence its strength from soft to hard, and vice versa.

We calibrate the three-dimensional rockfall model RAMMS by back-analysing several well-documented rockfall events that occurred at a site with dry loessial soil conditions. We then test the calibrated “dry” model at a site where the loessial soil conditions were assessed to be wet. The calibrated dry model over-predicts the runout distance when wet loessial soil conditions are assumed. We hypothesize that this is because both the shear strength and stiffness of wet loess are reduced relative to the dry loess, resulting in a higher damping effect on boulder dynamics. For both realistic and conservative rockfall modelling, the maximum credible hazard is usually assumed; for rockfall on loess slopes, the maximum credible hazard occurs during dry soil conditions.



Vick, Louise Mary / Zimmer, Valerie / White, Christopher / et al: Significance of substrate soil moisture content for rockfall hazard assessment. 2019. Copernicus Publications.


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