Microstructural and geochemical evolution of sliding surfaces in landslides

Wednesday, 17 December 2014
Maike Schaebitz, Christoph Janssen, Richard Wirth and Georg H Dresen, Helmholtz Centre Potsdam GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences, Potsdam, Germany
The formation of basal sliding surfaces in mass movements is known to be associated with chemical and physical alteration of rock and regolith. To evaluate its microstructural and geochemical evolution we collected samples from the host rock to the sliding surface and adjacent deposits within landslides in Kirgizstan and central China. The sample locations represent different morphological and geological conditions to evaluate if the weakness of the sliding surface derives from general factors such as (micro)structural or mineralogical changes within the landslide body.

Based on qualitative and quantitative geochemical analysis we could not find neither indication for notable weathering of the parent bedrock nor accumulation of clay minerals along the sliding surface to explain its reduced shear strength in the investigated near-surface landslides. The cataclasites are mainly composed of quartz, illite, calcite, kaolinite and feldspar with grain sizes between 5 μm down to < 50 nm. XRD and XRF data show no increase in Al2O3, Fe2O3 or decrease in SiO2, CaO or MgO contents towards the sliding surface, pointing to alteration processes. Transmission electron microscopy and focused ion beam technique for TEM sample preparation were used to compare the microstructures. It clearly revealed a severe reduction of grain size, and increase of pore space due to grain comminution by creeping and moving processes, indicating that elevated pore pressures are the main reason for the weakness of the sliding surfaces in shallow landslides. The comminution process within sliding surface formation seems to be comparable to fault gauge formation.