New Insights on the Creeping Phase of the Vajont Landslide form Rotary-Shear Experiments

Thursday, 18 December 2014
Fabio Ferri1, Elena Spagnuolo2, Fabio Di Felice2 and Giulio Di Toro3, (1)Universidad de los Andes, Bogotá, Colombia, (2)National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology, Rome, Italy, (3)University of Padua, Padua, Italy
It is well known that 1963 catastrophic Vajont landslide (NE Italy) was preceded by a creeping phase monitored over three years before the collapse and that water played a significant role in the instability of the rock sequence. However, the transition from the creeping phase to instability still remains elusive. Here we report experiments carried out in a rotary‐shear friction apparatus (SHIVA at INGV, Rome, Italy) on smectite-rich gouges collected from the landslide surface (60-70% smectite, 20-30% calcite and minor quartz). Experiments were performed under shear stress controlled conditions at normal stress σnof 3-5 MPa in the presence of water (20% weight), and at room humidity.

During the experiments, the shear stress τ was increased by a constant value Δτ and maintained for a fixed time Δt before applying the following shear stress step. When frictional instability was achieved, the machine started to rotate at an imposed velocity.

In the first set of experiments, the initial τ (0.05 MPa) was increased by steps of Δτ = 0.25 MPa with Δt of 150 seconds. In the room humidity material, a series of spontaneous slip bursts occurred at τ = 2.5 MPa (at σn = 5MPa) until the shear stress reached 3.0 MPa. At this point, a large stress drop occurred with concomitant dilation. In the wet material, instability took place at τ= 0.3 MPa (at σn= 3 MPa). After forcing τ down, the material re-strengthened. A second main instability occurred when τ was restored to 0.3 MPa, with expulsion of water drops accompanied by an episode of dilation. At this point, the material spontaneously re-strengthened with a stick-slip behavior similar to that observed at room humidity conditions.

In the second set of experiments, Δτ was reduced to 0.05 MPa and Δt increased up to 360 seconds producing a general enhancement of the shear stress required to generate unstable sliding. Instability took place at very high τ (3.12 MPa at σn= 3 MPa) at room-humidity conditions, and at τ = 0.8-0.9 MPa at wet conditions.

The experiments evidence that the frictional instability of the Vajont clays is strongly dependent on the presence of water and on the shear stress enhancement Δτ. The results are important to model the frictional variation on the sliding surface concomitant with the fluctuations of the dam reservoir level.