Process-Based Characterizations of Subsurface Fluid Pressures for a Devil’s Slide-like System

Monday, 15 December 2014
Matthew Thomas and Keith Loague, Stanford University, Los Altos Hills, CA, United States
Coastal margins commonly host slope stability hazards that are influenced by hydrologic, geologic, and / or anthropogenic perturbations. A firm foundation for rigorously understanding the component contributions and process-based linkages among hydrologic and geomorphic response is comprehensive physics-based simulation. This study is motivated by the hydrologically-driven, creeping and episodic deep-seated bedrock slides that intersect a former section of the Pacific Coast Highway in the active landslide zone at Devil’s Slide near Pacifica, California. For this study, deterministic-conceptual hydrogeologic simulation was employed to estimate fluid pressures for saturated three-dimensional (3D) subsurface systems. One-dimensional (1D) vertical, transient, variably-saturated simulations were conducted to establish the position of the water table (i.e., the upper boundary condition) for the 3D steady-state saturated problems which encode the geologic information for heterogeneous and anisotropic systems. The concept-development effort undertaken here demonstrates that, for a Devil’s Slide-like system: (i) specific climatic conditions facilitate variable lag times associated with water-table dynamics, (ii) recharge is the most sensitive parameter to establish risk-averse estimates of fluid pressure, (iii) nuances in the 3D flow field related to fault zone characteristics markedly influence fluid pressures, and (iv) it is unlikely that seasonal fluctuations in the regional water table account for severe failure modes. The simulated fluid pressures encourage new interdisciplinary data discovery to investigate the spatial and temporal persistence of perched water in the study area. To capture event-driven failures for the Devil’s Slide site, future efforts should develop characterizations of the unsaturated near surface with a rigor similar to the treatment of the saturated zone demonstrated by this study.