Geotechnical Properties of Submarine Sediments from Submarine Landslides on the Eastern Australian Continental Margin and Implications for Slide Initiation

Wednesday, 17 December 2014
Samantha L Clarke1, Thomas Hubble1 and David Airey2, (1)Geocoastal Research Group, University of Sydney, Sydney, Australia, (2)School of Civil Engineering, University of Sydney, Sydney, Australia
Geomechanical test data are presented for 12 gravity cores, up to 5 m long, taken at sites from the upper slope (<1200 m) of the east Australian continental margin in or adjacent to five submarine landslide features. Sediments uniformly consist of olive grey to grey sandy silts (MH-ML), with clay content ranging from 2-12% (using the Unified Soil Classification System – USCS). Total unit weight varies between 14.1 to 17.4 kNm-3, bulk density 715-2065 kgm-3, water content 43-90+%, and specific gravity 2.5-2.74. Sediments present low plasticity, liquid limits 43-63%, and plasticity indices of 8.7-34%. Measured strength values, friction angle (Ф’) and apparent cohesion (c’), vary between 30-40°, and 0-10 kPa respectively. One slide-adjacent core, and four within-landslide cores present boundary surfaces located at depths of 0.8 to 2.2 meters below the present-day seafloor that are identified by a sharp, colour-change boundary; small increases in sediment stiffness; slight increases in sediment bulk density of 0.1 gcm-3; and distinct gaps in AMS 14C age of at least 25 ka. Compression testing indicates that the sediment above and below the boundary surface is slightly overconsolidated. Triaxial tests indicate a significant increase in the brittleness of the shear response of the sediment with increasing vertical stress, which would cause a progressive increase of pore pressure if the sediment was subjected to cyclic (earthquake) loading. The boundary surfaces are interpreted to represent detachment surfaces or slide plane surfaces. Slope stability models based on classical soil mechanics and measured sediment shear-strengths indicate that the upper slope sediments should be stable. However, multibeam bathymetry data reveal that many upper slope landslides occur across the margin and that submarine landsliding is a common process. We infer from these results that: a) the margin experiences seismic events that act to destabilise the slope sediments, and/or b) an unidentified mechanism regularly acts to reduce the shear resistance of these sediments to the very low values required to enable slope failure.