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STATIC LIQUEFACTION OF TAILINGS FUNDAMENTALS AND CASE HISTORIES

Michael Davies , Ed McRoberts and Todd Martin 1 2 AMEC Earth & Environmental, Vancouver and Edmonton , Canada
1 2 1

Abstract
Within the entire range of failure modes that have occurred at tailings impoundments static liquefaction is likely the most common, and at the same time likely the least understood. As design practice in many mining regions has in fact discounted the possibility of the mechanisms and criteria for this failure mode, the possibility of its occurrence has often been overlooked in the search for other causes of failure. Static liquefaction, and the resulting flowslide of liquefied tailings materials, is shown to be a relatively common phenomenon among the more dramatic tailings impoundment failure case histories. Static liquefaction can be a result of slope instability issues alone, or can be triggered as a result of other mechanisms. The fundamentals of the liquefaction phenomena are summarized. Liquefaction is a term most often associated with seismic events. However, mine tailings impoundments have demonstrated more static liquefaction events than seismic induced events. The summary of the fundamentals includes particular emphasis on static liquefaction. Several static liquefaction case histories are described to demonstrate various ways in which this failure mechanism has manifested itself. From an understanding of the fundamentals and the lessons learned from the case histories, basic guidelines to minimize the concern for tailings impoundments are presented.

Introduction
Classical soil mechanics as found in many textbooks still being used today, presents a simplistic and erroneous view of the loading of saturated cohesionless granular particles (usually lumped together as sands) and water systems that is for example most tailings. The simplistic view is that by defining the friction angle and pore pressure of the sand we can predict the strength of that sand, the drained strength. The exception these references allow for sands is during an earthquake when the sand may become liquefied. Clays on the other-hand are deemed to be cohesive and have an undrained strength. Those readers who have benefited from a more enlightened geotechnical education may not find this a credible proposition, but it is clear to the authors that even as we st enter the 21 century, a range of educators, regulatory and quasi-governmental groups, and an alarming number of geotechnical consultants still have not un-learned their first series of lectures in soil mechanics based on textbooks expounding the views noted above. Until these simplistic models have been un-learned by all involved with the design, licensing, and construction of tailings impoundments, a major contributor to failures, i.e. inappropriate and incorrect designs based upon a lack of understanding of the tailings strength, will continue.

There is a wide range of specialized literature on the subject of the strength of cohesionless soils and their interactions with shear-induced pore pressures. However, little of this is to be found in a few textbooks, it is mostly in technical journals and specialized publications. Recent useful discussions can be found, for example, in Martin and McRoberts (1999), Carrier (1991), and Been (1999). These are written from the perspective of geotechnical engineers with a thorough understanding of tailings materials and also provide a starting point for the newcomer to the field of the considerable, and often misleading, literature that exists. The most fundamental of the new lessons on cohesionless soil (sand and most silts) strength is that like a clay, rapidly loaded saturated sand can have an undrained strength, and like clay this strength can be stress and strain path dependent. Loose sands/silts such as those deposited in an underwater tailings beach can have a very low strength; they contract during shear just like a sensitive clay. However, unlike clays that have a unique void ratio compression state, sand has wide ranges in its void ratio compression state. The wide ranges in the initial void ratio of sands, and of the fabric of fieldscale deposits of these sands, means that predictions of the in-situ undrained strength for these materials is highly uncertain. The undrained strength of sand becomes a fundamental issue whenever there is rapid loading that triggers significant shear-induced pore pressure rise. Rapid loading is subjectively defined as a rate of increase in shear stress and resulting pore pressures that cannot drain or dissipate sufficient rapidly such that these higher pore pressures [and not the pre-triggering event pore pressures measured in a piezometer] define the sand strength. The most readily identified of these rapid loading conditions, at least from a design perspective, is the transient loading from seismic events. Whether limiteddeformation or eventual flowslide development, the effects of transient seismic loads on mine tailings are well documented in the literature and well recognized by current engineering standards. However, there are many other rapid or undrained shear loads that affect mine tailings. These potential triggers of undrained response can be of equal importance to seismic loads due to their more common occurrence at mine sites in comparison to seismic events. Included in these common loads are incremental impoundment raise construction and episodic tailings slurry placement. The former can lead to relatively rapid increases in stress levels and undrained conditions in susceptible materials while the latter can cause temporary changes to the amount of tailings saturated in a given section of an impoundment. Conversely, traditional static loads are taken to be those in place for a considerable period. Other mechanisms, such as a transient saturation of the downstream shell of a tailings structure, can also trigger liquefaction due to rapid reductions in effective stress. Regardless of loading condition, the most dramatic effect a transient load can have on mine tailings is to impart liquefaction of those tailings over a sufficient volume that then leads to a failure event. Failure can mean different things but non-intentional release of tailings solids or supernatant fluid(s) is the most dramatic failure mechanism and the one most typically set as the design upset condition. The term transient load is chosen to avoid the confusion between seismic and static liquefaction events because, though the loading conditions are different, the resulting concern to the mine operator is identical. The mechanisms at the root of either static or seismic liquefaction are the same. That

dams liquefy during the construction phase due to non-seismically induced transient loads may belie the assurances offered in some cases as to the actual seismic stability of these structures.

Liquefaction Fundamentals
Over the past two decades, issues related to liquefaction have become one of the more heavily researched and published sub-disciplines of soil mechanics. Liquefaction flow failures of mine tailings represent some of the more dramatic case history contributions to the database of actual liquefaction events that have occurred at full-scale. The definition developed by the NRC (1985) for liquefaction and its related physical phenomena is both basic and complete and is the definition used in this paper. No attempt to duplicate the extensive literature on liquefaction will be attempted herein. Tailings will be assumed to have one of four characteristics upon shear loading: 1. Brittle strain softening (full liquefaction with the potential for limitless deformation) contractant behavior upon shear up to the steady-state condition. 2. Limited strain softening (limited liquefaction with limited deformation) some initial contraction followed by dilation of the tailings skeleton; 3. Ductile behaviour with undrained shearing but no significant degree of strainsoftening (no liquefaction); and 4. Strain hardening (no appreciable liquefaction or deformation) - essentially pure dilation. The liquefaction equivalence noted above for each loading condition is consistent with the NRC (1985) nomenclature. Figure 1 presents schematic representations of strain softening response to both monotonic and cyclic shear loading conditions. Identical ultimate responses, although with more complex loading histories, can result from static and cyclic shear loading.

Figure 1 Idealized Response of Loose, Saturated Cohesionless Tailings Under Monotonic and Cyclic Loading Figure 1 includes the concept of collapse surface introduced by Sladen et. al. (1985) used here in its most general sense. Consider an element of sand at an initial stress state st; for loose sand the transient loading, either a rapid monotonic load of fast

construction, or the cyclic loading of a seismic event, will cause the sand to engage the collapse surface. Once so engaged, there is a dramatic and uncontrollable loss of strength down to sus the steady state or residual strength. The collapse surface concept provides a useful framework that provides linkage between the seismic and static stress paths that can trigger liquefaction, and basically says that it does not matter how you get there, the liquefied strength is the same. There is debate regarding the position, linearity and even existence of a unique collapse surface or a unique critical state line, see McRoberts and Sladen (1992) and more recently Been (1999) for discussion. Laboratory work on stress paths recently summarized by Vaid and Sivathayalan (2000) show that both stress path and fabric heavily control the low strain undrained strength of sand. This laboratory work indicates that the way sand grains are packed together [the fabric] and the direction of the major principal stress during shear relative to this fabric or grain imbrication can produce designsignificant variability in strength predictions. However, following Been (1999), this does not mean that there is not a unique critical state line. Both McRoberts and Sladen (1992) and Been (1998) have noted that the critical state may simply not have been reached in low strain tests, a difficulty inherent in triaxial cell testing. Experimental difficulties with accurate definition of moisture content [or void ratio] re-distribution in globally undrained tests is a major problem on relying upon steady state strength determination from laboratory tests carried out under both static and cyclic loading conditions. Ayoubian and Roberston (1998) report on a series of medium-loose extension tests on Ottawa sands in which undrained tests were frozen at different state of shear and sectioned. The local void ratios were from 0.03 to 0.05 higher than the overall or global value. This is a significant difference given that a void ratio change of 0.15 embraces the entire practical range of the critical state line for Ottawa sand. Desrues et. al (1996) reports on shear band localization in triaxial compression tests for dense of critical sands using tomography. These tests provide results that seriously question the validity of relying on dilatant stress paths to establish the ultimate state. Drained tests in dense sands indicated a difference in localized to global void ratio increase of about 0.10, a very significant amount. Equivalent undrained tests are not yet reported, but it seems reasonable to infer that moisture content redistribution such that the usual procedure in interpretation of dilatant data is fundamentally flawed. Figure 2 correlates a typical series of laboratory tests in which the void ratio of the tailings sand at stress state st is plotted against the corresponding steady state strength. From a design perspective a unique state line offers the possibility of measuring the sand void ratio and then predicting the worst case strength and then using this to design against this eventuality, and attempts to do this date back to at least Poulos et. al. (1985). However, measuring the void ratio of sand to the precision required to make this a reliable exercise is far from straight-forward as noted by McRoberts and Sladen (1992), Been and Jefferies (1993), Jefferies and Davies (1993), and Martin and McRoberts (1998). Also shown on Figure 2 is the definition of the state parameter (), per Been and Jefferies (1985). The state parameter is a convenient way of expressing the soils relative stress and density state relative to the steady state/ultimate state line. For example, the initial state shown in Figure 2 is above the steady state line implying contractant behaviour and a positive state (>0).

e
CONTRACTANT ( >0)

Ultimate State in Undrained Loading ( e = 0) Example Initial State

Void Ratio

e eus DILATANT ( <0) USL ( = 0)

p' us

' pi

Log (p')

Effective Stress
Figure 2 Typical Results of Steady-State Strength Testing on Cohesionless Materials Figure 3 shows a schematic t (shear) vs. s (normal) stress plot as adapted from Sladen et al. (1985). Three zones were indicated as A (liquefaction impossible), B (liquefaction susceptibility under cyclic loading), and C (liquefaction susceptibility under static loading).
ZONE LIQUEFACTION POTENTIAL
Impossible Possible Under Cyclic Loading Possible Under 'Static' Loading

A B C

"Drained" Failure ' Line t/s'=sin

t= ( ' - ' ) /2

Potential Stress Path Under Cyclic Loading Steady State Point

Unstable States C B A

t SS
aL

Collapse Surface Stable States

s'= ( ' + ' ) /2


1 3

Figure 3 Effect of State on Liquefaction Susceptibility (adapted from Sladen et al., 1985)

In Zone C, the static state of shear is above both the collapse surface and the steady-state strength. Almost negligible undrained shear loading would be required to initiate liquefaction (e.g. Bjerrums experiments from the 1950s noted below). However, material initially in zones B, and even A, could have a static liquefaction concern if the state of static shear bias were to result in a change in state to Zone C. Note that brittle response at stress states above the collapse surface is common for either loading scenario. Once the loading path crosses the collapse surface, the resistance of the soil reduces with increasing strain until it drops below the driving stress, which, in turn, can initiate a flow slide. The small increment of shear for Zone C tailings, or a change in state from A or B tailings, can be termed the static liquefaction trigger, these are discussed subsequently.

Issues in Static Liquefaction


That loose sands could behave in a puzzling manner is not new, and has been recognized as early as the first use of the term "liquefies" in our context by Hazen (1920) reporting on the failure of the Calaveras Dam during construction. Writing in German, Terzaghi (1925) defined the essential processes of liquefaction and the subsequent lecture by Casagrande (1936) formed the basis for practice at that time. In this early paper, and refined in subsequent work (Casagrande, 1976), Casagrande (1936) defined the critical void ratio concept. This method used drained direct shear or triaxial tests to define the void ratio at which neither drained contraction or dilation occurs at high strain, and observed that there was a unique relation between this so-defined critical void ratio and the log of effective stress. But, in 1938, the hydraulic fill Fort Peck Dam failed during construction (Middlebrooks, 1942). As noted by K pper and Morgenstern (1988) the collapse of the Fort Peck Dam constituted a watershed in the evolution of hydraulic fill methods for dam construction in North America and marked an abrupt decline in the technique [but not for tailings dam construction].

Figure 4 Oblique view of Fort Peck Dam Failure - 1938

Commenting retrospectively Casagrande (1970 and 1976) noted that the dam was designed using the critical void ratio concept. Casagrande (1976) considered the pivotal question faced by the designer (then, but the question is still relevant) of what happens when a given sand is sheared undrained? He noted that this could not be directly answered in the laboratory, as the type of pore pressure measurement equipment the profession now takes for granted was not available at that time. The indirect answer was to deduce that for in-situ void ratios dense of critical that shearing would result in dilation, pore pressures would reduce and flow or liquefaction would not occur. After the failure of the Fort Peck Dam a consulting board reported on extensive investigations as summarized by Middlebrooks (1942). While the majority of the board concluded that the failure was not caused by liquefaction based on the fact that in-situ densities were greater than the minimum critical density observed (Middlebrooks, 1942), the minority opinion, including Casagrande, was that liquefaction had occurred, but he was not at the time able to fully elucidate the failure. Subsequently, Casagrande (1965) elaborated on his reasons and in 1965 noted "even today we have no laboratory tests that can measure reliably the susceptibility of a sand to liquefaction". This might well be applied to the current state of practice. Reference to standard textbooks from the 1960 to 70's makes it clear that the primary basis for consideration of loose sand was the critical void ratio concept. An exception was the work of Bjerrum et al. (1961) who reported that the US Corps of Engineers in Vicksberg did the first undrained triaxial tests on loose sand that succeeded in reproducing liquefaction. These tests never gained wide currency and have few citations in the literature of the time. Bjerrum reported on a fine-grained Norwegian sand and the impetus for these test were the large subaqueous flow slides reported in the Norwegian fjords. These tests reported the surprising observation that the mobilized friction angle at peak deviator o o stress was as low as 11 well below the expected value of 35 or more. It spite of this work and the many developments since them, static liquefaction is a much less well recognized phenomenon than its seismic counterpart. There is limited mention of static liquefaction in regulatory literature and a good portion of the publications that refer to static liquefaction either do not explain the phenomenon being referred to or use the term as an explanation for any non-seismically triggered flow failure with no other common failure mechanism. Many designers do clearly not recognize the mechanism. The fact that many more tailings dams have not failed due to this mechanism is in part due to the designers taking measures to combat seismic loadings and have also unintentionally guarded against static liquefaction. However, designs in low seismic areas may not have this co-incidental safeguard. Unfortunately, a number of tailings dam failures have been mislabelled with other failure modes only to eventually have static liquefaction correctly noted as the contributing mode of dam failure (e.g. Fourie et al, 2000). One example would be the plethora of publications in the 1990s that presented any explanation but static liquefaction for the 1994 failure of the Merriespruit tailings dam in South Africa. However, Martin and McRoberts (1999) and (Davies et al., 2000) pointed out that the flowslide nature of the failure clearly indicated undrained, contractant behavior, eliminating any need to grasp at any of the more exotic explanations previously offered. Fourie et al. (2001) subsequently suggested static liquefaction as a possible mechanism for the Merriespruit failure. Fourie et al. (2001) noted, conventional stability analysis carried out only a few months before the Merriespruit flow failure indicated a sat-

isfactory factor of safety (1.34) against slope instability. Clearly the two distinct manners that monotonically sheared tailings can experience (see below) were not considered by the designers in 1994. Only drained loading response was examined and peak frictional strengths with hydrostatic pore pressures was the only framework considered. As this approach yielded limit-equilibrium values of greater than unity yet a liquefaction flow failure clearly occurred, an unexplained phenomenon was said to have occurred. When tailings materials are monotonically sheared, they can respond in two very distinct manners: 1. The loading rate is slow enough so that irrespective of how contractant the tailings skeleton, any shear-induced pore pressure changes have no effect on strength as they drain as quickly as they are induced. If the tailings are contractant, then shearing under drained conditions results in a decrease in the void ratio, increasing their undrained shear strength. 2. The loading rate is quick enough, or the tailings of sufficiently low relative hydraulic conductivity, that shear-induced pore pressures are generated (e.g. drainage potential is overwhelmed) and, as a result, effective stresses are reduced and both stiffness and shear strength degrade. The first scenario involves drained loading and response, whereas the second is undrained. When undrained monotonic loading occurs, it should be automatic practice to invoke undrained strength properties. Drained strength, e.g. Mohr-Coulomb relationships, could be used but accurately estimating the complex pore pressure regime at failure is often very difficult. Consequently, to avoid this difficulty, it is more sensible to use undrained strengths (su) in loading situations where significant pore pressures could develop. Undrained strength of contractant materials is typically characterized by an undrained strength ratio with the ratio being the undrained strength to the effective overburden stress. The ratio, denoted su/p, ranges from very low values up to values equivalent to drained strengths. The range is dependent upon a number of factors; the most important of which is material density. The looser, more contractant, the tailings are, the lower the value of su/p. Tailings are usually cohesionless except for the fine fraction of ore bodies with substantial mineral clay content. Unless mechanically compacted, subjected to substantive downward seepage gradients, and/or subjected to evaporative drying and desiccation, tailings rarely achieve negative states (e.g. <0) and therefore often exhibit contractant behaviour upon shear loading. The stress path involved in the shear loading is also important as the degree of static shear bias required to have the in-situ state in the unstable zone depends upon that stress path. Referring to Figure 3, there are a number of potential static liquefaction triggers in tailings impoundments including: Increased pore pressures induced by an increase in the piezometric surface, and/or change of pore pressure conditions from below hydrostatic to hydrostatic, or to higher than hydrostatic. Excessive rate of loading due to rapid raising of the impoundment. Plewes et al. (1986) note rapid rate of rise as the trigger for an upstream beach (beach below water, BBW) static liquefaction failure. Static shear stresses in excess of the collapse surface, leading to spontaneous liquefaction. This is described further below.

Removal of toe support from an overtopping event, lateral erosion from a watercourse encroachment or any other situation when the toe can be removed. Foundation movements rapid enough to create undrained loading in tailings material susceptible to spontaneous collapse. At rest (K0) conditions create a static shear bias condition that is typically not that far off the collapse surface. Initiating a spontaneous liquefaction event does not require very much additional shear stress beyond that in place from the at-rest soil condition. If there is a slope condition, i.e. the upstream constructed tailings impoundment shell, the nature of the in-situ stresses are more complex than a K0 condition but are at least that level. Kramer and Seed (1988) demonstrated in the laboratory that there is a marked increase in static liquefaction susceptibility with increase in principal effective stress ratio. This type of soil behaviour has been observed by many other researchers and described in literature at least as far back as Bjerrum et al. (1961). Unfortunately, the literature on seismic liquefaction (i.e., Seed and Lee, 1966) has on occasion wrongly asserted that resistance to liquefaction is actually increased where ground is sloping than where it is flat. This conclusion was based on cyclic laboratory testing in which cyclic mobility behavior could only be induced by cycling through a state of zero shear stress, which in turn could only be induced in isotropically consolidated samples. However, in a critique of this approach, McRoberts and Sladen (1992) pointed out that in situ stress conditions are rarely, if ever, isotropic, and summarized the numerous misgivings of Arthur Casagrande to this concept. Considering this question in the context of Figure 3, it is graphically and intuitively obvious that the lower the static shear bias, the greater the distance from the collapse surface and therefore the lower the susceptibility to liquefaction, certainly under static conditions. While this paper is focused on static liquefaction it is necessary for completeness to further discuss the inference that liquefaction resistance increases with principal stress ratio (i.e. below sloping ground). This misconception was the genesis of the K correction term on the Simplified Liquefaction Assessment Charts (SLAC) approach for assessing seismic liquefaction. This element of the SLAC approach was eventually corrected by Rollins and Seed (1988) by recognizing that for loose sands liquefaction susceptibility increased with higher static shear bias. Even so, the K correction term was for so long an integral part of the SLAC approach that it may have contributed to misperceptions regarding static liquefaction issues that still persist today.

Case Examples
Merriespruit Harmony Mine, South Africa, 1994 The Harmony Gold Mine in South Africa utilized a paddock system for tailings management. Paddock systems are relatively common in South Africa and are essentially upstream constructed tailings impoundments with little freeboard and relatively saturated BBW dam shells. The mine was located near the town of Merriespruit. The Merriespruit failure occurred on February 22, 1994 in the evening. A massive failure of the north wall 3 3 occurred following a heavy rainstorm. Over 600,000 m of tailings and 90,000 m of water 2 were released. The slurry traveled about 2 km covering nearly 500,000 m . Given the

downstream population, it is fortunate that not more than 17 people lost their lives in this tragedy. A view of the aftermath of the failure is shown on Figure 5.

Figure 5 Merriespruit Tailings Dam Failure A relatively minor rainstorm caused the limited freeboard to be overcome and water leaving the impoundment caused toe erosion, which, in turn, initiated the flow failure. The Harmony tailings were quite fine-graded with more than 60% finer than 74 m. However, these fines were also essentially cohesionless and once an area of the dam toe was eroded and local slopes were increased to the range of 2H:1V, static liquefaction and the massive flowslide was initiated soon after. Fourie et al. (2001) stated that a large portion on the tailings had >0.1. Much of the post-failure laboratory testing exhibited dilatant behavior, leading a number of well-published engineers to suggest that the failure mode was uncertain. The fact that contractant behavior could not be easily coaxed from the tailings in a laboratory setting yielded the flawed conclusion that they must then be dilatant in both the laboratory and field settings. This conclusion was reached even in light of in-situ cone data that clearly indicated the potential for an in-situ contractant response to rapid transient loading. Terzaghi noted, nature has no contract with mathematics she has even less of an obligation to laboratory test procedures and results. The authors have encountered too many geotechnical projects in general, and tailings dam projects in particular, in which science was revered as king, and his loyal subjects viewed with distrust and skepticism anything that could not be repeatedly demonstrated in laboratory testing. In the giant stresscontrolled test represented by the dam itself, contractant, undrained behavior clearly resulted, and Figure 5 is unambiguous in this respect. With Fourie et al. (2001) finally confirming that substantive portions of the tailings were highly contractant (>0.1 for extensive portions of the tailings), undrained response clearly occurred and static liquefaction was triggered resulting in the massive flow failure.

The Merriespruit case record provides a good example of field evidence being misinterpreted due to its apparent non-conformity with laboratory data. Blight (1997), produced figures illustrating dilatant behavior of gold tailings. He then describes field vane tests, carried out slowly for the shear strengths to be representative of the drained condition. It is probably reasonable to assume that those tests were carried out under drained to partially drained conditions. Blight then noted that the remoulded strengths correspond to values of as low as 6, and that the undisturbed vane shear strengths are drained and therefore should allow for the effect that dilation has of drawing water into the pores on the failure surface to relieve the reduced pore pressure. It is thus difficult to explain why the remoulded strengths are so much lower. Setting aside the dilatancy suggested by the laboratory testing, it is the opinion of the authors that the explanation is clear and self-evident: the vane rotation induced a significant level of strain softening, which was clearly indicative of contractant response, consistent with the nature of the failure. Piezocone data was equally compelling in terms of the contractant nature of the tailings. Sullivan Mine, Canada, 1991 Davies et al. (1998) describe the static liquefaction event that occurred to the Active Iron Pond tailings impoundment at the Sullivan Mine in August of 1991.

Figure 6. Ground View of Sullivan Static Liquefaction Event (adapted from Davies et al., 1998)

1948 Scarp

Old Iron Pond Active Iron Pond

Figure 7 Sullivan Tailings Pond Showing Approximate Outline of 1948 Failure Scarp The Sullivan event resulted in extensive liquefaction and a flowslide but, fortunately, another tailings dyke contained the flow and no off-site impact was experienced. The dam had been built on a foundation of older tailings that were placed as BBW material. The failure of the upstream constructed facility was triggered by the initiation of shear stresses in the foundation tailings in excess of their shear strength. As the material strained, the pore pressures rose and drainage was impeded leading to liquefaction event. The downstream slopes of the dyke average roughly 3H:1V, imposing stresses in excess of the collapse surface for the foundation tailings. The failure was very brittle and sand boils, water expressed from standpipes and other classic liquefaction expressions were evident. Figure 6 shows a ground view of the post-liquefaction appearance of the Sullivan tailings dyke. The only trigger to the liquefaction failure was the slope geometry; a pre-failure dyke slope of about 2.5 H to 3.5H:1V with a maximum dyke height of about 25 m. Post failure investigations in the area of the liquefaction failure indicated very contractant in-situ states in the range of = +0.01 to +0.12. Back calculated strengths for the liquefied tailings yielded an average Su/p of about 0.08. The Sullivan failure also served to illustrate a phenomenon termed tailings dam amnesia (TDA) in previous work by the authors (e.g. Davies et al., 2000). The 1991 failure bore a striking resemblance to a failure that occurred at the facility in 1948, during upstream raising (Figure 7). That event, unlike its 1991 descendant, involved significant offsite release from a flow failure, an obvious undrained event. However, the design analyses prior to the 1991 failure were based on peak-drained strengths with no regard for shear-induced pore pressures. Here the site-specific lesson from 43 years before was forgotten history did indeed repeat itself. As another example of TDA, the authors are aware of a tailings impoundment in the United States where no fewer than three failures involving static liquefaction have occurred in the same general area of the impoundment.

Stava Mine, Italy, 1985 Perhaps the most tragic tailings dam failure to date occurred on July 19, 1985. A fluorite mine, located near Stava in northern Italy, had both of its tailings dams fail sud3 denly and release approximately 240,000 m of liquefied tailings. The liquefied mass moved up to speeds of 60 km/h obliterating everything in its path for a stretch of some 4 km. The flowslide destroyed the village of Stava and also caused considerable damage at Tesero, at the junction of Stava Creek and the Avisio River at the 4 km point from the mine. The tailings dams were both nearly 25 m high with one directly upstream of the other. Figure 8 shows views of the impoundments pre and post-failure, while Figure 9 shows a schematic section of the two impoundments. The failure mechanism began with failure of the upper dam that in turn overtopped and failed the lower dam as well. The dams were upstream constructed with outer slopes from 1.2 to 1.5H to 1V. Based upon the likely state of the in-situ tailings and the aggressively steep slopes, the soil mechanics curiosity with this failure is that the dams could have attained such a height prior to failure achieving states of in-situ stress that were likely far in excess of the collapse surface irrespective of stress path. Clearly drained, or at least largely drained, loading was sustained for the life of the facility prior to the failure. When the failure did occur, it was dramatic and spontaneous with an apparent collapse so sudden that it sounded as though a cannon went off. There is no question that the design of these dams was not consistent with even the most elementary of engineering principals available at the time. There are a number of "rules" for upstream tailings dam engineering (Davies and Martin, 2000) that were understood on both a theoretical and empirical basis for many years prior to the Stava failure. The Stava dams both broke far more of these rules than they followed. Morgenstern (2001) suggested that a rising phreatic surface within the upper dam caused an initial failure of the outer sand shell. Morgenstern (2001) states that the failure started off under drained conditions, but subsequent straining induced positive pore pressures, causing the sand shell to flow, which then triggered liquefaction in the retained slimes as they suddenly lost confinement. A significant aspect of this sequence is that it illustrates that fully drained conditions can exist up until the very moment of liquefaction triggering. Failure was initiated not because of increasing shear stresses and undrained loading, but because of decreasing effective stress due to the rising phreatic surface under drained conditions. Los Frailes Mine, Spain, 1997 Possibly the most publicized tailings dam failure to date was the 1997 Los Frailes 6 3 event in Spain. A shallow foundation failure led to the release more than 3 x 10 m of process water and tailings from one of two adjacent ponds within an overall impoundment. For this failure, a lack of understanding of the prevailing foundation conditions was directly attributable to a design that was contraindicated by site conditions. The rockfill dam failed as a result of an approximately 60 m lateral displacement of a nearly 700 m long section of the east dam of the smaller of the two ponds. The dam was constructed on alluvium overlying a marl (heavily over-consolidated marine clay) deposit. The failure occurred only sub-horizontal bedding in the marl approximately 14 m below original ground.

Figure 8 Stava Impoundments Prior to and Following Failure

Figure 9. Stava Fluorite Mine Pre-Failure Geometry of Tailings Impoundments The operative friction angle, e.g. residual, at failure along the marl was estimated to be between 11 and 15. The peak strength of the marl is considerably higher, but the material is very brittle when sheared parallel to its bedding. There were also constructioninduced pore water pressure increases in the foundation. The dam had a downstream slope of up to 1.3H:1V and was about 30 m high when it failed. The section that failed was the highest section of dam, the depth of tailings the greatest and the thickness of alluvium overlying the marl relatively thin in comparison the rest of the impoundment. Without noting what type of investigation and design work was carried out prior to dam construction, or during the life of the facility, it is clear that the dam geometry prior to failure and the foundation conditions were not compatible. The initial movement of the dam was the triggering mechanism that allowed the tailings to liquefy and this liquefaction exerted a thrust against the dam that contributed to the relatively rapid progression and large lateral displacement of the overall failure event.

Figure 10 Aftermath of the Los Frailes (Anzacollar) Tailings Dam Failure This postulated failure sequence bears great similarity to that of the Fort Peck dam in 1938 (see Figure 4). Casagrande (1965) presented information in support of the hypothesis that liquefaction of the hydraulic fill was triggered by spreading along a weak plane in the shale foundation. Smith (1969) discusses another static liquefaction tailings dam failure in northern Spain believed triggered by foundation spreading. Case records such as these illustrate the dangers involved when brittle hydraulic fills are constructed on foundations that are themselves brittle and/or are susceptible to sufficient movement as to induce undrained loading in the tailings structures they support. Pinto Valley, Arizona, 1997 In 1997, a slope failure of the Pinto Valley tailings impoundment in Arizona occurred during placement of a thick lift of mine waste rock over the inactive and drained (no surficial water pond) tailings impoundment. While no data as the precise circumstances and technical causation of this failure are available, the photo on Figure 11 leaves no doubt that a static liquefaction failure was induced, triggered by the construction of the waste rock lift, resulting in a flowslide. Tailings Dam in Western United States, 1980s Carrier (1991) describes the stability analyses of a tailings dam in the western United States as conducted by the dams designer. This dam underwent a slope failure and resultant flowslide in the 1980s. The flowslide flowed for several kilometers downstream. As stated by Carrier (1991), the dam was designed by a very experienced and respected, world-class engineering firm. Figure 12, from Carrier (1991), shows a simplified section of the dam, together with the drained shear strength parameters for both the outer shell and the slimes that yielded a factor of safety of 1.7, assuming zero shearinduced pore pressures.

Waste rock dump

Figure 11 Pinto Valley Tailings Dam Failure It is interesting to note that the pore pressure contours indicate below hydrostatic pore pressures in the slimes section of the dam, but the factor of safety was based on hydrostatic conditions (i.e. higher pre-failure pore pressures than actually existed). It is also interesting to note that the slimes zone was actually assigned higher shear strength than the outer shell. The basis for this judgment is unknown, but anyone who has ever walked (or attempted to do so) on slimes would find such a judgment literally insupportable. The flowslide nature of the failure also confirmed the designers judgment as insupportable, and the designers stability analyses non-representative of the actual safety of the dam. The designers analyses (notwithstanding the paradox of slimes being stronger than shell tailings) were relevant only so long as no triggering mechanism for undrained behavior existed. As such, the safety of dams susceptible to static liquefaction is perhaps better expressed in terms of the cumulative probability of potential triggering mechanisms. Despite the obvious difficulties in quantifying this probability, the approach has the virtue of at least recognizing the potential for static liquefaction. A factor of safety of 1.7 provides no such recognition and in fact provides a false sense of security. Carrier (1991) provides one of the most comprehensive discussions of the drained versus undrained shear strength issue for tailings dams. It is the opinion of the authors that Carriers paper should be mandatory reading for any engineer involved in the analysis, design, and construction of tailings dams, particularly those of the upstream variety. Unfortunately, as illustrated by the next case record, the distribution and appreciation of this paper has not been as widespread as it should have been.

Figure 12 Tailings Dam Pre-Failure Geometry (after Carrier, 1991) Tailings Dam in South America, 1990s Several years after Carriers 1991 paper, a tailings dam failure in South America vividly illustrated that his views had not widely permeated the profession, and served to demonstrate yet again that history, being the most patient of teachers, is always willing to repeat any lessons forgotten, or ignored, by its students. The tailings dam in question underwent a static liquefaction failure during active raising. More detail about this case record is provided by Martin et al. (2002). The design of this dam was based on drained shear strength, and allowed for the deposition of slimes (BBW) below the outer slope of the dam. As such, the stability of the dam depended in part on shear resistance of the slimes. This was evidently of no concern to the internationally renowned firm responsible for its design since their stability analyses assigned identical drained strength values to both the shell and slimes tailings. The dam failed once it was about 20 m above the starter dam crest, and very clearly failed in an undrained manner. The remarkable aspect of this failure was that the designer, following a post-failure piezocone and drilling program, concluded that: following repair of the breach, continued operation and raising of the dam could resume; and the designers endorsement was based on updated stability analyses that, despite the undrained nature of the failure, were still based on identical, drained shear strengths for both the shell and slimes zones. While Sullivan was a case of tailings dam amnesia, this case record appeared to be a case of tailings dam denial on the part of the designer. The piezocone soundings encountered slimes that demonstrated the same undrained response to the cone penetration that they did during the failure. As described by Martin et al. (2002), the piezocone data suggested a peak undrained strength ratio (Su/p) of 0.2, and on that basis reactivation of the impoundment was untenable. Neither the undrained nature of the failure, nor the

undrained response of the piezocone soundings, were sufficient to convince the designer that the stability analysis approach adopting only drained strength parameters and neglecting shear-induced pore pressures needed rethinking, hence the endorsement of resumed operation. Ultimately, however, reason prevailed and the dam was not reactivated.

Wisdom from a Forgotten Literature


All of the case records of static liquefaction failures discussed above have occurred since the 1980s. However, as noted by the Fort Peck failure earlier in the paper, static liquefaction of hydraulic fill dams (the most common variety of which are tailings dams) is by no means a new phenomenon. Perhaps the earliest description of a liquefaction failure is that given by Hazen (1920), in his paper on the failure of the Calaveras Dam during its construction by hydraulic methods. Casagrande (1965) lists Hazens paper as recommended reading, suggesting that Hazens clear description of the physical causes of liquefaction of sandmay well be unsurpassed. In the tendency over the last two decades to perhaps over-complicate the practice of soil mechanics with complex models and theories, practical wisdom contained in the literature of prior decades often appears to have gone forgotten. Perhaps the older references have not been sexy enough with respect to theories, mathematics or computer simulations. Static liquefaction was understood to be a potential threat to the safety of tailings impoundments well before complex laboratory testing, stress paths, critical state soil mechanics and powerful limit equilibrium and stress-deformation computer power became popular and available. For example, Casagrande and MacIvor (1970) stated the loose and saturated granular or chemical wastes deposited behind a relatively thin shell of supporting material could cause failure of the tailings dam. While undisturbed tailings may adequately contribute to the stability of the dam, the strength of such a shell cannot possibly withstand liquefied tailings. This quotation is not offered for its novelty or profundity but for very the reason that, by its very self-evident simplicity, it is difficult to believe that it continues to be ignored in so many instances three decades later. Smith (1969, 1972) provides simple yet insightful and clear discussions of the static liquefaction problem. Figure 12 (from Smith, 1972), shows the aftermath of a carbide lime tailings impoundment failure in Kentucky. The forgotten literature from the early 1970s and prior contains many such graphic examples of the aftermath of field scale stresscontrolled tests where static liquefaction obviously occurred. While some might argue that Hazen, Casagrande, Smith, MacIvor and many others were disadvantaged in terms of their understanding of the liquefaction phenomenon, due to the lack of the theories and analytical capabilities available today, the authors would counter by noting that they at least enjoyed the advantage of not being rendered myopic by same. Smith himself may have said as much when he offered the following perspective 30 years ago:

Figure 12 Carbide-Lime Tailings Impoundment Failure in Kentucky (from Smith, 1972) Although more and more research studies are being made on the phenomenon of liquefaction, the findings of such work, while increasing our knowledge on the subject, also seem to be extending the zone of ignorance surrounding the problem generating further questions rather than providing answers. Very simply, two basic lessons that have been learned from several well-publicized failures resulting from liquefaction are: (i) ensure that the density of the dike tailings is greater than critical and (ii) provide positive drainage so that all tailings within the retaining structure are not in a saturated condition (Smith, 1972). Thirty years later, it is debatable whether the zone of ignorance is in a mode of dissipation or expansion. Regardless, Smiths basic lessons are as valid today as they were 30 years ago.

Rules of Thumb for Design


This paper addresses those tailings facilities that have susceptibility to undrained shear leading to unacceptably brittle behaviour. It is naturally preferred to design against such potential conditions but it is rarely economical to ensure that all of the tailings are in a dilatant state so assessments of in-situ condition, or projected condition, are often required. Moreover, assessments of existing structures that may have been conceived without consideration of undrained shear responses require a consistent assessment framework. From both fundamental soil mechanics considerations and experience, some general guidelines for estimating steady state undrained strength parameters and behaviour are noted. These are, at best, general guidelines only and the authors stress caution in their use without a full understanding of the specific geomechanical conditions present in any given tailings impoundment. Table 1 presents these general guidelines. The state is approximated either by a penetration resistance (in this case, a normalized standard penetration blowcount) or a

state parameter value itself (perhaps from a cone penetration test, see Martin et al., 2002). From an approximation of state, both undrained strengths and potential strain at failure are then estimated. For the amount of post liquefaction strain, the factor of safety created by the application of the appropriate trigger governs the approximate severity of potential deformation. Clearly, situations where a positive state and a very low post-trigger limit equilibrium conditions exist are the most likely to create a flowslide or other massive failure event. Table 1 Static Liquefaction General Design Guidelines (N1)60
04 4 10 10 15 15 20 >20

**
+0.12 +.05 0 -0.08 <-0.10

Su/(p)
0.05 0.10 0.10 0.20 0.15 0.4 0.3 0.5 >0.5 (< 0.68)*

F (%) FTrigger 1.0


25 50 10 25 8 15 5 10 <5

FTrigger 0.5
>100 30 100 20 35 15 25 <15

*Dilatancy ignored regardless of state. **Approximate only, depends on steady state compressibility of tailings,

Table 1 implies that materials with a state more dilatant than about <-0.1 will not be a concern for undrained shear phenomena. This is purely from the authors experience and has been noted elsewhere (e.g. Davies, 1999). It is interesting to note that independent experience of others, e.g. Been (1999) and Jefferies (1999), suggest values of 0.08 and 0.10, respectively, as their practical limits of minimum state to ensure satisfactory engineering performance provided the drained strength of the material is sufficient for all loading conditions. In more simple language, the best way to deal with a problem is to avoid creating it in the first place.

Concluding Remarks
The concepts and lessons offered by this paper are not new and should not be seen in that light. The fundamental soil mechanics related to static liquefaction have been evident for decades. The list of case histories, both older and more recent, together with the rate at which case histories continue to be added to the failure database, demonstrates that undrained shear response of mine tailings has not been appropriately appreciated by a sufficient number of tailings dam designers. A thorough understanding of the fundamentals and the lessons offered by the case histories should be mandatory training for all engineers working with tailings dams, or any other hydraulic fill structures. This training will probably be at odds with some of their education and/or the literature they have viewed as professionals; but is necessary to correct a trend that requires reversal sooner rather than later.

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