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PII: S0148-9062(97)00335-5

Int. J. Rock Mech. Min. Sci. Vol. 35, No. 2, pp. 219233, 1998
# 1998 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved
Printed in Great Britain
0148-9062/98 $19.00 + 0.00

A Practical Procedure for the Back Analysis


of Slope Failures in Closely Jointed Rock
Masses
H. SONMEZ
R. ULUSAY
C. GOKCEOGLU
Where closely jointed rock masses are encountered in slopes, failure can
occur both through the rock mass, as a result of combination of macro and
micro jointing, and through the rock substance. Determination of the
strength of this category of rock mass is extraordinarily dicult since the
size of representative specimens is too large for laboratory testing. This diculty can be overcome by using a non-linear rock mass failure criterion or
by back analysis of such slopes to estimate the rock mass strength. In this
paper, a practical procedure and a computer program are presented for the
back determination of shear strength parameters mobilized in slopes cut in
closely jointed rock masses which obey a non-linear failure criterion rather
than a linear one. The procedure shows that the constants to derive normal
stress dependent shear strength parameters of the failed rock masses can be
determined by utilizing a main cross-section and without a pre-determined
value of rock mass rating (RMR). Trials are made for dierent RMRm and
RMRs values corresponding to various possible combinations of the constant
m and s, which are used in the HoekBrown failure criterion, satisfying the
limit equilibrium condition. It is also noted that the procedure provides a
quick check for the rock mass rating obtained from the site investigations.
The method is used in conjunction with the Bishop's method of analysis
based on circular slip surfaces. The procedure outlined in this paper has also
been satisfactorily applied to documented slope failure case histories in three
open pit mines in Turkey. # 1998 Elsevier Science Ltd.

INTRODUCTION

In a rock mass with clearly dened discontinuity sets,


failure mechanisms related to discontinuities can be
analyzed and the stability of slopes excavated in that
rock mass can be calculated providing the shear
strength along the discontinuities is known. However,
such an analytical approach might not be feasible for
slopes containing multiple discontinuity sets with large
variations in mechanical characteristics. Continuum
calculations for engineering structures in or on a rock
mass, whether analytical or numerical, cannot be
appropriate, since over-simplications result from presenting the rock mass as a continuum.
In general, the slope stability determination methods
depending on the material involved may be divided
into three broad categories:
Hacettepe University, Faculty of Engineering, Geological
Engineering Department, Applied Geology Division, 06532
Beytepe, Ankara, Turkey.
219

(a) Methods suitable for slopes in soils or soil like


materials where the strength of the material can be
determined from testing small specimens of the material in the laboratory.
(b) Methods suitable for slopes in hard jointed rocks
where slope stability is controlled by the discontinuities
in the rock material. The potential for failure is dependent on the presence and orientation of discontinuities,
and shear strength along them.
(c) Methods suitable for closely jointed rock masses
where failure can occur both through the rock mass,
as a result of a combination of macro and micro jointing, and through the rock substance. Determination of
the strength of this category of rock mass is a much
more dicult task. There are formidable diculties in
the sampling and testing of undisturbed samples that
are suciently large to represent the combined eects
of rock material and discontinuities. The possibility for
the measurement of the shear strength of such rock
masses is usually based on some form of classication

220

SONMEZ et al.: BACK ANALYSIS OF SLOPE FAILURES IN ROCK MASSES

Fig. 1. Eect of scale on rock strength and possible mechanisms of failure in rock slopes.

techniques [13] in conjunction with a non-linear failure criterion [48].


A rock mass is described as closely jointed when the
joint spacing is small in relation to the scale of the
project in question. In closely jointed media it seems
appropriate to assume that the material is approximately isotropic and homogeneous, i.e. there are no
clearly dened joint planes or joint sets which control
the form of the failure mode. In these rocks, the joint
spacing is a fraction of meter, the individual particles
of rock mass are very small compared to the dimension of slope and these particles are not interlocked
due to their shape. Depending on the number and
nature of the discontinuities, the intact rock pieces will
translate, rotate or crush in response to stresses
imposed on the rock mass. The behavior of the mass is
thus a consequence of the combined action of a large
number of individual joints. When the rock mass contains a number of discontinuity sets, having relatively
small spacings in relation to the slope size, failure can
occur along a shear surface similar to those observed
in soil slopes. Therefore, the required conditions for a
circular failure are mostly satised in heavily jointed
rock masses as illustrated in Fig. 1.
The standard method for assessing the strength of a
geotechnical material is to recover a sample and test it
in laboratory. In the case of a closely jointed rock
mass it is clearly not possible to recover a sample that
is large enough to represent the joint system.
Therefore, an empirical approach such as rock mass
classication can be attractive alternative, provided
that the appropriate parameters are included in the
classication system. In order to overcome the diculties in laboratory determination of the shear strength
of jointed rock masses; the HoekBrown failure criterion in conjunction with geomechanics classication
system [1] is commonly used.
Rock mass classication has been applied successfully in tunnelling and underground mining [13, 9]. A
number of systems, introduced by Bieniawski [1] and
by Romana [10], has also been suggested for rock
slopes. It should be noted, however, that the use of
rock mass classications developed particularly for
underground works may lead to unsatisfactory results

when applied to near-surface applications such as rock


slopes. This is due to the restrictions of these systems
which are not well considered.
Recently, an empirical failure criterion developed by
Hoek and Brown [58] has been adopted to the RMR
rock mass classication scheme [1] to assess the shear
strength of the jointed rock masses in surface and
underground excavations. This approach has been also
employed in slope stability analyses by several
investigators [1114]. The slope mass rating (SMR)
classication scheme proposed by Romana [10] also
involves the input parameters used by the RMR-system, but generally provides assessments on structurally
controlled slope failures.
The main input parameters used in various classication systems are more or less the same. Namely,
these systems consider intact rock strength, RQD, discontinuity spacing, condition and orientation of discontinuities and groundwater conditions. Although a
number of additional input parameters and some
modications are required in the RMR classication
scheme, the advantage of the system is that it provides
an easy connection to the HoekBrown failure criterion for jointed rock masses. The intact rock strength
is one of the input parameters involved in the RMRSystem and is only of limited interest with regard to
the stability of rock slopes in which failure is most
often associated with the shear strength of discontinuities. Sometimes a rock mass having low intact rock
strength is a consequence of the failed rock containing
a large number of discontinuities. In addition to this,
the purpose of including intact rock strength in the
classication system for slopes is to give an assessment
of wall rock strength of the discontinuities. As stated
by Hoek [15], the HoekBrown failure criterion is only
applicable to intact rock or to closely jointed rock
masses which can be considered homogeneous and isotropic. The rock mass parameters RQD and discontinuity spacing dene the block size and block form and
are also very useful in analyzing stability of slopes.
Therefore, these two parameters are considered by the
authors to be the parameters of meaningful value in
rock mass classication, particularly for slopes excavated in closely jointed rock masses.

SONMEZ et al.: BACK ANALYSIS OF SLOPE FAILURES IN ROCK MASSES

The condition of discontinuities includes the items


related to roughness, continuity, inll material, aperture and degree of weathering. Laubscher [9] takes
into account in his nal RMR rating only the condition factor of the most prominent discontinuity set
or the discontinuity set with the most adverse inuence
on the stability of an underground excavation. This is
too simple for slopes where the failure is often not
determined by one main discontinuity set. Particularly
for the slopes in a closely jointed rock mass, the condition rating becomes more important and it is taken
as the mean value of the condition ratings of the
dierent discontinuity sets. For the rock slopes, the
persistence has a considerable inuence on the stability
and the RMR-System takes into account the persistence as a quantitative factor. Weathering aects the
condition of discontinuities and discontinuity spacing.
It is also noted that the state of weathering is considered to be a local feature which has changed the
rock mass at a particular location. Within the lifespan
of a cut slope, future weathering might lead to instability. Therefore, the weathering parameter included in
the RMR-System is a very important factor in slope
stability.
The main problem of water in slopes is the pressure
of the water in discontinuities. The presence of water
in discontinuities reduces the stability of slopes by
reducing the strength of discontinuity surfaces or of
any inll material. The water pressure is taken into
account in the slope stability analysis by estimating the
pressure or the position of groundwater table in slope.
But the softening or weakening eect of water on discontinuity surfaces becomes more important for slopes.
Consequently, the groundwater rating is an integral
part of the rock mass classication and should be
assigned for each particular outcrop for slopes.
In closely jointed or crushed rock masses it is very
dicult or impossible to determine the orientation of
discontinuities. In such cases, the orientation is not
meaningful, because part of the rock mass will fall into
the underground opening and require immediate support regardless of discontinuity orientation. In the case
of slopes excavated in such rocks, the situation is not
dierent. Bieniawski [1] in his RMR classication
scheme, suggests rating adjustments for discontinuity
orientations, relative to proposed slope orientation,
ranging between 0 and 60. No guidelines have been
published for the denition of each adjustment values,
and no reference is given by Bieniawski to use of the
RMR classication in slopes. The reason for this lack
of use is probably the extremely high values of the
adjustment rating values which may sometime result in
negative RMR values. Therefore, the ratings assigned
for discontinuity orientation adjustments suggested by
Bieniawski [1] is unrealistic. Singh and Gahrooee [16]
proposed better and clearer descriptions for discontinuity orientation in slopes. This approach was quantied on the basis of rating with regard to the number
of possible modes of failure. The authors of the pre-

221

sent paper think that the above mentioned rating system is still questionable. First of all, Singh and
Gahrooee [16] did not change the values of ratings
which can reach up to 60 points out of 100. As discussed before, such an adjustment is not applicable in
practice. Secondly, in a closely jointed rock mass, the
most probable mode of failure occurs in the form of a
circular shape regardless of discontinuity orientation.
Consequently, only one denition namely ``one possible mode of failure'' is considered to be more logical,
and a single adjustment of 5 for discontinuity orientation is more realistic for slope failures in closely
jointed rock masses.
Some factors such as method of excavation, major
planes of weakness or change in stress are treated as
local features which have inuenced the rock mass at a
particular location and are not rock mass constants.
These have been discussed by Laubscher [9],
Romana [10] and Kendorski et al. [17]. The greatest
inuence of the method of excavation will be on the
spacing of discontinuities. Depending of the blasting
damage, blasted slopes may have closer discontinuity
spacing than natural slopes. Therefore, in order to
compensate for the inuence of such local factors,
necessary adjustments [1, 9, 17] are taken into consideration in rock mass classication for the slope failures
in closely jointed rock masses investigated in this
study.
On the other hand, during a classication process,
serious diculties are encountered in determining or
describing some of the rock mass parameters, particularly in poor quality rock masses [1820]. Due to such
uncertainties, the calculated rock mass rating may
erroneously aect the constants and shear strength
parameters derived from the non-linear rock mass failure criterion. The most reliable way to obtain a mean
value of the constants m and s employed by the
HoekBrown failure criterion in an extended slope is
by back-calculation and by comparison of the results
of back-calculation with the available data derived
from the HoekBrown criterion [21]. However, in
some cases it is unlikely that an accurate assessment of
the true strength parameters for a given rock mass will
ever be available due to limitations, so RMR values
cannot be precisely determined. Because the results of
back-analysis provide a range of combinations of
apparent friction angle and cohesion, the problem of
parameter selection becomes dicult in such cases.
The procedure presented herein is to perform a
back-analysis of failed slopes cut in jointed rock
masses to estimate the rock mass rating and shear
strength parameters mobilized at the time of failure.
The main philosophy of the method recognizes that it
is unlikely that an accurate assessment of the value of
RMR and shear strength parameters for a given rock
mass will ever be available. A detailed description of
the procedure which can be readily incorporated into
the conventional back analysis of a slope failure in a
jointed rock mass, where only a single cross-section is

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SONMEZ et al.: BACK ANALYSIS OF SLOPE FAILURES IN ROCK MASSES

available, is presented with a computer solution developed for the purpose. The proposed method is also
applied to failure case histories in jointed rock masses
at three open pit mines located in Turkey to check its
performance.
METHOD OF ANALYSIS

Theoretical background-basic procedure


One of the most dicult tasks in slope stability
analysis is the determination of the shear strength parameters (c, f) along the sliding surfaces. In geotechnical engineering practice, failure of a slope can be
regarded as a full scale eld test and an assessment of
any failure is, therefore, of considerable value.
Appropriate geomechanics models can be used to estimate the values of shear strength parameters on the
basis of certain assumptions. These back calculated
values may then be used for preventative and remedial

work for the redesign of failed slopes and for new projects in similar types of material. Therefore, it is considered that back analyses are an integral part of the
slope design.
The shear strength parameters of a failed slope have
been back calculated by geotechnical engineers and engineering geologists in the following procedures:
(a) Assuming the value of the angle of internal friction f or of the cohesion c to calculate another [22]
(Fig. 2(a)).
(b) Utilizing a main cross-section of a failed slope
and another cross-section near the main one in the
same failed slope or utilizing two cross-sections in two
failed slopes which have similar geological and hydrogeological conditions to establish two equations and
then evaluate the values of c and f (single solution;
Fig. 2(b)).
(c) Because of the variations in the mechanical properties of the same material in dierent places, utilizing

Fig. 2. Basic back analysis approaches applied for the slope forming materials obeying linear failure envelopes: (a) derived
range of c and f and determination of c from an assumed f; (b) single solution for two slides with dierent geometry; (c)
multiple solutions for four slides with dierent geometry; and (d) multiple solutions with a comparison with laboratory derived strength test results.

SONMEZ et al.: BACK ANALYSIS OF SLOPE FAILURES IN ROCK MASSES

more than two slope cross-sections to obtain as many


as n(n 1)/2 points of intersections (solutions) for n
curves c(f) (multiple solutions; [23]; Fig. 2(c)). The set
of continuous curves represents the range of back calculation solutions from which the most realistic solution can be obtained based on engineering judgement,
experience and veried with shear test results if these
are available (Fig. 2(d)).
The above procedures, however, are based on the
back calculation of the shear strength parameters of
the materials obeying linear MohrCoulomb failure
criterion which are characterized by c and f values
independent from the normal stress. But a consensus
has gradually emerged among the rock mechanics
community that the failure envelope for a closely
jointed rock mass is curved rather than linear. The
authors believe that the HoekBrown non-linear failure criterion [47], which has gained an increasing
popularity in stability analyses made in conjunction
with rock mass classication systems, provides a meaningful estimate of rock mass behavior. Due to the nonlinear nature of this failure criterion, the above mentioned methods are unrealistic for use with closely
jointed rock slopes, i.e. the shear strength parameters
of a failure surface in closely jointed rock masses can
be calculated for any specic normal stress value using
the material constants (m and s) as a function of rock
mass rating (RMR) from the following equation [24];
for disturbed rock masses:


m
RMR 100
exp
1a
mi
14


RMR 100
s exp
6


1b

for undisturbed or interlocking rock masses:




m
RMR 100
exp
mi
28

s exp

RMR 100
9

223

ing can be very dicult because of tendency of these


materials to slake and de-laminate. In addition, as
reported by Unal et al. [18], Ulusay et al. [19] and
Unal [20], serious diculties are encountered in determining or describing some of the rock mass parameters, particularly in weak, stratied and claybearing rocks. In such circumstances overestimated
rock mass ratings might be obtained and they result in
deriving dierent m and s values than those in real
situation. On the other hand, in some areas where
slope failures have occurred, because of the limited
number of outcrops or no borehole data, the rock
mass rating can not be precisely determined.
Therefore, a back analysis based on such limited or
questionable data may yield unrealistic results.
The strategy of this study is aimed at overcoming
the diculties associated with the limitations discussed
above. In this strategy, a procedure is suggested to
identify the most reasonable and a common rock mass
rating (RMR) value which corresponds to the pair of
m and s satisfying the limit equilibrium condition. In
jointed rock masses obeying the HoekBrown failure
criterion, a function F, the conventional factor of
safety commonly specied in the limit equilibrium
methods of slope stability analysis, depends on several
variables and for any particular sliding surface may be
written in the following form:
F FfRMRm, s, GW, G g

where RMR: rock mass rating (m and s are the material constants), GW: groundwater conditions prevailing in the slope, G: geometry of the slope and the
failure surface.

2a


2b

where mi is the material constant of intact rock sample


and can either be calculated form laboratory triaxial
test on intact samples or taken from the tables proposed by Hoek [24], and Hoek et al. [8].
In the case of a slope instability with accurately
specied failure geometry in a closely jointed rock
mass, if the value of RMR is precisely determined and
the triaxial test data are available, back analysis of the
failure provides a realistic comparison between the
rock mass strength obtained from the failure surface
yielding a safety factor of unity and the failure envelope derived with the updated HoekBrown failure criterion as reported by Ulusay and Aksoy [21] (Fig. 3).
However, in weak sedimentary rocks, such as shales,
marls and siltstones, and in heavily fractured schistose
rock masses, preparation of specimens for triaxial test-

Fig. 3. Comparison between the rock mass shear strength obtained


from the failure surfaces yielding safety factors of unity and the failure envelope with the updated HoekBrown criterion for coal-bearing rocks (after Ref. [21]).

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SONMEZ et al.: BACK ANALYSIS OF SLOPE FAILURES IN ROCK MASSES

The real factor of safety F is considered to be


known and equal to one for a case study concerned
with a slope that has failed. The value of the geometry
data G in Equation (3) can be delineated from the
results of eld inspection or by surveying the actual
failed slope. The values of the constants m and s at the
time of failure are unknowns and groundwater condition, GW, may be either known or unknown.
The suggested approach involves the determination
of various possible combinations of m and s satisfying
the following equation:
1 FfRMRm, s, GW, G g

where G and GW are considered as known in the procedure.


The back analysis method presented herein is based
on the following assumptions:
(1) The geometry of the slope before and after failure, the position of the sliding surface, and the
groundwater conditions are known.
(2) The mechanism of the movement is known.
(3) A condition of static equilibrium at the point of
failure (limit equilibrium) exists at the time of failure.
(4) In closely jointed media, it seems appropriate to
assume that material is approximately homogeneous.
(5) What is obtained by back calculation is a
weighed mean value of RMR and corresponding m
and s values along the failure surface at the time of
failure.
(6) A set of relations between the RMR from the
Bieniawski's rock mass classication [1] and the constants given in Equations (1a)(b) and (2a)(b) are
used in conjunction with the equations given by the
updated HoekBrown failure criterion [24].
(7) Uniaxial compressive strength (sc) and the material constant mi are the input parameters.
The back analysis procedure starts with the fact that
the constants m and s of a given rock mass depend
upon an RMR value (Equations (1a)(b) and (2a)
(b)), and therefore, various possible combinations of
(m, s) pairs at the time of failure (F = 1) can be derived from dierent RMR values. The procedure
which performs back calculations for three unknown
parameters can be carried out using the following algorithm.
Step 1. One variable, RMR, out of three unknown
geomechanical parameters (RMR, m, s) is selected and
the second unknown, the constant s, is calculated by
the utilization of Equation (1b) or Equation (2b)
depending on the condition of disturbance (blasted
and/or excavated rock, or none) of the rock mass. The
RMR value selected to calculate the parameter s is
denoted by RMRs.
Step 2. By utilizing the position of the sliding surface, normal stress acting on each slice base is calculated. Keeping the previously chosen RMRs value and
the corresponding RMR (RMRm) which lead a value
of safety factor of unity are calculated by trial and
error technique in conjunction with the equations

given by the updated HoekBrown failure


criterion [24].
Step 3. Trials are made for dierent values of
RMRs(s) to obtain various possible combinations of
RMRs and RMRm satisfying the limit equilibrium condition.
The results of the back analysis are best presented in
a RMRsRMRm function forms, i.e. RMRs plotted
against RMRm considering each combination to lead
to a value of the factor of safety F = 1 (Fig. 4). All
the points (or RMR pairs) located on the curve indicate a safety factor of unity. Because the closely
jointed rock mass is an approximately homogeneous
material, it is logical to consider that the rock mass
must have a unique RMR value from which a pair of
m and s representing a given rock mass can be derived
using Equations (1a)(b) and (2a)(b). Thus, if a
straight line passing from the origin of the graph (see
Fig. 4) with an inclination of 458 is drawn, it intersects
the RMRsRMRm curve at a certain point which indicates a common RMR (RMRRM:the actual RMR for
the rock mass) value for both constants at the time of
failure and utilization of this back analyzed RMRRM
value will yield the right combination of the two constants, m and s, of the rock mass.
Software description
The method described above has been used to
develop a computer program for conventional deterministic slope stability analysis and back calculation. The
computer program was written in QBasic and can run
on any type of IBM PC or compatible equipped with
a graphics card and monitor. The program
HOBRSLP, which has routines that search the more
critical failure surface in a grid system or automatically, can handle slope stability analysis of circular slip
surfaces for slopes involving many benches with dierent geometries, various materials and dierent groundwater conditions, and includes simplied Bishop's
method of analysis [25].
Two options are included in the program: (a) conventional stability analysis for searching the most critical failure surface and corresponding lowest factor of
safety; (b) back analysis of a failed slope with known
failure geometry. Input data for the program includes
the coordinates of the points specifying slope geometry, water conditions prevailing in the slope, and material properties. It will also prompt users to enter the
tension crack position. Output consists of a table of
input data, safety factor, a cross-section of the slope
showing all strata, water table, the failure surface, and
a list of ci, fi, sn, t for each slice base if the case consists of materials having non-linear failure envelopes.
Three dierent methods of shear strength data input
are incorporated in the program with keyboard selection of the input mode for conventional analysis.
These three modes are as follows:
(1) Input of the known shear strength parameters
derived from linear Coulomb equation.

SONMEZ et al.: BACK ANALYSIS OF SLOPE FAILURES IN ROCK MASSES

Fig. 4. Basic concept of the proposed back analysis technique.

(2) Calculating the shear strength parameters from


input data for rock types, RMR value, sc, and material constant mi.
(3) Calculating the shear strength parameters from
normal stress (sn) acting on each slice base, and the
constants A and B for the materials tted to power
curve strength equation (t = AsB).
The back calculation option provides the use of the
rst two modes mentioned above. In the back analysis
option, mi and sc are given as material properties with
the condition of rock mass (disturbed or undisturbed).
The existing program can analyze slopes with up to
150 slices. The steps to be followed during the execution of the program are shown diagrammatically in
the ow chart illustrated in Fig. 5.

EXAMINATION OF THE PROCEDURE ON ACTUAL


EXAMPLES

The procedure outlined above has been applied to


failed slopes in three open pit mines located in the western and central parts of Turkey (Fig. 6). All the slopes
presented in the particular and well documented case
histories were cut in jointed rock masses where the
joint spacing is a fraction of a meter. It is, therefore,
very much smaller than the scale of the cut slopes
which are tens of meters high.
An externally loaded highwall slope failure (Case 1)
The particular case history presented and described
below is concerned with the instability of a highwall in
Eskihisar strip coal mine (YataganMugla) in southwestern Turkey. No sign of instability in highwalls was
observed until 1989. During a comprehensive slope
stability research project by Ulusay [14], the highwall
of the ninth slice was found to be unstable after loading the slope by a temporary spoil pile (Fig. 7).
The failed highwall, located at the southern end of
the ninth slice, was excavated in the compact marls
which lie above the coal seam with a thickness of 15
20 m. In the failed highwall and in the entire pit, continuous cross joints are well developed within the compact marl. Except local deviations, there are three
dominant joint sets developed parallel and/or subpar-

225

allel to the normal faults crossing the Tertiary deposits. Excepting local deviations, three dominant joint
sets dipping 758858 NE and SW were identied. Their
persistence is high and reaches up to 8 m in some
places. The presence of cross joints, faults and at
lying bedding planes result in a closely jointed rock
mass. The groundwater level rises above the coal seam
into the compact marls and where seepage occurs it
tends to decline toward the compact marlcoal seam
boundary. Thus, the failed part of the investigated
slope was dry.
In the strip coal mine, the overburden rocks composed of the compact marls were evaluated based on
Bieniawski's 1989 classication [1]. The data required
for rock mass rating determinations were obtained
from the geotechnical logs recorded and the scanline
surveys carried out in accordance with the procedure
suggested by ISRM [26]. Values of RMR for the rock
mass were determined for a number of individual sections from seven fully cored geotechnical boreholes
considering drill-run lengths ranging between 1 to 3 m.
In addition, a total of seven scanline sections were also
evaluated. Joint systems show negative exponential distribution. Mean joint spacing (x) and the average number of joints per meter (l) of the rock mass were
calculated as 0.386 m and 2.59 m1, respectively. In the
compact marls overlying the coal, excepting occasional
laminated levels, spacing between bedding planes ranged 0.3 to 1 m. Discontinuity surfaces observed on the
faces of the benches were normally dry. However,
moisture appeared in some places when the surfaces
were scraped by a geologist hammer. The ranges of
the ve main parameters employed in the determination of RMR values are tabulated in Table 1. As
explained in the rst section, the adjustment rating for
discontinuity orientation was quantied on the basis of
rating with regard to the number of possible modes of
failure [16]. In this study, only one mode of failure, circular failure through the rock mass, was considered
for discontinuity orientation adjustment. Mining applications include dynamic processes. In the studied pit a
controlled blasting with a slight damage to loosen the
overburden, compact marls, is made. For this condition, a blasting damage adjustment of 0.94 [17] to
the RMR values of the compact marls was assigned.
Using the statistical methods, individual RMR values
were assessed and then RMR values ranging between
50 and 62 with a mean value of 53 were obtained. Due
to light blasting carried out in the compact marls to
loosen the overburden, disturbed rock mass condition
is considered and the value of mi (9.87) for intact rock
was calculated by linear regression analysis on the
measured triaxial data pairs from the intact rock, and
the constants m and s were found to be 0.344 and
0.0004, respectively [14]. To assess the various controls
on slope movements, the development of mobilized
shear strength and the failure mechanism under the inuence of the loads exerted by the spoil pile were
investigated by Ulusay and Aksoy [21] using determi-

226

SONMEZ et al.: BACK ANALYSIS OF SLOPE FAILURES IN ROCK MASSES

Fig. 5. The ow chart for the proposed method of analysis code HOBRSLP.

SONMEZ et al.: BACK ANALYSIS OF SLOPE FAILURES IN ROCK MASSES

Fig. 6. Location map of the back analyzed case study sites.

nistic and numerical (FEM) methods. For this purpose, available monitoring record, structural data and
groundwater information were examined, and a rock
mass shear strength envelope was derived from the
HoekBrown criterion in conjunction with rock mass
classication for the highwall material. Ulusay and
Aksoy [21] back analyzed the failure utilizing four
cross-sections and indicated that the updated Hoek
Brown failure criterion used with rock mass classication gives strength values equal to those obtained by
the mobilized strength curve, and results of the back
analyses conrm the applicability of the loaded slope
model proposed for the case.
The procedure presented herein was applied to the
case summarized above. Taking into consideration the
loaded slope model (symmetrical vertical triangular
external
loading
condition),
the
program
HOBRSLP [14] was modied by the authors to incorporate external loading conditions (Fig. 8).
Considering that the predicted (based on the site observations and monitoring data) surfaces were conrmed by the calculated failure surfaces [21], four
failure surfaces given in Fig. 9 were employed in the

227

back analyses. A mean uniaxial compressive strength


of 4.15 MPa determined from 40 test specimens for the
compact marl, and average values of unit weight of
13 kN/m3 and 16 kN/m3 were utilized for the spoil material (in-situ) and the compact marl, respectively.
For each cross-section, starting from an arbitrarily
chosen initial RMR value of 18 for the calculation of
the constant s, the values of the constant m and corresponding RMRm which satisfy a factor of safety of
unity for the given failure surfaces are calculated. The
results of the analyses are plotted in the form of
RMRmRMRs graphs (Fig. 10). It is evident from
Fig. 10(a)(d) that common values of RMR for the
constants m and s along the failure surfaces in section
1-1' is 51, along section 2-2' is 52 and along section 33' is 53. The RMR values back calculated for four failure surfaces are equal to or nearly identical to 53 and,
thus they conrm the average value of RMR (53)
obtained from the comprehensive geotechnical logging
and scanline surveys performed by Ulusay [14]. Shear
strength values calculated for the base of each slice
involved by the four failure surfaces conrmed by the
predicted surfaces (at F = 1 condition) were plotted
against normal stresses acting at the slice bases onto
the original failure envelope of the rock mass derived
from the HoekBrown failure criterion by utilizing an
average RMR value of 53 (Fig. 11(a)). This comparison indicates that the mobilized strength plots match
the original failure envelope of the investigated rock
and the method proposed gives identical results to
those obtained in a previous study by Ulusay and
Aksoy [21]. The resulting curvilinear failure envelopes
with RMR values of 5153 given in Fig. 11(b). Figure
11(b) suggest that failure envelopes for the range of
calculated normal stress levels (sn) in the back ana-

Fig. 7. Initiation of the slide in the highwall externally loaded by a spoil pile (Case 1).

228

SONMEZ et al.: BACK ANALYSIS OF SLOPE FAILURES IN ROCK MASSES


Table 1. Range of parameters employed in rock mass classications for three cases considered in the study

Parameter

Uniaxial compressive strength


(MPa)
RQD (%)
Spacing of discontinuities (mm)
Condition of discontinuities

Groundwater
Adjustment for discontinuity
orientation
Blasting damage adjustment
Adjustment for major plane of
weakness
Adjusted RMR'76
Adjusted RMR'89

Range (mean)/description
case 1

case 2

case 3

1.146.41 (4.15)

4.206.15 (5.2)

35.444.3 (40.2)

3798
0
joints: 250410 (386) bedding: 300
3040
1000
aperture 01 mm; very thin soft
aperture 13 mm; soft inlling;
coating; planar-smooth surfaces;
slickensided surfaces; highly
fresh/slightly weathered; high
weatered; high persistence
persistence
dry-damp
one mode of failure 5

dry
one mode of failure 5

smooth blasting 0.94

very close to discrete fault zones


0.7
21
20.6

not determined
5062 (53)

9095
310390 (370)
apertures <1 mm and 15 mm
between bedding and joint planes,
respectively; soft coating <1 mm;
smooth-slightly rough surfaces;
fresh to slightly weathered; high
persistence
dry
one mode of failure 5
fair blasting 0.90

not determined
4047 (43)

The values given in the parentheses indicate mean value.

lyzed slope show negligible and/or slight dierences


which result from probably due to small variations in
the mechanical properties of the same rock in dierent
places.
Slope failure in a closely jointed schist rock mass at a
barite open pit mine (Case 2)
The Baskoyak mine at the central part of Turkey is
an open pit mine operated for the extraction of barite.
A comprehensive slope stability project was carried
out to determine the engineering properties of the rock
mass, and to assess the failure mechanism and the
alternatives for improving the overall stability between
1987 and 1988, and the investigation was published by
Ulusay and Yucel [27].
Based on the scanline surveys consisting of 90 schistosity and 160 joint measurements and geotechnical
logging of a borehole of 75 m deep, Ulusay and
Yucel [27] reported that the schists should be regarded
as comprising two rock mass types. The rst type consists of a schist rock mass heavily broken by closely
spaced discontinuities (Fig. 12), and the second type is
a weathered schist in dierent degrees both in the
hangingwall and footwall, particularly observed at the

Fig. 8. The model with the parameters for the slope under the inuence of a symmetrical vertical triangular spoil loading used in the
back analysis (Case 1).

middle and lower benches. The unit weight of the


schists ranges between 17.2 kN/m3 and 28.5 kN/m3
with a mean value of 22.2 kN/m3. The uniaxial compressive strength of the intact rock determined on a
limited number of specimens due to the diculties in
sample preparation was 5.2 MPa. Slope failures covering a single bench or two benches were observed at
three locations in the pit. The failures were circular
and one of them occurred in the closely jointed rock
mass. Back analysis of the failures indicated that the
calculated sliding surfaces conrm the actual failure
surfaces delineated from the site measurements [27].
No any sign of groundwater was encountered through
the geotechnical and previously drilled boreholes and
on the benches. Thus, the pit slopes was considered as
dry for stability assessments. The overburden material
and the ore are removed by the excavators without
any blasting.
The rock mass parameters of the heavily broken
part of the rock mass are given in Table 1. Ulusay and
Yucel [27] declared an RMR value of 21 in their
report based on Bieniawski's 1976 classication [28].
However, the authors of this recent study also calculated the RMR value of the rock mass based on 1989
version of the RMR classication [1] using the parameters given in Table 1 for this case. In this calculation a discontinuity adjustment of 5 considering
one mode of failure, mass failure, was assigned.
Because the presence of discrete fault zones running
very close to the failed slope, a major structure adjustment of 0.7 [17] was also considered to obtain nal
RMR value. An RMR value of 20.6 which is identical
to that derived from Bieniawski's 1976 classication
was obtained.
Utilizing the well delineated circular slip surface illustrated in Fig. 13 and the geomechanical parameters
given above, the proposed method was applied to the
failure occurred in closely jointed part of the schists.
Choosing an initial RMR value of 10 for the calcu-

SONMEZ et al.: BACK ANALYSIS OF SLOPE FAILURES IN ROCK MASSES

229

Fig. 9. Slope proles, and the predicted and calculated failure surfaces employed in the back analyses for the loaded highwall case (Case 1).

lation of the constant s, the analysis was started. The


pairs of RMRm and RMRs which lead a value of
safety factor of unity are plotted and then the
RMRRM value which satises limit equilibrium condition for the constants of m and s is found as 21
(Fig. 14(a)). Besides, on the basis of normal stresses
acting at the bottom of 10 slices in the failed mass, the

rock mass shear strength values obtained from the failure surface yielding F = 1 are plotted on the original
st curve derived from the updated HoekBrown criterion utilizing an RMR value of 21 (Fig. 14(b)).
These results indicate that the back calculated RMR
value and the mobilized shear strength plots match the
RMR derived from site investigations, and the original

Fig. 10. Back analysis plots illustrating the derivation of RMRsRMRm pairs satisfying the limit equilibrium condition for
the slope proles examined (Case 1).

230

SONMEZ et al.: BACK ANALYSIS OF SLOPE FAILURES IN ROCK MASSES

Fig. 11. (a) Comparison between the rock mass shear strength
obtained from the back analysis and the failure envelope derived
with the HoekBrown criterion considering the average RMR value
(53) for the rock mass; (b) failure envelopes based on empirical failure criterion for mean and lower bound RMR values derived from
the proposed method (Case 1).

failure envelope of the investigated rock mass. Thus, it


is concluded that the procedure outlined above also
yielded realistic results for this case.
A slope instability in a coal mine (Case 3)
As an example of the proposed method, back analysis on a typical instability was carried out in
Kisrakdere open pit mine which is located at Soma lignite basin (see Fig. 6). The necessary geotechnical data
were collected by the authors from this pit. The coal
seam is generally 20 m thick, but becomes thinner
towards the basin margins where the failed slope is
located. Figure 15(a) shows the geometry of the slope
in which a single thin coal seam with a thickness of
4.5 m is overlain by a sequence consisting of compact
marl, and soft clay beds about 10 m thick. The observations on the slope surfaces, measurements through
the blast-holes, and the records of the previously

Fig. 13. Slope geometry before and after failure and circular slip surface in closely jointed schist rock mass (Case 2).

drilled holes in the vicinity of the investigated slope


indicated that the groundwater table lies below the
failed marly rock mass. As being in the rst case, the
coal seam acts an aquifer, and therefore, the failed
slope is dry. Bedding planes dip into opposite direction
of the slope. The marly rock which forms the majority
of the sequence has a carbonate content considerably
higher than its clay content. The actual slip surface
was in circular shape, which was evident from the eld
inspection and topographical measurements carried
out along the failure surface, and passed through the
compact marl rock mass and the clay, above the coal
seam. Because the thickness of the coal seam reduces
in this part of the pit, highly steep slopes were cut to
extract the coal. In addition to this application, it is
concluded that the presence of a weak and soft clay,
and the jointed nature of the marly rock in the
sequence made the failure easier. Scanline surveys were
carried out in the close vicinity of the failed slope to
collect data for the discontinuities and to assess rock
mass conditions. Three main joints moderately and

Fig. 12. A view from the schist rock mass heavily broken by closely spaced joints and schistosity planes at a barite open pit
mine (Case 2).

SONMEZ et al.: BACK ANALYSIS OF SLOPE FAILURES IN ROCK MASSES

231

Fig. 14. (a) Back analysis plots illustrating the derivation of RMRs
RMRm pairs satisfying the limit equilibrium condition for the failure
in the schist; (b) comparison between the rock mass shear strength
obtained from the back analysis and the failure envelope derived
with HoekBrown criterion utilizing the RMR value (21) determined
from the site investigation (Case 2).

closely spaced, and bedding planes in the marly


sequence resulted in a jointed rock mass.
In this study, Bieniawski's 1989 [1] classication
scheme was used and the data for the rock mass rating
determinations were obtained from the scanline surveys carried out at twentyve locations in the studied
pit. The range of the rock mass parameters determined
in this study is given in Table 1. It is also noted that a
discontinuity adjustment of 5 for the case of one
mode of failure and a blasting damage adjustment of
0.90 for fair blasting carried out in the compact marls,
which have considerable higher strength when compared to those mentioned in Case 1, were considered.
A histogram of RMR values based on the assessment of the line survey data (Fig. 15(b)) has a normal
form which indicates that RMR values are concentrated between 42 and 44 with a mean value of 43.
The geotechnical properties of the marl and the clay
determined by an experimental program are listed in
Table 2.
Considering the similarities between engineering
behavior of the clays in this site and the clays in a
transition zone at Yatagan coal mine, which were back
analyzed by Ulusay and Doyuran [29], the residual

Fig. 15. (a) Cross-section illustrating the geometry of the failed slope
and the position of the strata; (b) RMR histogram for the marly
rock mass (Case 3).

shear strength parameters of the clay given in Table 1


were assumed to be used for back analysis. The procedure presented was applied to the failed slope by utilizing data available for the site for the assessment of
shear strength parameters of the jointed marly rock
mass.
The results are presented as a plot of RMRs vs
RMRm (Fig. 16(a)). The method suggests that the
RMRRM value satisfying limit equilibrium condition is
42.5. The back calculated RMRRM value (42.5) conrms the actual RMR (43) previously determined by
the authors through the site investigations. It is also
evident from Fig. 16(b) that there is a good agreement
between the back calculated shear strengths at the base
of slices and the failure envelope derived from the
HoekBrown failure criterion utilizing the actual
RMR value of 43.

232

SONMEZ et al.: BACK ANALYSIS OF SLOPE FAILURES IN ROCK MASSES


Table 2. Material properties employed in the black analysis of Kisrakdere open pit mine (Case 3)

Material
Marl rock mass
Soft clay

Unit weight (kN/ U.C.S. (MPa)


m3)
23.7
18.0

40.2

mi

cp (kPa)

cr (kPa)

fp (8)

fr (8)

9.04

17.7

14.9

21

18

cp, cr: Peak and residual cohesion, respectively.


fp, fr: Peak and residual internal friction angle, respectively.
U.C.S.: Uniaxial compressive strength.

CONCLUSIONS

Conventional back analysis of slope failures can


provide functional relations between shear strength
parameters c and f for slopes of homogeneous materials with linear failure envelopes provided all the
other parameters are known. But in closely jointed
rock masses shear strength determination, particularly
due to the scale eect, is very dicult. In addition,
such back analyses have limited practical application
because these rocks obey a non-linear failure criterion.
In this study, the diculty of determining the shear
strength of such rocks and applicability of rock mass
classication to rock slopes are explained and a practical procedure with a computer solution for the back
analysis of failed slopes is put forward as a means of

Fig. 16. (a) Back analysis plots; (b) comparison between the back
analyzed shear strength and the failure envelope derived with the
HoekBrown criterion for an RMR value of 43 (Case 3).

estimating the mobilized shear strength required to


explain existing states of stability.
This study is based on the conventional deterministic
analysis framework. However, the procedure outlined,
which is based on the HoekBrown failure criterion, is
suitable for back calculations with a maximum of
three unknown parameters (RMR and the constants m
and s), and requires iterations. The main emphasis in
this paper is the application of the method where no
procedure of direct strength or RMR measurement is
possible. The rock mass rating (RMR) of the rock and
the corresponding constants, m and s, satisfying limit
equilibrium condition can be readily obtained from a
graphic representation of the possible range of solutions.
Three examples have been given to illustrate the application of the method in practical geotechnical engineering. In the application of this approach, it was
found that the back calculated and predetermined
values of RMR with the constants m and s were identical. However, it should be kept in mind that the
classication systems which have been mainly developed for underground works may give unrealistic
results when applied to rock slopes if their limitations
are not well considered. Adjustment for the discontinuity orientation is one of the most important questionable parameter in the RMR system when it is applied
to rock slopes. Particularly in closely jointed rock
masses, which obey the non-linear HoekBrown failure
criterion, slope failures occur only in the form of a circular shape regardless of discontinuity orientation.
Therefore, in such rock masses expecting of one possible mode of failure and assignment and adjustment
value of 5 for the discontinuity orientation seems to
be more realistic. This approach was also conrmed by
the results of the stability analysis. On the other hand,
consideration of the factors such as method of excavation, major planes of weakness and change in stress
which inuence the rock mass at a particular location
and thus an adjustment for these factors become
necessary in rock mass classication applied to rock
slopes. It is also noted that the HoekBrown failure
criterion in conjunction with the RMR classication
system is only applicable to intact rock or to closely
jointed rock masses, otherwise unrealistic results may
be obtained.
Therefore, it is reasonable to conclude that the
method seems to be a practical tool for back analyzing
of slopes in jointed rock masses and to check the rock
mass rating obtained from site and laboratory investi-

SONMEZ et al.: BACK ANALYSIS OF SLOPE FAILURES IN ROCK MASSES

gations. In other words, the method may lead to the


development of possible modications in describing
the rock mass parameters particularly for the slopes, if
necessary.
A better understanding of the mechanics of jointed
rock mass behavior is a problem of major signicance
in geotechnical engineering. The authors believe that
the HoekBrown failure criterion provides a good estimate for the shear strength of jointed rock masses.
However, the authors hope that the application of the
proposed method on various failure case histories in
the future may lead to provide a better tool for more
precise input data and to check the equations
employed by the non-linear failure criterion.
AcknowledgementsThe authors express their gratitude to Professor
Evert Hoek of Canada, and to Professor Hasan Gercek of
Karaelmas University, Turkey for their valuable comments and suggestions in preparing the manuscript.
Accepted for publication 26 November 1997

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