Engineering geological investigation of earthquake-induced ground damage and tensile characteristics of loess-colluvium soils, Eastern Hillsborough Valley, Christchurch
Thesis DisciplineEngineering Geology
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Science
Following the Mw 6.2 Christchurch Earthquake on 22 February 2011, extensive ground cracking in loessial soils was reported in some areas of the Port Hills, southeast of central Christchurch. This study was undertaken to investigate the mechanisms of earthquake-induced ground damage on the eastern side of the Hillsborough Valley. A zone of extensional cracking up to 40m wide and 600m long was identified along the eastern foot-slope, accompanied by compression features and spring formation at the toe of the slope. An engineering geological and geomorphological model was developed for the eastern Hillsborough Valley that incorporates geotechnical investigation data sourced from the Canterbury Geotechnical Database (CGD), the findings of trenching and seismic refraction surveying carried out for this research, and interpretation of historical aerial photographs. The thickness and extent of a buried peat swamp at the base of the slope was mapped, and found to coincide with significant compression features. Ground cracking was found to have occurred entirely within loess-colluvium and to follow the apices of pre-1920s tunnel-gully fan debris at the southern end of the valley. The ground-cracking on the eastern side of the Hillsborough Valley is interpreted to have formed through tensile failure of the loess-colluvium. Testing was carried out to determine the tensile strength of Port Hills loess colluvium as a function of water content and density, in order to better understand the occurrence and distribution of the observed ground cracking. A comprehensive review of the soil tensile strength testing literature was undertaken, from which a test methodology was developed. Results show remoulded loess-colluvium to possess tensile strength of 7 - 28 kPa across the range of tested moisture contents (10-15%) and dry densities (1650-1900kg/m3). A positive linear relationship was observed between tensile strength and dry density, and a negative linear relationship between moisture content and tensile strength. The observed ground damage and available geotechnical information (inclinometer and piezometer records provided by the Earthquake Commission) were together used to interpret the mechanism(s) of slope movement that occurred in the eastern Hillsborough Valley. The observed ground damage is characteristic of translational movement, but without the development of lateral release scarps, or a basal sliding surface - which was not located during drilling. It is hypothesised that shear displacement has been accommodated by multiple slip surfaces of limited extent within the upper 10m of the slope. Movement has likely occurred within near-saturated colluvial units that have lost strength during earthquake shaking. The eastern Hillsborough Valley is considered to be an ‘incipient translational slide’, as both the patterns of damage and shearing are consistent with the early stages of such slide development. Sliding block analysis was utilised to understand how the eastern Hillsborough Valley may perform in a future large magnitude earthquake. Known cumulative displacements of ~0.3m for eastern Hillsborough Valley during the 2010-2011 Canterbury Earthquake Sequence were compared with modelled slope displacements to back-analyse a lower-bound yield acceleration of 0.2 - 0.25g. Synthetic broadband modelling for future Alpine and Hope Fault earthquakes indicates PGAs of approximately 0.08g for soil sites in the Christchurch area, as such, slope movement is unlikely to be reactivated by an Alpine Fault or Hope Fault earthquake. This does not take into account the possible role of strength loss due to excess pore pressure that may occur during these future events.