An engineering geological evaluation of non-engineered loess fill and airfall loess Quarry Road, Mt. Pleasant, Christchurch.
Thesis DisciplineEngineering Geology
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Science
Following the 22nd February 2011, Mw 6.2 earthquake located along a previously unknown fault beneath the Port Hills of Christchurch, surface cracking was identified in contour parallel locations within fill material at Quarry Road on the lower slopes of Mount Pleasant. GNS Science, in the role of advisor to the Christchurch City Council, concluded that these cracks were a part of a potential rotational mass movement (named zone 11A) within the fill and airfall loess material present. However, a lack of field evidence for slope instability and an absence of laboratory geotechnical data on which slope stability analysis was based, suggested this conclusion is potentially incorrect. It was hypothesised that ground cracking was in fact due to earthquake shaking, and not mass movement within the slope, thus forming the basis of this study. Three soil units were identified during surface and subsurface investigations at Quarry Road: fill derived from quarry operations in the adjacent St. Andrews Quarry (between 1893 and 1913), a buried topsoil, and underlying in-situ airfall loess. The fill material was identified by the presence of organic-rich topsoil “clods” that were irregular in both size (∼10 – 200 mm) and shape, with variable thicknesses of 1 – 10 m. Maximum thickness, as indicated by drill holes and geophysical survey lines, was identified below 6 Quarry Road and 7 The Brae where it is thought to infill a pre-existing gully formed in the underlying airfall loess. Bearing strength of the fill consistently exceeded 300 kPa ultimate below ∼500 mm depth. The buried topsoil was 200 – 300 mm thick, and normally displayed a lower bearing strength when encountered, but not below 300 kPa ultimate (3 – 11 blows per 100mm or ≥100 kPa allowable). In-situ airfall loess stood vertically in outcrop due to its characteristic high dry strength and also showed Scala penetrometer values of 6 – 20+ blows per 100 mm (450 – ≥1000 kPa ultimate). All soils were described as being moist to dry during subsurface investigations, with no groundwater table identified during any investigation into volcanic bedrock. In-situ moisture contents were established using bulk disturbed samples from hand augers and test pitting. Average moisture contents were low at 9% within the fill, 11 % within the buried topsoil, and 8% within the airfall loess: all were below the associated average plastic limit of 17, 15, and 16, respectively, determined during Atterberg limit analysis. Particle size distributions, identified using the sieve and pipette method, were similar between the three soil units with 11 – 20 % clay, 62 – 78 % silt, and 11 – 20 % fine sand. Using these results and the NZGS soil classification, the loess derived fill and in-situ airfall loess are termed SILT with some clay and sand, and the buried topsoil is SILT with minor clay and sand. Dispersivity of the units was found using the Emerson crumb test, which established that the fill can be non- to completely dispersive (score 0 – 4). The buried topsoil was always non-dispersive (score 0), and airfall loess completely dispersive (score 4). Values for cohesion (c) and internal friction angle (φ) of the three soil units were established using the direct shear box at field moisture contents. Results showed all soil units had high shear strengths at the moisture contents tested (c = 18 – 24 kPa and φ = 42 – 50°), with samples behaving in a brittle fashion. Moisture content was artificially increased to 16% within the buried topsoil, which reduced the shear strength (c = 10 kPa, φ = 18°) and allowed it to behave plastically. Observational information indicating stability at Quarry Road included: shallow, discontinuous, cracks that do not display vertical offset; no scarp features or compressional zones typical of landsliding; no tilted or deformed structures; no movement in inclinometers; no basal shear zone identified in logged core to 20 m depth; low field moisture contents; no groundwater table; and high soil strength using Scala penetrometers. Limit equilibrium analysis of the slope was conducted using Rocscience software Slide 5.0 to verify the slope stability identified by observational methods. Friction, cohesion, and density values determined during laboratory were input into the two slope models investigated. Results gave minimum static factor of safety values for translational (along buried topsoil) and rotational (in the fill) slides of 2.4 – 4.2. Sensitivity of the slope to reduced shear strength parameters was analysed using c = 10 kPa and φ = 18° for the translational buried topsoil plane, and a cohesion of 0 kPa within the fill for the rotational plane. The only situation that gave a factor of safety <1.0 was in nonengineered fill at 0.5 m depth. Pseudostatic analysis based on previous peak ground acceleration (PGA) values for the Canterbury Earthquake Sequence, and predicted PGAs for future Alpine Fault and Hope Fault earthquakes established minimum factor of safety values between 1.2 and 3.3. Yield acceleration PGAs were computed to be between 0.8g and 1.6g. Based on all information gathered, the cracking at Quarry Road is considered to be shallow deformation in response to earthquake shaking, and not due to deep-seated landsliding. It is recommended that the currently bare site be managed by smoothing the land, installing contour drainage, and bioremediation of the surface soils to reduce surface water infiltration and runoff. Extensive earthworks, including removal of the fill, are considered unnecessary. Any future replacement of housing would be subject to site-specific investigations, and careful foundation design based on those results.