Rock mass defect controlled deep-seated landslides in Tertiary soft rock terrain : implications for landscape evolution
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Science
Rock mass defect controlled deep-seated landslides are widespread within the deeply incised landscapes formed in Tertiary soft rock terrain in New Zealand. The basal failure surfaces of deep-seated slope failures are defined by thin, comparatively weak and laterally continuous bedding parallel layers termed critical stratigraphic horizons. These horizons have a sedimentary origin and have typically experienced some prior tectonically induced shear displacement at the time of slope failure. The key controls on the occurrence and form of deep-seated landslides are considered in terms of rock mass defect properties and tectonic and climatic forcing. The selection of two representative catchments (in southern Hawke's Bay and North Canterbury) affected by tectonic and climatic forcing has shown that the spatial and temporal initiation of deep-seated bedrock landslides in New Zealand Tertiary soft rock terrain is a predictable rather than a stochastic process; and that deep-seated landslides as a mass wasting process have a controlling role in landscape evolution in many catchments formed in Tertiary soft rock terrain. The Ella Landslide in North Canterbury is a deep-seated (~85 m) translational block slide that has failed on a 5 - 10 mm thick, kaolinite-rich, pre-sheared critical stratigraphic horizon. The residual strength of this sedimentary horizon, (C'R 2.6 - 2.7 kPa, and Ѳ'R = 16 - 21°), compared to the peak strength of the dominant lithology (C' = 176 kPa, and Ѳ' = 37°) defines a high strength contrast in the succession, and therefore a critical location for the basal failure surface of deep-seated slope failures. The (early to mid Holocene) Ella Landslide debris formed a large landslide dam in the Kate Stream catchment and this has significantly retarded rates of mass wasting in the middle catchment. Numerical stability analysis shows that this slope failure would have most likely required the influence of earthquake induced strong ground motion and the event is tentatively correlated to a Holocene event on the Omihi Fault. The influence of this slope failure is likely to affect the geomorphic development of the catchment on a scale of 10⁴ - 10⁵ years. In deeply incised catchments at the southeastern margin of the Maraetotara Plateau, southern Hawke's Bay, numerous widespread deep-seated landslides have basal failure surfaces defined by critical stratigraphic horizons in the form of thin « 20 mm) tuffaceous beds in the Makara Formation flysch (alternating sandstone and mudstone units). The geometry of deep-seated slope failures is controlled by these regularly spaced (~70 m), very weak critical stratigraphic horizons (C'R 3.8 - 14.2 kPa, and Ѳ'R = 2 - 5°), and regularly spaced (~45 m) and steeply dipping (-50°) critical conjugate joint/fault sets, which act as slide block release surfaces. Numerical stability analysis and historical precedent show that the temporal initiation of deep-seated landslides is directly controlled by short term tectonic forcing in the form of periodic large magnitude earthquakes. Published seismic hazard data shows the recurrence interval of earthquakes producing strong ground motions of 0.35g at the study site is every 150 yrs, however, if subduction thrust events are considered the level of strong ground motion may be much higher. Multiple occurrences of deep-seated slope failure are correlated to failure on the same critical stratigraphic horizon, in some cases in three adjacent catchments. Failure on multiple critical stratigraphic horizons leads to the development of a "stepped" landscape morphology. This slope form will be maintained during successive accelerated stream incision events (controlled by long term tectonic and climatic forcing) for as long as catchments are developing in this specific succession. Rock mass defect controlled deep seated landslides are controlling catchment head progression, landscape evolution and hillslope morphology in the Hawke's Bay study area and this has significant implications for the development of numerical landscape evolution models of landscapes formed in similar strata. Whereas the only known numerical model to consider deep seated landslides as an erosion process (ZSCAPE) considers them as stochastic in time and space, this study shows that this could not be applied to a landscape where the widespread spatial occurrence of deep-seated landslides is controlled by rock mass defects. In both of the study areas for this project, and by implication in many catchments in Tertiary soft rock terrain, deep-seated landslides controlled by rock mass defect strength, spacing and orientation, and tectonic and climatic forcing have an underlying control on landscape evolution. This study quantifies parameters for the development of numerical landscape evolution models that would assess the role of specific parameters, such as uplift rates, incision rates and earthquake recurrence in catchment evolution in Tertiary soft rock terrain.