A multidisciplinary engineering geological investigation of cliff collapse at Redcliffs in the 22nd February and 13 June 2011 earthquakes
Thesis DisciplineEngineering Geology
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Science
The collapse of Redcliffs’ cliff in the 22 February 2011 and 13 June 2011 earthquakes were the first times ever a major failure incident occurred at Redcliffs in approximately 6000 years. This master’s thesis is a multidisciplinary engineering geological investigation sought to study these particular failure incidents, focusing on collecting the data necessary to explain the cause and effect of the cliff collapsing in the event of two major earthquakes.
This study provides quantitative and qualitative data about the geotechnical attributes and engineering geological nature of the sea-cut cliff located at Redcliffs. Results from surveying the geology of Redcliffs show that the exposed lithology of the cliff face is a variably jointed rock body of welded and (relatively intact) unwelded ignimbrite, a predominantly massive unit of brecciated tuff, and a covering of wind-blown loess and soil deposit (commonly found throughout Canterbury) on top of the cliff. Moreover, detailing the external component of the slope profile shows that Redcliffs’ cliff is a 40 – 80 m cliff with two intersecting (NE and SE facing) slope aspects. The (remotely) measured geometry of the cliff face comprises of multiple outstanding gradients, averaging a slope angle of ~67 degrees (post-13 June 2011), where the steepest components are ~80 degrees, whereas the gentle sloping sections are ~44 degrees.
The physical structure of Redcliffs’ cliff drastically changed after each collapse, whereby seismically induced alterations to the slope geometry resulted in material deposited on the talus at the base of the cliff. Prior to the first collapse, the variance of the gradient down the slope was minimal, with the SE Face being the most variable with up to three major gradients on one cross section. However, after each major collapse, the variability increased with more parts of the cliff face having more than one major gradient that is steeper or gentler than the remainder of the slope. The estimated volume of material lost as a result of the gradient changes was 28,267 m³ in February and 11,360 m³ in June 2011. In addition, surveys of the cliff top after the failure incidents revealed the development of fissures along the cliff edge. Monitoring 10 fissures over three months indicated that fissured by the cliff edge respond to intense seismicity (generally ≥ Mw 4) by widening.
Redcliffs’ cliff collapsed on two separate occasions as a result of an accumulated amount of damage of the rock masses in the cliff (caused by weathering and erosion over time), and two Mw 6.2 trigger earthquakes which shook the Redcliffs and the surrounding area at a Peak Ground Acceleration (PGA) estimated to be around 2 g. The results of the theoretical study suggests that PGA levels felt on-site during both instances of failure are the result of three major factors: source of the quake and the site affected; topographic amplification of the ground movement; the short distance between the source and the cliff for both fault ruptures; the focus of seismic energy in the direction of thrust faulting along a path that intercepts Redcliffs (and the Port Hills).
Ultimately, failure on the NE and SE Faces of Redcliffs’ cliff was concluded to be global as every part of the exposed cliff face deposited a significant volume of material on the talus at the base of the cliff, with the exception of one section on the NE Face. The cliff collapses was a concurrent process that is a single (non-monotonic) event that operated as a complex series of (primarily) toppling rock falls, some sliding of blocks, and slumping of the soil mantle on top of the cliff. The first collapse had a mixture of equivalent continua slope movement of the heavily weathered / damaged surface of the cliff face, and discontinuous slope movement of the jointed inner slope (behind the heavily weathered surface); whereas the second collapse resulted in only discontinuous slope movement on account of the freshly exposed cliff face that had damage to the rock masses, in the form of old and (relatively) new discontinuous fractures, induced by earthquakes and aftershocks leading up to the point of failure.