On the stability of landslides: A thermo-poro-elastic approach

Liran Goren*, Einat Aharonov

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

60 Scopus citations


Motion of a large rock mass down a slope can either take the form of a catastrophic landslide, or can exhibit self-stabilization, where the mass arrests on the slope, after moving only a short distance. In order to study the parameters that control the stability of the sliding process, a thermo-poro-elastic model is investigated both numerically and analytically. This model assumes that the physics controlling sliding stability is dominated by coupling between frictional heating, thermal pressurization and sliding velocity: A temperature increase due to frictional heating causes thermal pressurization within a fluid-saturated shear zone. The pressure rise leads to reduction of frictional resistance, which in turns leads to higher sliding velocities. Results demonstrate that the permeability of the sliding mass is an important factor in controlling the sliding stability: Low permeabilities lead to catastrophic landslides, by allowing high pore pressure to develop and friction to be reduced. In contrast, high permeabilities lead to rapid arrest by promoting pore pressure diffusion. A pore pressure - velocity phase plane is described, divided by a separatrix distinguishing between catastrophic and arrested sliding. In this phase plane minute changes in permeability dictate a bifurcation in the dynamics of landslides. A sensitivity study reveals that various geometrical and mechanical parameters can control the sliding process dynamics in a similar manner. It is hypothesized that a third sliding regime observed in nature, creep sliding, may be generated by a sequence of arrested events, where the number of arrested events/unit time dictates the apparent creep velocity.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)365-372
Number of pages8
JournalEarth and Planetary Science Letters
Issue number3-4
StatePublished - 30 Jan 2009


  • arrested landslides
  • catastrophic landslides
  • frictional heating
  • landslide
  • pore pressure
  • thermo-poro-elastic


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