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Why do landslides occur though the rainfall has not led to full saturation in the sliding zone?

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From soil mechanics, it tells us that unsaturated soils get its strength from three main components, namely, friction, cohesion and suction. In building a sand castle in a beach, experience tells us that when sand is too dry or too wet, the castle can hardly be built. However, when the sand is partially saturated, the suction (negative pore water pressure) holds the sand together and provides the strength the build the castle.

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In the event of intensive rainfall, the soils cannot get away the water at the rate it is penetrating into the slope and this results in wetting up of the subsurface soils. When the slopes gets too wet (but not yet saturated), it loose much strength in terms of suction (negative pore water pressure) and results in slope failure. This occurs despite the fact that the sliding mass is well above the ground water table.

In Hong Kong about 80% of landslides occur owing to erosion and loss in suction. Only less than 20% of landslides occur as a result of increase of pore water pressure, leading to the decrease in shear strength.

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This question is taken from book named – A Self Learning Manual – Mastering Different Fields of Civil Engineering Works (VC-Q-A-Method) by Vincent T. H. CHU.

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