Modelling the seismic performance of rooted slopes from individual root–soil interaction to global slope behaviour

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Many natural and man-made slopes are planted with vegetation, and it is known that this can increase the stability of slopes under static conditions. There is anecdotal evidence that vegetated slopes also perform better than fallow slopes during earthquakes. However, the study of the dynamic behaviour of slopes planted with species having dichotomous (‘woody’) roots is relatively rare owing to the extreme expense and difficulty involved in conducting full-scale dynamic testing on shrubs and trees. In this paper, dynamic centrifuge testing and supporting numerical modelling have been conducted to study this problem. In the centrifuge modelling, ABS plastic rods are used to simulate repeatably the mechanical properties of real roots. The numerical modelling work consisted of two parts. First, a computationally-efficient beam-on-non-linear-Winkler-foundation (BNWF) model using existing p–y formulations from piling engineering was employed to produce a macro-element describing the individual root and soil interaction both pre- and post-failure. By adding contributions from the different root analogues of different diameters, smeared continuum properties were derived that could be included in a fully dynamic, plane-strain continuum, finite-element model in a straightforward way. The BNWF approach was validated against large direct shear tests having stress conditions simulating those in the centrifuge at different potential slip plane depths. The conversion to smeared properties for global time-history analysis of the slope was validated by comparing the continuum finite-element results with the centrifuge test data in terms of both the dynamic response and permanent deformations at the crest, and these demonstrated good agreement. Owing to the simplicity of the BNWF approach and its ability to consider variable root geometries and properties, along with variation of soil properties with depth, it is suggested that the validated approach described will be useful in linking individual root–soil interaction characteristics (root strength and stiffness, diameter variation, root spacing and so on) to global slope behaviour.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)995-1009
Number of pages15
Issue number12
Early online date2 Sep 2015
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2015


  • centrifuge modelling
  • earthquakes
  • finite-element modelling
  • numerical modelling
  • slopes
  • vegetation


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