EGU General Assembly 2023
© Author(s) 2023. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Initiation and mechanism of rock slope failures triggered by the 2016 Mw 7.8 Kaikōura earthquake

Corinne Singeisen1, Chis Massey2, Andrea Wolter2, Tim Stahl1, Colin Bloom1, Richard Kellett2, Zane Bruce2, Caleb Gasston3, Doug Mason1,4, and Katie Jones2,5
Corinne Singeisen et al.
  • 1University of Canterbury, Christchurch, New Zealand
  • 2GNS Science, Lower Hutt, New Zealand
  • 3University of Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand
  • 4WSP, Wellington, New Zealand
  • 5Victoria University of Wellington, Wellington, New Zealand

The 2016 Mw 7.8 Kaikōura earthquake on New Zealand’s South Island triggered c. 30,000 landslides. Around 70% of landslides occurred in Torlesse greywacke rock mass, which is characterised by closely spaced but low-persistence joints. Most failures in this rock mass were relatively shallow rock avalanches which do not appear to follow traditional failure mechanism models. Here, we use detailed site characterisation and dynamic numerical modelling to better understand landslide hazard and risk from Torlesse greywacke slopes. Using multi-method site characterisation including 3D pixel tracking in pre- and post-earthquake aerial imagery, geomorphic mapping, rock mass characterisation, geophysical ground investigations and a geotechnical borehole, we developed engineering geological ground models for individual sites. We then used these to develop a conceptual framework of failure mechanism in Torlesse greywacke and propose a ‘joint-step-path’ failure mechanism in which rupture surface propagation occurs along pre-existing, but low-persistence joints through multiple degrees of kinematic freedom. Torlesse greywacke failures typically evolve in three main landslide failure stages – incipient, transitional and rock avalanching. Hazard can increase for the same slope when it transitions from the incipient failure stage to sliding and/or avalanching. To quantify the transition between failure stages, we analysed coseismic displacement and strain for six landslides. As many displacement based coseismic landslide susceptibility models require some threshold, above which the slope is assumed to transition into a landslide, this information could potentially serve as a useful tool. For slopes at the incipient and transitional stage, 1D maximum total strain appears to be closely correlated with source slope angle. Based on these results, we develop the ‘transitional slope strain index’ (TSSI) that combines 1D maximum total strain with source slope angle. The TSSI relates to the likelihood of a slope transitioning into a more mobile, and therefore more hazardous, rock avalanche at a given level of earthquake shaking. Dynamic numerical back-analysis of the initiation of two landslides in Torlesse greywacke supports our empirical hypotheses that landslide susceptibility in this rock mass is strongly influenced by slope angle and rock mass strength. Coseismic failure initiation is, furthermore, strongly dependent on ground motion input. The geometry of failures can be reproduced using a random Voronoi joint network and adopting residual joint strength parameters, which further lends weight to the ‘joint-step-path’ failure mechanism hypothesis.

How to cite: Singeisen, C., Massey, C., Wolter, A., Stahl, T., Bloom, C., Kellett, R., Bruce, Z., Gasston, C., Mason, D., and Jones, K.: Initiation and mechanism of rock slope failures triggered by the 2016 Mw 7.8 Kaikōura earthquake, EGU General Assembly 2023, Vienna, Austria, 24–28 Apr 2023, EGU23-4552,, 2023.