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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Integrated field investigation, numerical analysis and hazard assessment of the Portillo Rock Avalanche site, Central Andes, Chile Welkner, Daniela


This thesis reports a rock slope hazard investigation located in the Central Andes of Chile, where two significant rock mass wasting events were recognized. Dating using cosmogenic nuclide for ³⁶Cl showed that the deposits were post-glacial in age, corresponding to the Upper Pleistocene Portillo Rock Avalanche (PRA) and a Holocene rock slump and rockslide. The pre-historic landslide deposits underlie both a key transportation route between Chile and Argentina and an important ski resort. The purpose of this research was to investigate the likely failure mechanism and characterise the runout path and volume of the PRA. The insights gained on the back analysis of the slope were used in later stages to assess the hazard potential of a recurring major rockslide. The distinct element code UDEC was used to evaluate the failure mechanism. Elasto-plastic modelling results showed that sliding and shearing along the bedding planes together with brittle fracturing and shearing through the toe of the slope likely had occurred. Runout simulations were carried out using DAN3D. Combinations of rheologies were tested and ranked based on their ability to represent the current distribution of the debris by means of pre-failure topography reconstruction and volume estimates of the deposits. Results showed that the best basal rheological combination for the PRA was frictional during the rockslide and Voellmy when entrainment became important. In contrast, a constant frictional basal rheology best represented the Holocene rock slump. The performance of the present-day state of the slope was tested under different scenarios. Under static condition the slope proved to be stable indicating a stabilized geometrical profile with time. Also, the slope proved to be stable under increased pore water pressures at its toe. Finally the modelled slope was subjected to a seismic load (M=7.8) and its crest failed due to an outward rotation of blocks, probably aided by topographic amplification. The runout simulations showed that the leading edge of the flow could override part of the International Santiago-Mendoza Corridor with no direct impact to the Portillo Ski Resort. Overall, though, under this highly unlikely dynamic condition for the site, the hazard level is very low.

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