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Rock-and-soil avalanches: Theory and simulation

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International audience We present a 2-D Contact Dynamics discrete element model for simulating initiation and motion of rock avalanches, integrating hillslope geometry, Mohr-Coulomb rock behavior, pore pressure before avalanche triggering, and avalanche trigger. Avalanche motion is modeled as a dense granular flow of dry frictional and cohesive particles. On the basis of granular physics and shear experiments, we review some of the theories for the unexpectedly long runout of rock avalanches. Different causes are evoked, according to the strength (strong or weak) of the slip surface relative to the bulk. "Mechanical fluidization'' and "acoustic fluidization'' theories state that agitation of rock particles reduces frictional strength, increasing runout. Conversely, granular mechanics suggests that, as "shear-strain'' rate increases, granular material becomes more agitated, more dissipative, and more resistant. Another theory states that dynamic fragmentation of clasts creates an isotropic pressure that drives longer runout. In contrast, granular mechanics suggests that fragmentation may induce fluidization and strengthening of the granular material, while particle size reduction (among others) induces weakening of the granular flow and enhances long runout. Runout is also enhanced for column-like rock masses collapsing from steep hillslopes. Long runout may also be linked to thermal weakening mechanisms at the slip surface (e.g., thermal pressurization, and shear melting), which may lower drastically the shear strength. The model is illustrated with a hypothetical example of a rain-triggered avalanche, mobilizing shallowly dipping layers. Several phases are identified, including slope failure, avalanche triggering resulting from slip weakening, and avalanche motion in which rocks are folded and sheared.

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