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Slow episodic movement driven by elevated pore-fluid pressures in shallow subaqueous slopes

Carey, J.M., Crutchley, G.J., Mountjoy, J.J., Petley, D.N., McSaveney, M.J., Lyndsell, B.
Geomorphology 2019 v.329 pp. 99-107
deformation, landslides, nitrogen, New Zealand
Subaqueous slopes are susceptible to a broad range of failure mechanisms and deformation styles, many of which are not well characterised. We undertook novel laboratory-based testing using a Dynamic Back-Pressured Shearbox on samples collected from an area subject to ongoing slope failures, situated on the upper slope of New Zealand's Hikurangi Margin, to determine how increases in pore water and gas pressures generate shallow mass movement. Using both water and nitrogen gas we observed similar responses in both cases, indicating that behaviour is dominated by the normal effective stress state regardless of pore-fluid phase. Shear-strain accumulation, representing landslide movement, shows a slow episodic pattern, in common with many shallow terrestrial landslides. Our results are relevant for landslides occurring in shallow near surface sedimentary sequences but have implications for deep-seated landslide behaviour. They suggest that once movement initiates at a critical effective stress, its rate is regulated through dilation and pore expansion within the shear zone, temporarily increasing effective stress within a narrow shear band and suppressing rapid shear. Consequently, under certain conditions, shallow submarine landslides (e.g. spreading failures) can undergo slow episodic movement which allows them to accumulate large shear strains without accelerating to catastrophic movement even when they are unconstrained.