Journal of Mountain Science

, Volume 15, Issue 10, pp 2320–2334 | Cite as

Effect of clay content to the strength of gravel soil in the source region of debris flow

  • Ning-sheng Chen
  • Yan-chao Gao
  • Cheng-lin Yang
  • Gui-sheng HuEmail author


The production of runoff in the source area of a debris flow is the consequence of a reduction in soil strength. Gravel soil is widely distributed in the source region, and the influence of its clay content on soil strength is one of the important questions regarding the formation mechanism of debris flows. In this paper, the clay content in gravel soil is divided into groups of low clay content (1%, 2, 5%), moderate clay content (3.75%, 5.00%, 6.25%, 7.5%) and high clay content (10.0%, 12.5%, 15%). Tests of the unconsolidated undrained shear strength and consolidated drained shear strength were performed. The unconsolidated undrained shearing (UU) experiment simulates the rapid shear failure of loose gravel soil under the conditions of brief heavy rainfall. The consolidated drained shearing (CD) experiment simulates creep failure of consolidated sediment during extended rainfall. The pore water pressure first increased and then decreased as the clay content increased, and the increase in pore pressure was relatively high in the gravel soil sample when the clay content is in the range of 3.25-7.50%, and stress in the gravel soil is relatively low for a moderate clay content. Gravelly soils with a moderate clay content are more prone to debris-flow initiation. This paper presents a mathematical formula for the maximum shear stress and clay content of gravel soil under two conditions. The key processes whereby the soil fails and triggers a debris flow—volume contraction of soil, expansion of clay soil, and rise of pore pressure—cause reductions in the soil friction force and enhancement of the water content in the clay particles, and subsurface erosion of soil reduces the soil viscosity, which eventually reduces the soil strength so that the soil loses its stability, liquefies and generates a debris flow.


Debris flows Gravel soil Clay content Maximum shear stress Pore water pressure 


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This study was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (Grant Nos. 41501012 and 41502337) and the China Geological Survey (Grant No. 121201010000150003). The authors would like to express our heartfelt gratitude to the reviewers and editors who made valuable suggestions and helped us improve the content and presentation of the manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Science Press, Institute of Mountain Hazards and Environment, CAS and Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Key Laboratory of Mountain Hazards and Land Surface ProcessInstitute of Mountain Hazards and Environment, CASChengduChina
  2. 2.Chengdu CenterChina Geological SurveyChengduChina
  3. 3.University of Chinese Academy of SciencesBeijingChina

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