New Slope Stability Considerations For Deep Open Pit Mines

Stacey, T. R.
Organization: The Southern African Institute of Mining and Metallurgy
Pages: 18
Publication Date: Jan 1, 2003
There has been disappointingly little development in the analysis of rock slopes in open pit mines over the past 30 years. A brief review of literature shows that the application of numerical stress analysis methods to open pit mine slope stability has become only relatively common in recent times, and that there are as yet no standardized approaches. The lack of development in general, and of robust, standardized approaches in particular, is surprising in view of the ?ultra? deep open pit mines that are being developed to depths in excess of 1000 m. In this paper, the results of a substantial programme of two dimensional and axisymmetric analyses of open pit slopes are described. Variations in the following parameters were taken into account in this programme: slope angle, slope height and horizontal to vertical in situ stress ratio. The evaluation of the data has concentrated on the tensile stresses and the extension strains in the slopes. This is believed to be the first publication dealing with strain distributions in slopes. The occurrence of zones of tensile stress was very limited. These zones occur in the crests of slopes, except in the case of low horizontal to vertical stress ratios, in which case the tensile zone is in the floor of the pit. In contrast, very large zones of extension strain can occur, and this finding represents a significant new aspect in slope stability that has not been considered before. The greatest magnitudes of extension strain occur near the toe of the slope, either in the slope itself, or in the floor of the pit. The magnitudes of the strains are considered to be large enough to result in fracturing of intact rock, and the fracture orientations predicted are adverse for slope stability. The large zone in which such extension failure could potentially occur in a 1200 m deep pit is typically more than 100 m horizontally behind the toe and about 400 m up the face from the toe. Fracturing that is extension in nature is common in competent, brittle rocks and often develops with some violence and little or no warning. Such ?strain bursting? produces easily measurable seismicity, events often being audible as well. In the slope situation, the expected physical manifestation of this behaviour would be popping off of rock slabs and plates of rock from slope surfaces and popping up of the pit floor, as well as the formation of new fractures within the rock mass. Such behaviour may cause overall slope failure, or may initiate failure, which may then be driven to overall slope failure by other influencing factors or combinations of factors. In addition to instability resulting from the fracture surfaces themselves, all induced fracture surfaces could interact with natural geological structures to facilitate formation of a significant failure surface. With suitably orientated joints, extension strains are likely to manifest themselves in the opening up of such joints and hence in the loosening of the rock mass in a preferential orientation, with potential effects on groundwater flow patterns.
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