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Analyzing Rockfall Mitigation Through Software

Wire mesh slope to prevent rocks  falling onto the highway

Rockfalls and rock slides pose dangers in mountainous areas that can be prevented with modern rockfall mitigation techniques that might involve rockfall draperies, measure cable nets, barriers, catchment areas, and a number of other techniques to prevent the rocks from falling to the ground below. Before a rockfall company installs any of these measures, they engage in a considerable amount of calculation to determine the likelihood of rock movement in the area. Fortunately, much of this is now done by software programs that consider the properties of falling rocks and slope stability.

Calculating Rockfall

Prior to the days of computer modeling, civil engineers performed calculations by hand or with handheld calculators. While today’s engineers must understand the physics, math, and geology behind the programs, they can use analysis software to predict the safety of slopes, the movement of rocks, and the impact of weather, trauma, and other factors on rock formations.

Software is often used by civil engineers to design man-made slopes either to create a new natural feature or to compensate when road cuts, embankments, landfills, or excavation changes the equilibrium. Rockfall companies who want to predict risk of falling rocks have the same concerns and use one of three computerized approaches to analyzing risk:

  • Kinematic analysis – a method to analyze potential types of rock slope failures (plane, wedge, toppling failure) as a result of failures at unfavorably-oriented discontinuities or geological breaks, such as faults, joints, bedding planes, share zones, and foliation.
  • Limit equilibrium analysis – a method of calculating the factor of safety (FS) of the slope against failure as a result of gravity if the kinematic analysis indicates that failure is likely.
  • Rockfall simulators – have software that evaluates and prioritizes potential rockfall hazards based on the severity of the risk and using geological and climactic information, traffic, and slope data to rank the hazards.

Slope Failures in Need of Rockfall Mitigation

Two-dimensional or three-dimensional limit equilibrium analysis, the key software used in predicting rockfall, considers four main types of potential failure:

  • Planar failure, which is when a massive rocks slides down a single surface.
  • Polygonal failure, which is when polygonally-shaped services develop multiple internal shares which divide the rock into blocks that slide.
  • Wedge failure, when the wedged-shaped block develops when two discontinuities meet and plunge in the same direction as the face of the slope.
  • Toppling failure, which results from interlayer movement of discontinuities within the rock that rotate around the pivot point of the lowest corner of the block and ultimately fall.

Software to Assess The Risk of Rockfall

A number of software packages such as SLIDE, SLOPE/W, Hydrus, ROCFALL, AutoBlock, and more use a variety of mathematical calculations developed by scientists to determine slope stability and where discontinuities might develop that lead to rockslides. While no program is perfect in predicting rock movement or rockslide, especially in the case of weather or other unplanned occurrences, the data generated is often enough to direct the professionals to suggest the proper rockfall mitigation techniques.
When you need rockfall mitigation you need an expert in the field. Triptych Construction offers 30 years of experience in stabilizing slopes. For information, contact us today at (541) 673-4903 or via our website form.

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