Interplay Between Friction and Cohesion: A Spectrum of Retrogressive Slope Failure

Bin Wang, Di Wang*, Michael A. Hicks, Xia Ting Feng

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Retrogressive failures occur in slopes consisting of sensitive materials such as snow or quick clay. They can be triggered by a small disturbance at the slope toe, but can cause propagated failure spreading miles away. Understanding the physical mechanism and predicting the retrogressive failure process are particularly important. Previous studies have discussed the failure criteria, the soil properties or the method of numerical modeling of retrogressive slope failure. However, little attention has been paid to the microscopic failure mechanism, especially relating to various possible failure patterns. In this study, multiscale modeling is incorporated to study the physical mechanism of different retrogressive failure patterns, including earth flow, flowslide and spread failure, within a unified framework. Utilizing multiscale analysis, we found that earth flow failure is related to the shear failure of granular materials. In contrast, the development of macroscopic shear bands is accompanied by tensile failure. As shear and tension failures are typical failure mechanisms of frictional and cohesive materials, it is deduced that friction and cohesion effects play key roles in different retrogressive failure patterns. Therefore, the distributions of attractive and repulsive contact forces are explored and a novel parameter η is proposed to quantify the interplay between friction and cohesion. Further analysis proves that η can capture the effect of friction and cohesion and distinguish different retrogressive failure patterns. Finally, a spectrum of retrogressive failures for a granular slope is established, in which the failure mechanism is explained by the changeable dominant effect, that is, frictional or cohesive in soil.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere2022JB026008
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2023

Bibliographical note

Green Open Access added to TU Delft Institutional Repository 'You share, we take care!' - Taverne project
Otherwise as indicated in the copyright section: the publisher is the copyright holder of this work and the author uses the Dutch legislation to make this work public.


  • cohesion
  • friction
  • multiscale modeling
  • retrogressive slope failure


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