2021 – Some considerations when using deformation monitoring to manage the static liquefaction risks of TSFs

David Reid, Andy Fourie, Riccardo Fanni, Cristina Vulpe, Alexandra Halliday

Recent failures of a number of tailings storage facilities (TSFs) has highlighted the need for better
governance and operational management of these structures. One means to improve their safety is clearly better and more focussed monitoring. Significant efforts are underway in this area, with a number of technologies being deployed. In particular, the monitoring of deformations through a variety of means (direct, satellite inferred) is increasingly being applied. While deformation monitoring to warn against failure has a long history in geotechnical engineering, some aspects of the rapid triggering and resulting flow of some TSFs may not be amenable to deformation monitoring, in the sense that actionable warning of an impending failure is not assured.

To examine this issue, a series of numerical models of an idealised TSF are carried out. This idealised TSF is brought to failure by means of a rising phreatic surface – often referred to as the constant shear drained (CSD) stress path. Deformations of the outer slope and crest of the numerical model – i.e. those that could be monitored for a real TSF – are tracked and analyses for the models carried out. It is seen that under CSD loading distinct deformation patterns indicative of impending failure are not always clear. Rather, minimal deformations and indeed swelling of the crest is seen leading to failure. The importance of recognising the minimal pre-failure deformation patterns that may manifest with a rising phreatic surface is noted.

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