Coastal chalk cliff instability in NW France Role of lithology, Fracture
Coastal retreat has been studied along 120km of French Channel chalk coast from Upper Normandy to Picardy. During the investigation period, 1998-2001, 55 significant collapses were recorded. Of these 5.5% were very large-scale, 34.5% large-scale, 34.5% medium-scale and 25.5% small-scale collapses. Observations indicate that the larger the collapse size the greater the coastal cliff retreat. Four types of cliff failure were observed: (1) vertical failures in homogeneous chalk units; (2) sliding failures where two superimposed chalk units were present; (3) wedge and plane failures mainly recognized in the UK in formations with stratabound fractures; (4) complex failures in cliffs with more than one style of fracturing. Rainfall in relation to the timing of cliff collapse indicates two periods that trigger a collapse. The first occurs about one month after heavy rainfall within poorly fractured chalk and the second occurs when a dry period is interrupted by sharp rainfall in cliffs with major karst features (pipes etc). Medium to small-scale cliff collapses were, in some cases, caused by marine erosion at the base of the cliff creating a notch. A key factor controlling the type of collapse is the lithostratigraphic unit, while the extent of the collapse scar may be controlled by fracture type.