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Geotechnical design and uncertainty in residual soil slopes

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Mining in residual soils is a characteristic of some open pit mines, particularly those mines in the tropical and sub-tropical regions. With residual soils’ prevalence on the earth’s surface almost as common as that of sedimentary rocks (Wesley 2013), mining in such soils requires special understanding of the behaviour and characteristics of the residual soil to determine slope designs that are both safe and economic. Due to the presence of relict structures, and the relatively low strength of the residual soils and weathered rock, design slope angles in these materials should be developed by blending the results of the kinematic assessments of geologic structures with rock mass stability analyses and traditional soil mechanics (Newcomen & Burton 2000). It is thus imperative that geotechnical designs should be site/location-specific and based on soil’s field performance, back-analyses and risk zoning. Understanding the variability of these materials is important for developing robust designs. This paper outlines the different aspects that are to be considered when conducting slope designs in residual soils, and in particular, saprolites, and summarises shear strength data from various mine sites that highlights the uncertainty associated with these parameters. Keywords: saprolite, residual soils, slope design, uncertainty, variability, reliability
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