Evidence for the weather-driven deterioration of ageing transportation earthworks in the UK

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Abstract

Seasonal, weather-driven pore pressure cycles alter and degrade the hydro-mechanical engineering properties of earthworks as they age. The accumulating effects of deterioration over many years can lead to the excessive deformation or failure of earthworks; requiring interventions to ensure their reliable performance. This paper reviews the evidence for the weather-driven deterioration of ageing transportation earthworks, with a focus on clay earthworks in the UK. These include earthworks of various ages (up to ∼200 years old), formed from a range of clay-rich strata and at various stages of deterioration. Evidence is considered for both past behaviour and projected behaviour in response to continued ageing and a changing climate. There is clear evidence that some clay earthworks are influenced by the cumulative effect of seasonal weather cycles over many decades. Simulations show that seasonal slope ratcheting will become an increasingly dominant driver of shallow failures in high-plasticity cut slopes as they age and in response to projected climate change. The evidence can inform performance curves describing the deterioration of individual earthworks in response weather-driven ageing. This can help identify earthworks with the highest likelihood of failure and inform decisions made by earthwork asset managers.

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Briggs, K. M., Helm, P. R., Smethurst, J. A., Smith, A., Stirling, R., Svalova, A., … Glendinning, S. (2023). Evidence for the weather-driven deterioration of ageing transportation earthworks in the UK. Transportation Geotechnics, 43. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.trgeo.2023.101130

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