Cone penetration testing to assess slope stability in the 1979 Nice landslide area (Ligurian Margin, SE France)

In the landslide-prone area near the Nice international airport, southeastern France, an interdisciplinary approach is applied to develop realistic lithological/geometrical profiles and geotechnical/strength sub-seafloor models. Such models are indispensable for slope stability assessments using limit equilibrium or finite element methods. Regression analyses, based on the undrained shear strength (su) of intact gassy sediments are used to generate a sub-seafloor strength model based on 37 short dynamic and eight long static piezocone penetration tests, and laboratory experiments on one Calypso piston and 10 gravity cores. Significant strength variations were detected when comparing measurements from the shelf and the shelf break, with a significant drop in su to 5.5 kPa being interpreted as a weak zone at a depth between 6.5 and 8.5 m below seafloor (mbsf). Here, a 10% reduction of the in situ total unit weight compared to the surrounding sediments is found to coincide with coarse-grained layers that turn into a weak zone and detachment plane for former and present-day gravitational, retrogressive slide events, as seen in 2D chirp profiles. The combination of high-resolution chirp profiles and comprehensive geotechnical information allows us to compute enhanced 2D finite element slope stability analysis with undrained sediment response compared to previous 2D numerical and 3D limit equilibrium assessments. Those models suggest that significant portions (detachment planes at 20 m or even 55 mbsf) of the Quaternary delta and slope apron deposits may be mobilized. Given that factors of safety are equal or less than 1 when further considering the effect of free gas, a high risk for a landslide event of considerable size off Nice international airport is identified


Dynamic penetrometer, Sub-seafloor modeling, Weak zone, Free gas, Numerical slope stability

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Steiner Alois, Kopf Achim J., Henry Pierre, Stegmann Sylvia, Apprioual Ronan, Pelleau Pascal (2015). Cone penetration testing to assess slope stability in the 1979 Nice landslide area (Ligurian Margin, SE France). Marine Geology. 369. 162-181.,

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