• pore water pressures;
  • saturated and unsaturated flow;
  • riverbank stability;
  • riverbank failure;
  • Sieve River, Italy


Pore water pressures (positive and negative) were monitored for four years (1996–1999) using a series of tensiometer-piezometers at increasing depths in a riverbank of the Sieve River, Tuscany (central Italy), with the overall objective of investigating pore pressure changes in response to flow events and their effects on bank stability.

The saturated/unsaturated flow was modelled using a finite element seepage analysis, for the main flow events occurring during the four-year monitoring period. Modelling results were validated by comparing measured with computed pore water pressure values for a series of representative events. Riverbank stability analysis was conducted by applying the limit equilibrium method (Morgenstern-Price), using pore water pressure distributions obtained by the seepage analysis.

The simulation of the 14 December 1996 event, during which a bank failure occurred, is reported in detail to illustrate the relations between the water table and river stage during the various phases of the hydrograph and their effects on bank stability. The simulation, according to monitored data, shows that the failure occurred three hours after the peak stage, during the inversion of flow (from the bank towards the river). A relatively limited development of positive pore pressures, reducing the effective stress and annulling the shear strength term due to the matric suction, and the sudden loss of the confining pressure of the river during the initial drawdown were responsible for triggering the mass failure.

Results deriving from the seepage and stability analysis of nine selected flow events were then used to investigate the role of the flow event characteristics (in terms of peak stages and hydrograph characteristics) and of changes in bank geometry. Besides the peak river stage, which mainly controls the occurrence of conditions of instability, an important role is played by the hydrograph characteristics, in particular by the presence of one or more minor peaks in the river stage preceding the main one. Copyright © 2004 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.