Date of Award


Degree Name

MS in Civil and Environmental Engineering


Civil and Environmental Engineering


College of Engineering


Robb Moss

Advisor Department

Civil and Environmental Engineering

Advisor College

College of Engineering


In February of 2017 after a period of heavy rainfall, a slope destabilized behind Fremont Hall on the campus of Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. The geology of this slope stability failure is the Franciscan Complex. The Franciscan Complex, when weathered in place, results in clay soil that makes up the typical soil mantle on the hills throughout the region. Peak strength is the typical parameter tested to assess the strength of the soil. For the Franciscan-derived clay, the residual strength is the focus of this study to understand slope failure since the clay is the weakest portion of the matrix in the Franciscan Complex. Both intact and remolded specimens were processed from the samples obtained from the slide for laboratory testing. The tested material is considered representative of the soil found in the Franciscan Complex along the California coast and other similar regions worldwide where the presence of this mélange results in slope instabilities.

Three different shearing tests were performed to study the residual strength: direct shear reversal, ring shear, and large-scale direct shear reversal. Sampling soil from the slide took place twice: once in 2017 and once in 2019. A block of soil sampled in 2017 was taken after the toe of the slope was cut for reconstruction which resulted in an exposed slide plane. In 2019, additional samples were retrieved near the toe of the slope after subsequent failure of the slope. Although the material was assumed to be from the slide plane, there is a possibility it may have originated from the surrounding matrix. Intact and remolded specimens were tested in direct shear reversal tests, and remolded specimens were tested in ring shear tests. The 2019 source was tested in the large-scale direct shear reversal tests because the material obtained during 2017 was not enough to replicate the large specimen. Remolded specimens were prepared by passing through sieve No. 40. A secondary set of tests were performed on specimens prepared by passing through sieve No. 200.

When comparing remolded against intact specimens, the clasts within the intact material exhibited an influence on the residual strength by an approximate difference of 20%. The results also indicated the liquid limit (LL) had an impact on the residual strength; higher value LL exhibited lower residual strength, and lower value LL exhibited higher residual strength. When comparing the laboratory results against in situ CPT tests, the values from the CPT fell within the range of the laboratory residual strength corresponding to the slide’s depth of movement.

The results from testing these specimens showed the soil obtained directly from the slide failure exhibited a residual strength represented as friction angle of 14° ± 2° for intact soil specimens, 11° ± 3° for remolded specimens of the 2017 failure plane passing through No. 40 sieve, and 22° ± 2° for remolded specimens of the 2019 sample location passing though No. 40 sieve. The remolded specimens passing through sieve No. 200 produced even lower results. However, since all clasts were removed by the No. 200 sieve, those results are not considered representative of field conditions. Based on the test results, and the infinite slope limit equilibrium slope stability analysis, a median range of residual strength for this slide is approximately 12.5 to 14.0°.