Success Stories

SVFlux and SVSlope
by Murray Fredlund

February 25, 2009

The Questa Rock Pile Weathering and Stability Project (QRPWASP) is a scientific research project whose purpose was to determine how and to what extent weathering affects the gravitational stability of the Questa mine-rock piles in 100 and 1000 years. The project studied a theoretical composite rock pile taking characteristics from several on site, and was not a site-specific engineering or regulatory analysis of a specific rock pile. Gravitational stability refers to the static stability evaluated along circular (and other-shaped) failure surfaces.

The Questa molybdenum mine (Chevron Mining Inc., formerly Molycorp, Inc.) is located in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in north-central New Mexico and is on southward facing slopes at elevations of approximately 2290 to 3280 m. During the period of open-pit mining (1969-1982), approximately 317.5 million metric tons of overburden rock was removed and deposited onto mountain slopes and into tributary valleys, forming nine rock piles surrounding the Questa open pit.

SoilVision Systems Ltd. was entrusted with the numerical modeling of the hydrological and slope stability aspects of the waste rock pile. The research aspect of the project required the furthering of current state-of-practice in order to employ new technologies for the analysis of rock piles. The project required the inclusion of unsaturated aspects of slope stability analysis and therefore a corresponding calibrated hydrological model in order to accurately describe the distribution of pore-water pressures in the rock pile. The interaction between processes involved in the waste rock is illustrated in the figure to the right.

Numerical modeling of a rock pile at this level of sophistication had not previously been attempted. Therefore the project involved new challenges, which needed to be resolved through the implementation of new technologies in software. Some of the specific challenges and findings are outlined in the following sections.

Slope Stability

Gravitational stability analysis of the rock pile involved several unique numerical modeling challenges. A traditional total stress stability analysis would not account for the effects of suction on stability. There were also the questions of: "Can a weak layer compromise the stability of a slope?" and "What strength properties would a weak layer need to demonstrate in order to cause failure conditions to occur?"

Specific technical challenges for the slope stability model included:

  • Solution of exceptionally complex layered waste rock geometry.
  • Identification of critical slip surface in complex layered geometry using advanced searching techniques.
  • Advanced stress-based methods were needed to provide more in-depth insight into the analysis.
  • Methods of slope stability analysis needed to be combined closely with the hydrological analysis and resulting pore-water pressures on the site.
  • A method of performing statistical analysis of the large amount of data on the site was needed. Monte Carlo techniques were not possible due to the complexity of this site.

Specific new technologies employed in the project included:

  • Dynamic programming critical slip surface searching technique.
  • SVSlope limit equilibrium slope stability software package.
  • New APEM probabilistic slope stability analysis technique was applied to provide statistical evaluation of the factor of safety (FOS).
  • New critical slip surface searching techniques were employed.

A unique calibration opportunity arose as the rock pile slope was being "flattened" by bulldozers. A crack formed during the "pushing down" process and provided a unique opportunity to perform a 2D back-analysis, shown in the diagram on the right.


The purpose of the hydrological numerical modeling was primarily to perform a calibration to the existing flow in the waste rock system. Once a calibrated model was achieved it could then be further used: i) as the basis for prediction of future pore-water pressure stress states for input into slope stability modeling and ii) the model would then form the basis for future geochemical modeling.

The primary numerical modeling challenges were flow in a waste rock system being i) unsaturated and ii) the material was primarily coarse-grained. These two aspects typically lead to a high degree of non-linearity in solving Richards flow equation. New techniques were employed in resolving these numerical obstacles.

Specific technical challenges of the hydrological model were:

  • Numerical solution to highly non-linear gravel
  • How to represent 3D deposition structure in 2D
  • Numerical challenges associated with representing thin layers
  • Methodology needed to model long-term climatic impacts on the hydrology
  • Methodology needed to represent uncertainty
  • New methodologies for representing crusts needed to be implemented

A series of conceptual models were set up in SVFlux and solved. A number of improvements were implemented in the software package in order to i) improve numerical convergence and ii) handle the upper crust boundary condition in a reasonable manner. Automatic mesh refinement was used in order to handle the challenges of infiltration resulting from precipitation events along the upper boundary of the model. A methodology for handling uncertainty in the hydrological modeling was also established.

A key aspect of the project was that it was impossible to obtain a properly calibrated numerical model unless the crust at the top of the rock pile was properly represented in the numerical model. Several methodologies for handling crusts were developed as a result of this project.

Some of the finite element models solved for this project may be seen in the screenshots shown above.

The project was completed in December, 2008 and represents a landmark study which establishes the methodology for the analysis of future rock piles.

For more information on SVFlux and SVSlope and their use with modeling waste rock files, feel free to contact us directly, or download our student version and try it out for yourself!


  • "I would like to thank you for all the support and the interest that I got from your team regarding this matter. I was able to successfully finish my project with the help of your technical support and managed to graduate achieving a high grade on the project I did. The software is extremely helpful and wasn't complicated and I look forward to future for more work and experience with your software. Thank you for your help and support."
  • "I have been using SoilVision's SVOFFICE™ software for research and training purposes for a number of years now. Myself and my colleagues have developed a number of training modules in this software, and have been using these to teach limit equilibrium and flow modeling to undergraduate students in the civil, environmental and mining engineering streams.

    In my opinion, this software is easy to learn and fun to use. The built-in tutorials are sufficient to get one started. With these tutorials, my students were generally able to complete their analyses with minimal involvement on my side.

    Based on my own experience, it takes around a month of full-time use to become reasonably competent with the software (provided that one understands the theoretical underpinnings of this type of analysis) - a short learning curve, compared to other products of similar complexity. The interface is intuitive enough for me to figure out things on my own, and I rarely had the need to ask for help.

    I don't generally like praising anything excessively, and I don't post particularly glowing reviews for anything. Having said that, I must mention the SoilVision support. At some point during my research, I was conducting a number of replication studies for my thesis. In that period, I must have emailed SoilVision's support anywhere from 2 to 5 times a day, with fairly complex (and sometimes very dumb) questions. I always got a response by the end of the day, and a resolution within a couple days at most. In a number of urgent cases (such as during a tutorial session with a classroom of students) I called them directly on the phone and, with senior product engineers involved, had the issue addressed in minutes."
  • "We have allowed our students the choice of using multiple Geotechnical software suites in our Dam Design and other Geotechnical courses. Our students consistently gravitate towards SoilVision software as being the most modern and user-friendly."

  • "I've been a geotechnical engineer for more than 25 years and SoilVision has the best tech support I have ever worked with. I truly appreciate their patience and help over the past year."

  • "Peter Brett Associates have been looking to update our existing slope stability software over the last year. After extensive research and trials, SVSLOPE® developed by SoilVision Systems Ltd. was found to meet all our existing and future design requirements. Its ease of use for modeling simple as well as complex geological and geometrical problems was a critical factor in our assessment as well as the incorporation of design to the Eurocodes. Their customer support has been faultless and their willingness to develop the software to meet our own specific design requirements is a most gratifying added bonus."

    "We love the fact that SVSLOPE® is part of an integrated suite of software and that, if required, 3D analysis can be undertaken. We would recommend this product to other geotechnical consulting firms."

  • "We have been using SVSLOPE® and SVFLUX™ for the past year and have found them to be efficient and productive engineering tools which have allowed us to offer our services in an efficient manner. The capability of automated increased discretization of the mesh is an absolute benefit to our modeling, reducing time and effort. We have found the software quick and easy for our engineers to train and utilize. I would recommend this product to other geotechnical consulting firms."

  • "The software is well documented and comes with number of useful example models. We were able to quickly begin creating models after a short review of the user interface and going through the available on-line webinars. The software offers solid benefits of less conservatism and the ability to model real geometry."

  • "This new software for stability analysis includes a number of state-of-the-art options for probabilistic slope stability analysis. This feature, combined with comprehensive deterministic analyses, will provide new opportunities to build confidence in the results of a site-specific analysis.”

  • "I'm excited to see the release of this new and innovative product. I look forward to and encourage the application of this software on additional geotechnical projects.”

  • "In consulting engineering practice, I am increasingly made aware of the important and beneficial role that modeling the unsaturated soil zone can play in providing the client with the best possible engineered solution. The SoilVision software has made it possible to readily estimate and incorporate unsaturated soil properties into the modeling of saturated / unsaturated soil systems.”

  • "The use of SVSLOPE® software as part of a research project on clay slopes under seismic conditions with the Université de Sherbrooke has been incredibly easy and effective. The continuation of this research with SoilVision is promising, with technical support, which was present at the right time, as well as a passionate geotechnical team supporting the project.”

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