Vectors and slope stability
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This page first made public: Jul 26, 2006
This homework or in-class activity is designed to teach students with little or no experience with vectors, free-body diagrams, or the like to apply vectors to slope stability problems.
Students first learn the basic properties of vectors, vector addition, resolving forces, etc. They then apply these techniques to establish in a simplified way how geologists can determine if a slope is stable, how much loading a slope can withstand to become unstable, and other principles of slope stability determination.
This activity is used in an introductory geohazards course with no pre-requisites. It can be completed in one to two hours.
- graphically add vectors
- resolve vectors into perpendicular components
- represent forces as vectors
- determine if a slope is stable or unstable based on the forces acting on it
- articulate why a steeper slope is less stable than a shallow slope
- determine, from the mass on a slope and the angle of the slope, how large the downslope force is
- determine how much weight can be added to a slope before it becomes unstable.
Context for Use
It can be done in an evening but often students require some additional assistance from a tutor or someone who has seen vectors before.
Teaching Notes and Tips
Note that pounds are used as the force units so that students do not need to convert between units of weight and force, as would have to be done if the metric system was used. I found this reduced student errors.
This assignment has two parts. The first is a general introduction to vectors, graphical manipulation of vectors and vector addition. The second part of the homework asks students to look at vector diagrams to see if a house is stable on slopes of differing angles. A final question asks students to find the maximum weight for a house on a given slope with known friction.
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Controlled Vocabulary Terms
Resource Type: Activities:Problem Set, Classroom Activity, Lab Activity
Inquiry Level: Step-By-Step Instruction
Special Interest: Quantitative, 2YC:Geo2YC, Geo2YC- OLD DO NOT USE, Hazards
Grade Level: College Lower (13-14)
Quantitative Skills: Vectors and Matrices, Problem Solving
Ready for Use: Ready to Use:Tested, Ready to Use
Quantitative Skills Activity Type: Problem Set, Classroom Activity, Lab Activity
Science Background Required: Broadly accessible
Topics: Human Dimensions/Resources, Earth surface
Solid Earth Processes: Weathering/Erosion