Continuous and discontinuous stability analysis of the bell-shaped caverns at Bet Guvrin, Israel


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International Journal of Rock Mechanics and Mining Sciences

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The stability of two systems of bell-shaped caverns excavated some 1000 years ago at Bet Guvrin National Park is investigated. The caverns were excavated in a weak, anisotropic, and moderately discontinuous chalk. The cavern stability is considered based on two separate and independent methods: a continuum model framework—FLAC, used for stress analysis, and a discontinuous approach—block theory, used for critical key block analysis. The numerical stress analysis reveals that in the case of very large span openings, tensile fracture of intact rock may be responsible for instabilities, which may lead to global failure. Evidence of tensile rupture at margins of failed caverns is abundant at the Park. The discontinuous block theory analysis reveals that the moderate joint set spacing at Bet Guvrin, up to 45% of the roof area may be comprised of removable blocks. The removable keyblocks in the roof remain in place due to arching stresses, which develop through the roof material. The chalk at the roof can sustain the maximum loads in existing caverns, as predicted by the numerical stress analysis. However, local failures due to exceedingly high compressive stresses at the abutments or by tensile fracture at the roof, may lead to relaxation of arching stresses followed by keyblock displacement. Such a “mixed failure mode” process could eventually lead, over time, to global collapse. Indications that “mixed failure mode” processes are presently active in the studied caverns are substantiated by in-situ measurement of keyblock displacements. It is suggested that in weak and discontinuous rock environments where “mixed failure mode” processes may be active, long term stability evaluation should be based on both continuous and discontinuous stability analyses.

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