Instability of tailings dams may result in loss of life and property and serious environmental pollution. The position of the tailings dam’s phreatic line varies due to continuously changing factors such as rainfall infiltration and discharge of tailings recycling water. Consequently, tailings dams undergo dry-wet (DW) cycles, accompanied by the appearance of a hydro-fluctuation belt. With dynamic development of the physical and chemical properties of tailings sand in the hydro-fluctuation belt, the stability of tailings dams is uncertain. In this study, direct shear tests were performed on the tailings sand collected from a tailings dam in Luonan, through which the shear strength parameters of tailings sand with DW cycles were obtained. Then, a method that efficiently calculates the phreatic line of the tailings dam under DW cycles was proposed. In addition, based on laboratory tests and the proposed phreatic line calculation method, we used a finite element program to evaluate the stability of the tailings dam that experienced different DW cycles. The calculated results showed that: (i) the damage effects of DW cycles gradually weakens as the number of DW cycles increases. (ii) With the increasing of DW cycles, the maximum displacement of the tailings dam increases from 0.5 mm to 22 mm, and the area of maximum displacement expanded mainly at the toe of the tailings dam and at the front edge of the hydro-fluctuation belt. (iii) The tailings dam safety factor decreases continuously with increasing DW cycles. This study may provide a novel method for analyzing the stability of tailings dams under different DW cycles as well as an important reference for improving tailings dam stability.
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