The Sinking of Well Foundations | Deep Foundation | Civil Engineering

Paper No.



Well foundations are quite appropriate foundations for alluvial soils in rivers and creeks where maximum depth of scour can be quite large. In India technology of well foundation for design and construction is quite well developed. Still there are situations where serious problems are encountered at site during construction of well foundations. Some of the typical problems have been identified and solutions adopted by the author and also elsewhere in some earlier jobs have been presented in this Paper.


In the Indian subcontinent there are many rivers where the depth of alluvial deposits is very high and the scour around the pier foundations can be very deep if the piers are located within the active channel of river. For such condition well foundation is a very appropriate type of foundation. To the author’s knowledge one 3 km long Railway bridge crossing a creek was supported on pile foundations. After some years, the sway of the pile foundations was so large when the mail trains crossed the creek; the Railways not only reduced the speed of the trains substantially but constructed another bridge adjacent to this bridge on well foundations. Thus under certain situation, well foundation is a highly desirable type of foundation. In India the technology for the design and construction of well foundation is quite advanced. In all rivers, including large rivers with torrential flow of water currents, well foundations were provided. In the foundations of Howrah Bridge in Kolkata giant monoliths were provided. In Second Hoogly Bridge also in Kolkata with one of the longest span cable stayed bridges in the world having the central span of 457 m being same as that of Howrah Bridge, an ingenius solution was adopted. Instead of a monolith for the foundation of each tower of the cable stay bridge, 2 well foundations up to 23 m dia were placed side by side at 30 m center and interconnected by a 14 m deep beam. This solution was construction-wise easier and more controllable and quantity of material used was much less. These wells were constructed purely by gravity sinking method.

These well foundations under main towers were kept totally empty for the service condition. The entire well was designed as a water tight structure. At the junction of any two lifts of concreting of well steining, water stops were provided to prevent leakage of water through construction joints of well steining. The wells were constructed using gravity sinking method of construction. As stated earlier, the wells were kept totally empty and no water was inside the well during the service condition primarily to reduce the load of water on the foundations, since vertical loads were very large for the central spans of 457 m and side spans of 183 m. At the base of wells RCC slabs were constructed which were designed for the upward force from the base of the well. For support of the slab and continuity of reinforcement, recesses were kept in the steining above the well curb where bond bar reinforcements were kept bent. A cover was provided with a steel plate which, were kept in position by bolts, to keep the bond reinforcement recesses free from blocking with mud’s. After the wells were sunk up to the designed level, the bottom plug was laid with colcrete. The wells were dewatered. It was noted that the colcrete bottom plug not only withstood the upward pressure but also was reasonably leakproof. Thereafter, those steel plate covers were removed and reinforcements were bent back to the designed positions. Reinforcements were laid and concreting was done. In this way a fully water tight design was done for these wells. Deep well foundation up to 67 m deep across the river Ganga in Varanasi and upto 68 m deep across the river Brahmaputra at Jogighopa were used. In Varanasi

* Executive Director, M/s Construma Consultancy Pvt. Ltd. Mumbai Email: † Written comments on this Paper are invited and will be received upto 30th September, 2007.

The author had the opportunity of having associated with construction of well foundations of many large and outstanding bridges including Second Hoogly Bridge. 1 it may be seen that the primary resistance comes on the sides and also by bearing at the base over the area of the well steining. Showing location of pipes within well steining . This leads to a very expensive and time-consuming affair for attempting to make the well straight and vertical within practical limits. Varanasi Bridge. In long span bridges or in bridges where the horizontal force is large. etc. (iii) Remove soil in contact with the outside surface of the well by grabbing to a certain depth.. the well may start tilting. In spite of the excellent development of technology on well foundations there are still some areas where engineers face difficulty while sinking of wells. some of which are stated in this paper from the direct experience of the author. A solution should be devised on the basis of insight into the causes for the resistance to sink. no sand filling was done. The merits and demerits of each of the above measures are discussed below. while working with Gammon India Ltd. which are kept in the steining at certain intervals during the construction of the steining of the well. At that time due to the action of horizontal water current force. 1. This is a very serious situation and one should examine how this resistance is developed.124 SAHA ON (i) Continue grabbing much below the cutting edge level of the well. heavy foundation mass is desirable for stability and serviceability requirements point of view and hence well foundation is a highly appropriate solution. SINKING WELL THROUGH STIFF CLAY STRATA If a very stiff clay layer is encountered during the sinking of a well. The projection on the outside surface over the height of the kerb by 50 mm to 75 mm as recommended in IRC 78-2000 is very helpful to reduce the resistance due to stiff clay on the outside surface of the well. (v) By thumping on the water inside the dredge hole. the tilt goes on increasing making the situation very difficult to control. At the initial stage if the tilt is not brought under control. These wells were filled with water only to reduce the weight at the founding level.. and Hindustan Construction Co. the following measures have been tried by various engineers. (vi) By Kentledge loading on the well. The well becomes more vulnerable due to tilt if a step is provided on the outside face of the well steining to reduce the thickness of the steining. 2. (a) PIPES PLACED PERPENDICULARLY (B) PIPES PLACED VERTICALLY UPWARDS Fig. Ltd. Referring to Fig. the engineer has to face a very tough and challenging situation if the well becomes stationery and does not move at all. (iv) Flushing with a jet of water on the outside soil through holes. (i) Some engineers continue grabbing much below the cutting edge level of the well Bridge wells. (a) To overcome this resistance to the author’s knowledge. (ii) Dewater well up to certain depth to reduce the buoyancy and thereby increase the weight of the well.

the wells must be designed three dimensionally with a realistic lateral load during construction condition to avoid disastrous situation due to which the well steining may crack transversely. According to the author for a major bridge with 125 large and deep well foundations. IRC method of design was not used. which was published in IRC Journal¹ in 1993. which should never have been taken. There is no literature available which specifies the evaluation of horizontal force for the design of a well foundation for the condition during construction when the well is like a hollow pipe and is in a most vulnerable condition. 1 (a) the outlets are perpendicular to the vertical whereas in Fig. This particular well was partly in the water and partly in the bank. (vi) By Kentledge loading on the well : The Kentledge loading is placed on the top of well either by sand bags or by concrete blocks leaving adequate space in the central zone of the dredge hole for grabbing. A plug was provided to prevent entry of sand or other softer material. (v) By thumping on the water inside the dredge hole by dropping grab This also has been tried to overcome the resistance. It may be noted that all the wells were sunk to the designed founding level without any appreciable difficulty. Two types of orientation of the outlets are shown in Fig. This weight helps . 1 (b). But the major problem is the chance of occurring sand blow. If the sand blow occurs and if the sand blow is eccentric and the lateral force exerted on the well is high. IRC 78 : 2000 specifies that sumps made by dredging below cutting edge shall preferably not be more then half the internal diameter. When the well gets stuck in a very stiff clay layer. This method was used in a major bridge across river Ganga where the well foundations of 13 m diameter up to 67 m depth. (iii) Remove soil in contact with the outside surface of the well If the top soil layers are soft. For such a large and deep well. 1 (a) & (b). which was the deepest well for a road bridge in India at that time was used. The quantities of the well were nearly half even for such a deep well. (iv) Flushing with jet of water on the outside face of well In this process holes are kept in the well steining with outlets on the outside surface of the well. If the stiff clay layer exists at a shallow depth then it may help to some extent. In Fig. the outlets are inclined with the tip upwards. The author has developed a method for the design of a well foundation for resisting excessive sand blow forces. One day the well suddenly sank to a depth of nearly 10 m leading to a major catastrophe. this does not help much.HIGHLIGHTS OF THE 178TH COUNCIL MEETING THE SINKING OF WELL FOUNDATIONS IN DIFFICULT SITUATIONS One site engineer with vast experience in construction of well foundations and claimed in achieving success by adapting this method. Thus the buoyant weight of the well is increased which increases the sinking effort of the well. The cost of such an analysis and design is negligible compared with the unpleasant situation. continued grabbing to a depth of about 10 m below the cutting edge of the well situated in the river Ganga in a major project when the well became stationary in a very stiff clay layer. which may become very expensive and delay the project badly. Water coming out on the outer surface of the well is supposed to lubricate the surface and reduce the adherence of the clay on the surface of the well which consequently reduces the upward resistance against sinking down of the well. Instead a rational and conceptual method developed by the author was used. This plug moves out with the force of water jet. water is pumped from the top of the steining. (ii) Dewatering well as a device to sink a well The purpose of dewatering is to reduce the buoyancy. the well may break into 4 segments along its height. which was noticed in many projects in this country. This was a very unwise decision. Experience shows that the outlet hole of the pipe gets blocked with the entry of the clay more easily than the inclined one.

After some time the frame was lowered and water was injected in order to cut the stiff The bouldery strata can be dealt with 3 ways. safe and efficient method. Pipes were not kept in the well steining to inject water on the outside surface of the well. 2. BOULDERY STRATA In case of tilt of a well. The well was observed to sink down when the inside clay soil was cut and removed. In those wells the outside projection of the well kerb was 75 mm.126 increase the sinking effort of the well. 3. Two high pressure pumps were used at one time and water was injected at two diagonally opposite points at a time. However. This pipe was supported on a circular frame. After the removal of the bearing still clay strata. After some time. this method was used. due to sudden sinking down of a well there may be catastrophic consequences. they will come ELEVATION OF WELL AND PIPE LINES Fig. Thus this method was found to be quite effective. To overcome this resistance veteran well sinking engineers continued grabbing inside the dredge hole much below the cutting edge level so that the soil below the well kerb fell off and this resistance was eliminated. The central area was kept free in order to facilitate grabbing. In the upper region the strata was of softer variety. Instead the method which will directly break the clay layer and remove the bearing below the – kerb was adopted. Actually 4 vertical pipes were fixed at 4 quadrants as shown in Fig. designers used to design the well considering half the permissible tensile stress as specified in the IRC-78 to meet these eventualities . In a large diameter well. This was done directly by cutting the stiff clay layer by a jet of water through a pipe using a high pressure pump. hence such method of continuous grabbing is not recommended. (i) When the boulders are lying loose. eccentric Kentledge load is placed for the correction of tilt. The water was pumped through pipes using one high pressure pump for one pipe. It has been stated earlier that the resistance to sinking comes from the outside surface of the well and also from the bearing on the stiff clay below the well kerb. As stated earlier the method specified by the author for the design of a well three dimensionally can meet such a situation of sudden sinking down of a well. The well of course used to sink down suddenly. Showing clayey strata below well kerb and layout of pipe lines . In the design. SAHA ON clay over the entire inside area at the bottom of the well kerb. (b) The method which is different from the methods listed above had been tried by the author and briefly described below :In one project when the well became stationary in a stiff clay layer. the wells started moving down. 2. the thickness of the steining is large and hence the resistance due to bearing on the stiff clay layer is quite substantial. the other two perpendicularly placed pipes were used for pumping water.

the equilibrium of the well takes place as per the following equation : W = F+qa Eqn. The author had developed a method² to overcome this problem. The steining of the well must be designed not only in the vertical direction but also in the transverse direction providing appropriate design reinforcement. then the engineers face the problem of laying the bottom plug. The wells of Varanasi Bridge of 13 m dia. . the proper soil investigation should be done and what method of sinking is to be adopted must be decided. This became helpful to take care of adverse situation during sinking of wells. In a number of well foundations where large heaves were formed inside the well. the upward resistance acting on the outside surface of the well is less than the weight of the well. Steel strakes must be provided in such condition. the author used this method and the formation of heaves was stopped.. When the heave develops in the dredge hole. 2. When the formation of heaves takes place after the well reaches the designed foundation level. 3. In case of bouldery strata. (1) F = frictional force in the vertical direction along the outside surface of the well. If the bottom plug is laid inside the dredge hole then the very purpose of laying the bottom plug is defeated.. It should be noted that in the past many well steining cracked due to blasting. Showing the formation of heave It is reckoned that no further concreting of the well steining should be done and sinking should be continued. the weight of the well will remain nearly same and the frictional force outside the well will increase very fast. It is thought that the equilibrium of the well will reach with shorter depth of sinking below the designed founding level. In that case.HIGHLIGHTS OF THE 178TH COUNCIL MEETING THE SINKING OF WELL FOUNDATIONS IN DIFFICULT SITUATIONS out with normal grabbing. (ii) When they are cemented but not very firmly then underwater blasting may be effective. When a well passes through soft strata over a considerable depth. The following method is used to evaluate the approximate depth of further sinking and also the height of water to be considered for the design of the cofferdam along the outer perimeter of the well at top. For the benefit of readers this method is stated briefly here below :- 127 How to achieve the condition that the weight of the well will be resisted through outside frictional force only. At least provision for limited blasting must be made and a three dimensional finite element analysis should be done for eccentric blasting force. The design of the well must be done for such a condition. the founding strata being in good soil. Formation of Heaves in the Dredge Hole even after the well reaches the Designed Founding Level. Fig. In that situation the well sinks down and quite often a heap is formed inside the dredge hole as shown in Fig 3.5 m thick steining and up to 67 m deep were analysed for eccentric sand below condition by using 3-D Finite Element analysis by the author1. since the load from the well is transmitted to the foundation through the well steining and the bottom plug which lies just below the well steining. . (iii) When the boulders are very firmly cemented and the thickness of the steining of the well is quite large then pneumatic sinking may have to be resorted to. Thereafter the bottom plug was laid within the well kerb region.

128 q = bearing pressure of soil. Thus fl al = qa Eqn. A = angle at the tip of well curb. 4. The component qa is required to be balanced by the additional frictional force over the outside surface of the well. 4 fl = p x (coefficient of friction) p = (pl + p2)/2 pl = active earth pressure at a depth H below the existing water level or ground level whichever is higher. hl can be evaluated. 4. Fig. … (2) Where fl = the frictional force acting on the outside surface of the well over depth of further sinking of the well per unit area which is evaluated below. 4. SAHA ON depth of further sinking. which will develop by sinking the well deeper. FEW OTHER MEASURES WHICH CAN HELP RELATIVELY TROUBLE FREE SINKING OF WELLS a = area of the well supported over the heave i. p2 = active earth pressure at a depth H + h1 h1 = depth of further sinking. X = tan A. al = area of the outside surface of the well over (i) Appropriate choice of cutting edge and adoption of (a) POSITION OF WELL AT DESIGNED FOUNDING LEVEL WITH HEAVES IN DREDGE HOLE (b) POSITION OF WELL AFTEER ADDITIONAL FURTHER SINKING WITH NO HEAVE IN DREDGE HOLE Fig. Substituting p in fl and fl in Eqn. 2 as shown in Fig. over the distance X.e. 4. h = height of heave. Showing additional sinking without any further concreting of steining . Referring to Fig.

Soil properties should be taken of one borehole for the design of foundations whereas the other boreholes will present information on the type of strata. The vertical and the inclined plates must not meet at the bottom most point and consequently the welding must not be done at the bottom tip. it became dislodged and caused obstruction to the well. (iii) Floating Caisson Sinking When the depth of water at the location of a well is more than about 5 m then construction of well on temporary sand island is not only difficult but also uneconomical. The angle iron cutting edge works well when the well passes through alluvial soil strata without any hard obstruction. 5 (a) :Typical details of angle iron cutting edge . 5(b). of Borelogs must be taken in the location of each well 129 Fig. Hence it is advised to adopt detailing as shown in Fig. Compared with the angle iron cutting edge a V type cutting edge is more appropriate in meeting various obstructive situation provided correct detailing is adopted. The soil properties of various strata are available along the depth. The author is aware that in many bridges in the Himalayan region where the strata are full of boulders the welding at tip came off and the plates were bent out and caused lots of obstruction to sinking leading to various problems including delay in progress of construction. 5 (b) :Typical details of V-shaped cutting edge As per the present practice only one Borehole is taken at each foundation location. 5 (a) & (b) of IRC – 78 : 2000. The inclined plate should be stopped about 25 mm above the bottom tip of vertical plate and the welding of the joint between the vertical plate and the inclined plate must be done as shown in Fig. (ii) Adequate no. Presence of very large boulder covering a part of the well at some depth in the bridge over third Brahmaputra at Jogighopa and similar type of problems including sudden change of bed profile are encountered in various rivers in India for which a very expensive time consuming measures were adopted. If the caisson is very large and very heavy then tilting platform is more convenient. This can be avoided if enough information of the soil strata is available at the time of design. locations and their depths.HIGHLIGHTS OF THE 178TH COUNCIL MEETING THE SINKING OF WELL FOUNDATIONS IN DIFFICULT SITUATIONS proper detailing Two types of cutting edges are of use for well foundations as shown in Fig. No.5(b). To obtain the complete information of the existence of type of soil/rock or large boulders if any covering a part of well foundation at least 3 boreholes should be taken. If the diameter of well is large. In this situation steel caisson is fabricated on the bank and floated in water either by tilting platform or by a gantry. In other cases normally the caisson Fig. There are instances when the cutting edge met some hard obstruction. With this knowledge the span arrangements be made so that wells can be sunk smoothly. then at least 4 bore holes should be taken.

large tilt and shift occurred which subsequently created a lot of problem with that project. since the caisson is subjected to unidirectional flow of water. Each anchoring should also be done at 2 locations in elevation. further building up of caisson is done. WINCH WINCH WATER LEVEL WINCH WINCH WATER LEVEL WATER LEVEL WATER LEVEL RIVER BED LEVEL RIVER BED LEVEL ELEVATION ELEVATION DIRECTION OF RIVER FLOW PLAN PLAN Fig. The tilt and shift must be checked very thoroughly before grounding and suitable corrective measures must be taken if any tilt or shift occurred. is brought to the water using a gantry. 7 .130 SAHA ON installed dead anchors at least at 6 locations as shown in Fig. After the floating caisson is brought to the designed location of the well. • Steel piles may be driven inside the dredge hole at 4 corners after ensuring the correct position of the well. This work together with concreting inside the caisson to the designed depth is done till the cutting edge reaches the bed level of the river. This is a very critical stage.6 with ropes with adjustable device. (a) For large diameter caissons • After taking the caisson to the designed location the caisson should be anchored to the already (b) For caissons with sinking sets The barges should be located towards upstream and downstream of the river and anchored at least at the locations as shown in Fig. The caisson is placed between the barges with very small clearance between any two barges and the caisson so that with the water current force acting on the caisson below the barges. 6 Fig. in case of any tilt or shift occurring the same is controlled by pulling or releasing the anchor ropes appropriately. However. tilting of the caisson is restrained. There is every possibility of tilt and shift occurring. However. By pulling or releasing the anchor rope the tilt and shift can be eliminated. the choice of tilting platform or a gantry or by some other means should be made as per the locally available resources and convenience.7 with the device for adjustment so that the well can be positioned at the designed locations. In several projects. Some measures are suggested here below which if adopted judiciously should minimize the tilt and shift of the caisson.

REFERENCES 1. to make this Paper more complete. which have been described in this paper.HIGHLIGHTS OF THE 178TH COUNCIL MEETING THE SINKING OF WELL FOUNDATIONS IN DIFFICULT SITUATIONS 5. Paper presented in the Annual Session of IRC in November 1993. . “Method of Stopping the Formation of Heaves Inside the Dredge Hole of a Well Foundation” Indian Highways. CONCLUSION ACKNOWLEDGEMENT 131 On this paper a list of difficult situations. Saha G. Saha G. “Analysis and Design of Varanasi Bridge Well Foundations – A Conceptual Approach” Journal of Indian Roads Congress Vol. 2.P. is presented. or in a stiff clay layer wells becoming stationary and not sinking down are quite common situations. which bridge engineers normally encounter during sinking of well foundations. In some cases the author himself devised some solutions to some perennial problems. developed methods and adopted them to overcome those problems and these methods are presented in this paper. The author is indebted to Dr.P. The problems like the formation of hump inside the dredge hole of a well foundation or wells cracking due to sand blow. 54-2. T N Subba Rao for making many valuable suggestions by sparing his valuable time. June 2002. In several major projects where such situations developed the author as the Technical Head of that organization.

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