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Geology for Civil Engineers

Geology for Civil Engineers

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Published by: Kanishka Karunarathna on Jul 26, 2011
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strength (MN m–2


Indicative rock types

very weak


some weakly compacted sedimentary



rocks, some very highly weathered igneous or
metamorphic rocks boulder clays





some sedimentary rocks, some foliated metamorphic
rocks, highly weathered igneous and metamorphic rocks



some low-grade metamorphic rocks, marbles, some
strongly cemented sedimentary rocks, some weathered
and metamorphic igneous rocks

very strong


mainly plutonic, hypabyssal and extrusive igneous rocks
(medium to coarse grained), sedimentary quartzites,
strong slates, gneisses



fine-grained igneous rocks; metamorphic quartzites, some

Rocks and civil engineering 229

cleavages, and the degree of their alteration;
(ii) the presence and shape of any voids within the rocks, and whether these voids are
filled with water;
(iii) the nature of the bonding between mineral grains.

A field test called a point load test (described by Franklin et al.1971) can be employed to
get a good indication both of q

uand of the tensile strength from the point load strength

index I

s, which is measured in the field. When testing rock cores or examining rock
properties, the weathering grade of each sample should also be recorded, since it will
affect the physical properties and change them from the values possessed by the fresh
rock. In particular, the saturation moisture content i

sand porosity n increase with

weathering, whereas the apparent specific gravity G

b , decreases.
The susceptibility of rock to future weathering, either as a rock mass or crushed to form
aggregate, must also be considered in engineering projects. Crystalline rocks are less
susceptible than cemented and compacted sedimentary rocks, especially if constituents
like clay or pyrite are present in the latter. Weathering conditions can be simulated in the
laboratory, and the reaction of suspect rocks to factors such as long-term loading and
changes of temperature and moisture content can be assessed. Any deterioration in the
values of index properties is a sure sign of deterioration in other mechanical properties of
the rock. If frost attack is likely, the frost heave testshould be carried out (p. 232). To
assess weathering resistance and durability of the rock, the sodium sulphate soundness
is useful. This test is described fully in ASTM C88–76.
The relationships of q

u, R and V

p are shown in Figures

7.3 and 7.4, together with an
indication of an empirical engineering property of rocks, ‘rippability’. This is used in
deciding whether rocks from a near-horizontal surface can be excavated mechanically by
a ripper attached to a tractor (see Fig. 7.5), rather than by explosives. Weak, easily ripped
rocks tend to have low values of V

p. (These can be measured, even under a cover of soil,
by the seismic-refraction method, Section 6.3.3). An empirical upper limit of V

p=2.0 km



arbitrarily defines rocks that can be ripped without difficulty. Rocks with this value of


p correspond roughly to those with a q

u value of 70 MN m–


. Low velocities may be
an indication of poor compaction of rocks, or of extensive jointing (see fracture index,
described in Section 6.3.3). Ripping is likely to be successful if the block volume (see
Appendix H, Table H.2) is less than 1.0 m3

; that is, the rock mass possesses joint sets
such that the rock is fractured into cubes with edges 1.0 m long. Low velocities are found
in some sedimentary rocks, in a few metamorphic rocks and in rock bodies of any type
which are highly weathered or badly fractured. The ripper performance of various rock
types is shown in Figure 7.6, which is based on one in the Handbook of ripping
(Caterpillar Tractor Co. 1972).

7.2.3 Rocks as aggregates

Rocks can be crushed and graded to make aggregate, which can be added to a bonding
material such as cement to form concrete, or bitumen to serve as a roadstone. Different
civil engineering jobs require different grades of aggregate. The particle size distribution
within an aggregate will be specified for a particular situation. This is usually presented as

Geology for civil engineers 230

Figure 7.3 Rebound number (R) plotted against unconfined compressive
strength (q

u) for various rock types.

Figure 7.4 Laboratory-determined seismic velocity (V

P) lotted against in situ

rebound number (R) for various rock types.

Rocks and civil engineering 231

Figure 7.5 Excavation of rocks using a mechanical ripper. (Photograph by
courtesy of the Caterpillar Tractor Company, Illinois.)

a particle size distribution curve in which the cumulative weight percentage passing a
particular mesh size can be plotted on a graph. In hard rock quarrying a company is able
to provide crushed rock aggregate to a grading curve required by the client. It is
important to note that both sand and gravel deposits, and mixtures of the two, will
possess a particle size distribution unique to the particular deposit. Thus, the specific
grade of material required for an engineering project can always be supplied from a
crushed rock quarry, but a sand and gravel opencast pit may not be able to meet the
grading specifications required. The suitability of aggregates as components of roadstone
or concrete depends upon particular properties, as follows.

Geology for civil engineers 232

Figure 7.6 Ripper performance in different rock types based on seismic
velocities (V



The standard tests carried out on aggregates to determine their suitability as roadstone
(roadmetal) are described in Appendix F. This deals with the main British tests, and
Appendix G gives the main aggregate tests employed in Europe and the USA and gives
their UK equivalents. The properties of aggregates investigated include the following:

(a) The composition, texture and degree of alteration of the rock. The best roadstone is a
fresh, fine- to medium-grained igneous rock, with intergrowth of the minerals
producing strong bonding, and without phenocrysts or rock glass. Most sedimentary
rocks are too easily crushed to use as roadstone, but hard Palaeozoic greywackes
(gritstones) that occur in parts of England and Wales are frequently employed for this
purpose. Many crystalline metamorphic rocks can also be used, although, apart from
hornfels and schistose grit, they are too variable to make good roadstone aggregate.
(b) The resistance to surface wear. This is assessed by measuring aggregate abrasion
and polished stone value. Aggregate abrasion value (AAV) measures resistance
to surface wear by abrasion. The lower the value, the greater the resistance.
Regulations in the UK demand a value less than 8 for general road use. Polished stone
value (PSV) measures the extent to which roadstones are polished by traffic. The

Rocks and civil engineering 233

greater the value, the greater the resistance. High values (greater than 60) are required in
motorways, roundabouts and high-density traffic roads. The relationship between
AAV, PSV and AIV (see below) is shown in Figure 7.7, for sedimentary rocks.
There may be a discrepancy between the test results of AAV and PSV and actual
behaviour in roads since steel rollers are used instead of tyres. Other factors that may
influence resistance to surface wear include the adherence of the aggregate to
bitumen. Some rocks (basalt, limestone, greywacke) bond well, whereas others
(quartzite, schist) bond poorly. The presence of shear planes in the aggregate will
allow water to penetrate and speed its disintegration.

Figure 7.7 Relationships between aggregate abrasion value (AAV), polished
stone value (PSV) and aggregate impact value (AIV) for sedimentary

(c) The resistance to impact and crushing. This may be assessed by tests of aggregate
impact value
(AIV) and aggregate crushing value (ACV). The common rock types
range in AIV from good (basic volcanics,

dolerite, quartzite, quartz gravels), through fair (granite, gravels composed of
igneous or metamorphic fragments) to poor (weathered igneous rocks, clay-rich
For good roadstone aggregate the unconfined crushing strength (q

u, see Section

7.2.2) should be greater than 100 MN m–


(d) Other useful tests. These include assessment of frost heave. A cylin der of rock
aggregate, 150 mm high and 100 mm in diameter, is placed in freezing conditions with

Geology for civil engineers 234

its base in flowing water for 250 h. The expansion (or heave) suffered by the specimen
must be less than 12 mm.

Tests of 10% fines, specific gravity, water absorption and bulk density are also used and
are described in Appendix F. Further, technical details are available in BS 812 (1977).
The main US tests are given in Appendix G with their British Standard equivalents.


The suitability of aggregate for use in concrete can be assessed on the following criteria:

(a) The aggregate should be free from sulphide minerals, especially pyrite. Coal, clay and
organic matter should also be absent.
(b) The specific gravity should usually be high, but this criterion depends upon the
purpose for which the concrete is needed.
(c) The material should be well graded, with a wide range of particle sizes (see p. 46).
(d) The fragments should have a rough surface, so that a good bond can be achieved
between the aggregate and the cement paste.
(e) Chalcedonic silica (flint, chert, agate) and glassy siliceous rocks (rhyolite, pitchstone)
are often undesirable in gravel aggregate since they react with highly alkaline cements.
(This problem can be overcome by using a low-alkali cement.) An assessment of their
relative abundance in the gravel should be made.
(f) The amount of acid-soluble material (sulphate) should be measured.
(g) The shrinkage of the concrete as it dries should be measured. This test is made on
cubes of concrete prepared from the aggregate and the shrinkage is expressed as a
percentage. Low-shrinkage concrete has values less than 0.045%.

The tests on concrete are given in Appendix F.
Special aggregates are required for particular purposes; for example, where a concrete
is going to be subjected to marked changes of temperature, the coefficient of expansion
and the variation of this within an aggregate are important (Table 7.5). Differential
expansion on heating produces stresses within the concrete. Fire-resistant concrete often
uses artificial aggregate (slag) or limestone because of their consistency and uniformity of
expansion. Again, prestressed concrete in high-rise buildings needs low-shrinkage
qualities, and limestone and pure quartz gravels provide them. Oil platforms require low-
density aggregates (limestone, granite), with low shrinkage. In contrast, atomic reactors
require high-density aggregate, and barite has been used in addition, to increase the

Rocks and civil engineering 235

7.2.4 Characteristics of some common rock types as aggregates

The following may serve as a practical guide in assessing the suitability of a particular
rock mass as a source of aggregate. In all cases, weathered rock and fault zones should be
avoided because of loss of rock quality.


(a) Basic igneous rocks have better PSV and worse AAV than acid igneous rocks.
(b) Fine-grained rocks have poorer PSV and much better AAV and AIV than coarse-
grained rocks of the same composition.
(c) A very small amount of weathering of a roadstone aggregate is advantageous as it
helps bonding of the aggregate to bitumen. Greater weathering severely reduces the
qualities of the rock.
(d) Basic igneous rocks have poorer concrete shrinkage values than acid igneous rocks.
The latter are extremely good (less than 0.040%).
(e) Fine-grained, non-vesicular, non-porphyritic rocks have better shrinkage values than
their coarse-grained equivalents.

Note that all aggregates required for a project must have current test certificates for the
engineering tests specified, and testing should be carried out regularly. Aggregate
produced from weathered or highly weathered igneous rock will often be unsuitable for
engineering use.

The common sources of aggregate among igneous rocks are varieties of dolerite, basalt
and granite. Dolerites have a good AAV where the grain size is very small, and the best
PSV where the grain size is very large, such as may occur in a very thick igneous sheet.
Basalts are more uniform in grain size, and the PSV and AIV do not usually vary much
through a rock mass. The zone between different lava flows should be avoided because of
the concentration of vesicles and amygdales. Granites are prone to weathering which has
penetrated deep into the rock mass along fractures. There is a consequent drop in
crushing strength and impact value. Even in areas of glacial erosion, alteration may affect
rock at depths more than 25 m below the surface. Clear of these zones of poor rock,

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