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**soils incorporating vertical drains by ﬁnite element method
**

Jose´ Leita˜o Borges

*

Department of Civil Engineering, Faculty of Engineering, University of Porto, Rua Dr. Roberto Frias, 4200-465 Porto, Portugal

Received 22 October 2003; received in revised form 1 November 2004; accepted 3 November 2004

Available online 15 December 2004

Abstract

Three-dimensional behaviour of an embankment on soft soils incorporating vertical drains is analysed by a numerical model

based on the ﬁnite element method. The model, which incorporates the BiotÕs consolidation theory (coupled formulation of the ﬂow

and equilibrium equations) and constitutive relations simulated by the p–q–h critical state model, is applied on both the embank-

ment with vertical drains (three-dimensional analysis) and the same problem but without vertical drains (two-dimensional analysis).

Special emphasis is given to the analysis, during and after the construction period, of the excess pore pressures, settlements, hori-

zontal displacements and stress levels.

Ó 2004 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Keywords: Vertical drains; Embankment; Soft soils; Finite element method; Three-dimensional analysis; Consolidation

1. Introduction

The study of embankments on soft soils is one of the

permanent problems of the soil mechanics and has been

analysed by a large number of authors. At the present

time, in spite of all experience obtained over the last dec-

ades, the execution of this kind of constructions still col-

locates diverse and delicate problems that are

determined by the weak geotechnical characteristics of

the foundation soils: (i) low strength signiﬁcantly limits

the load (embankment height) that is possible to apply

with adequate safety for short term stability; (ii) high

deformability and low permeability determine large set-

tlements that develop slowly as pore water ﬂows and ex-

cess pore pressure dissipates (consolidation).

To design embankments on soft soils it is essential to

take into account the multiple constructive techniques

that allow to solve those problems. The constructive

solutions – usually based on both foundation soil prop-

erties improvement and construction procedures or ﬁll

properties alteration – provide one or more of the fol-

lowing eﬀects: increase of global stability, consolidation

acceleration and decrease of long term settlements [1–3].

The most used technique when the main purpose is to

accelerate the consolidation is the use of vertical drains

in the foundation soils (Fig. 1), which usually determines

drastic decreases of hydrodynamic consolidation time.

In the paper, the geotechnical behaviour of an

embankment on soft soils incorporating vertical drains

(geosynthetic band drains) is analysed during and after

the construction period by a numerical model developed

by Borges [4] for plane strain and axysymmetric analyses

(initial version) and three-dimensional analysis

(improvement included in the program in 2001). Special

emphasis is given to the three-dimensional behaviour of

this kind of constructions by the comparison of the re-

sults of the embankment incorporating the drains

(three-dimensional analysis) with the results of the plane

strain analysis of the same problem without vertical

drains.

0266-352X/$ - see front matter Ó 2004 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

doi:10.1016/j.compgeo.2004.11.001

*

Tel.: +351225081928; fax: +351225081940/1440.

E-mail address: leitao@fe.up.pt.

www.elsevier.com/locate/compgeo

Computers and Geotechnics 31 (2004) 665–676

Basically, for the present applications, the model uses

the following theoretical hypotheses: (a) coupled formu-

lation of the ﬂow and equilibrium equations considering

soil constitutive relations (elasto-plastic models) formu-

lated in eﬀective stresses (BiotÕs consolidation theory)

[4–7]; this formulation is applied to all phases of the

problem, both during the embankment construction

and in the post-construction period; (b) utilisation of

the p–q–h critical state model [4–6,8], an associated plas-

tic ﬂow model, to simulate constitutive behaviour of the

foundation and embankment soils.

Fig. 2(a) shows, in the principal eﬀective stress space,

the yield and critical state surfaces of the p–q–h critical

state model. In the p–q coordinate system (where p is

the eﬀective mean stress and q the deviatoric stress),

the yielding function is a ellipse (Fig. 2(b)) and, depend-

ing on the stress path, the p–q–h model simulates hard-

ening behaviour (as shown in Figs. 2(b) and (c) for stress

path 1–2, where e

v

is the volumetric strain and e

d

the

shear strain) or softening behaviour (stress path 3–4,

Figs. 2(b) and (d)).

In this model, the parameter that deﬁnes the slope

of the critical state line, M, is not constant as in the

Cam-Clay and Modiﬁed Cam-Clay models, but de-

pends on the angular stress invariant, h, and friction

angle of the soil deﬁned in eﬀective terms, /

0

, as

follows:

M ¼

3 sin /

0

ﬃﬃﬃ

3

p

cos h þ sin /

0

sin h

: ð1Þ

This deﬁnes the Mohr–Coulomb criteria (whose sur-

face in the principal eﬀective stress space is shown in Fig.

2(a)) when M is introduced in the equation of the critical

state line

q ¼ M Á p: ð2Þ

Fig. 2. Yield and critical state surfaces of the p–q–h critical state model in (a) principal eﬀective stress space; (b) p–q coordinate system; (c) stress path

1–2 (hardening behaviour); (d) stress path 3–4 (softening behaviour).

EMBANKMENT

HARD STRATUM

DRAINAGE LAYER

(0.5 to1m)

VERTICAL

DRAINS

SOFT

SOILS

Fig. 1. Vertical drains – acceleration of hydrodynamic consolidation.

666 J.L. Borges / Computers and Geotechnics 31 (2004) 665–676

This is an important characteristic of the p–q–h mod-

el because, as shown by triaxial tests [33], the critical

state of soil depends on h. (Drucker–Prager is the crite-

ria of the Cam-Clay and Modiﬁed Cam-Clay models

and does not depend on h).

About embankments on soft ground, in order to ver-

ify accuracy of the ﬁnite element program in this kind of

works, Borges [4] compared numerical and ﬁeld results

of two embankments on soft soils, one constructed up

to failure [9] and the other observed until the end of

the consolidation [10–12]. The accuracy was considered

adequate in both cases, as numerical and ﬁeld results are

similar, namely in terms of settlements and pore pres-

sures. Only some quantitative diﬀerences were observed

in the horizontal displacements, despite an overall qual-

itative similarity too.

In general terms, the veriﬁcation of the program

was made by comparing numerical results not only

with ﬁeld results, as said above (which is the adequate

way for complex problems without theoretical solu-

tions), but also with theoretical results of several

closed problems, namely one-dimensional Terzaghi

consolidation, circular load on an elastic foundation

[34], consolidation of a semi-inﬁnite elastic medium

under an uniform surface loading over a circular area

[35], drained and undrained triaxial tests for soils sim-

ulated with critical state models. Comparisons with

numerical results presented by other authors, as Lewis

and Schreﬂer [5] with CRISP (critical state program),

were also veriﬁed.

It should be remembered that the ﬁrst consistent and

general theory of multi-dimensional consolidation tak-

ing into account interdependence between soil eﬀective

strains and pore water ﬂow (coupled formulation of

the ﬂow and equilibrium equations) was presented by

Biot [13,14]. This theory, which was initially developed

considering soil with isotropic and linear elastic behav-

iour, was posteriorly improved for more complex behav-

iours, namely anisotropy and viscosity [15–17].

After the presentation of BiotÕs consolidation theory,

several authors have applied the ﬁnite element method

on consolidation problems using mathematical formula-

tions in which some of the initial hypotheses of Biot are

reformulated (extensions of the BiotÕs theory). Small

et al. [18] considered the plasticity using Mohr–Cou-

lomb model and Desai and Siriwardane [19] and Runes-

son [20] applied critical state models. The variation of

the permeability in the course of the consolidation was

considered by Lewis et al. [21]. Norris [22] extended

the study to the use of constitutive models with kinemat-

ical hardening.

Concerning the use of vertical drains in embankments

on soft soils, Zeng et al. [23] conducted coupled consol-

idation analyses to assess the eﬀectiveness of a method

that calculates an equivalent horizontal permeability

for plane strain analysis in which the vertical drains

are represented as sheets. Hird and Kwok [24] per-

formed a parametric study of a test embankment where

the eﬀect of the vertical drains was considered by

increasing the subsoil permeability by an estimated fac-

tor. Poran et al. [25] deﬁned an equivalent vertical per-

meability for the subsoils by comparing an

axisymmetric analysis of a cylindrical unit cell, with

drainage occurring both horizontally, inwards, and ver-

tically, upwards, with a plane strain unit cell with drain-

age towards the upper boundary only. This equivalent

vertical permeability was used in a plane strain analysis

of a trial embankment.

Because embankments on soft soils incorporating

vertical drains behave three-dimensionally (in terms of

stress and water ﬂow, as shown below in Section 3),

one of the aims of the paper is to achieve a more com-

plex phenomenological interpretation of the 3D gheo-

technical behaviour of this kind of works, by

performing a three-dimensional numerical analysis with

the program developed by the author.

For three-dimensional applications, the program uses

two types of the 20-noded brick element. Fig. 3(a)

shows the type used in the foundation soils (element

with 60 displacement degrees of freedom, at the corners

and at middle of the sides, and with 8 more excess pore

pressure degrees of freedom, at the corners), where con-

solidation analysis is considered. In the ﬁll, it is the 20-

noded brick element with only 60 displacement degrees

of freedom (at the corners and at middle of the sides)

that is used.

Similarly, for two-dimensional analyses, two types

of the six-noded triangular element are considered

(Fig. 4): (i) with 12 displacement degrees of freedom,

at the vertices and at middle of the edges (for ﬁll ele-

ments) and (ii) with 3 more excess pore pressure de-

grees of freedom at the vertices (for foundation

elements).

2. Description of the problem

The problem concerns the construction of a 2 m

height symmetric embankment, with a 10.6 m crest

width, 2/3 (V/H) inclined slopes and very large longitu-

dinal length. The foundation is a 5 m thick saturated

clay layer lying on a rigid and impermeable soil, which

constitutes the lower boundary. The clay is lightly over-

consolidated to 1.8 m depth and normally consolidated

from 1.8 to 5 m. It will be analysed the embankment

with and without vertical band-shaped drains (geosyn-

thetic prefabricated drains) with a 200 · 5 mm

2

section

and installed in a square grid with drain spacing of 2

m. The grid limit is 1.7 m beyond the toe to take up

any lateral spread of excess pore pressures. It is not in-

tended that the band drain reproduces any commercial

product.

J.L. Borges / Computers and Geotechnics 31 (2004) 665–676 667

Fig. 5 shows the ﬁnite element mesh used in the three-

dimensional analysis of the embankment incorporating

the vertical drains.

The displacement boundary conditions were deﬁned

taking into account that the soft clay lays on a hard

stratum (y = 0 plane, where displacements are set as

zero in the three directions, x, y and z). One the other

hand, symmetry conditions imply: (i) zero displacement

in x-direction for nodes on the x = 0 plane; (ii) zero

displacement in z-direction for nodes on the z = 0

plane, vertical plane containing one row of drains;

(iii) zero displacement in z-direction for nodes on the

z = 1 m plane, vertical plane equidistant from two rows

of drains in x-direction. Assuming that the horizontal

displacement can be deﬁned as zero at nodes that are

enough distant from the embankment, the plane of

Fig. 3. 3-D ﬁnite element used in the program, 20-noded brick element: (a) with 60 displacement degrees of freedom and 8 excess pore pressure

degrees of freedom; (b) with 60 displacement degrees of freedom.

- displacement unknown

- excess pore pressure

unknown

Fig. 4. 2-D ﬁnite element used in the program, 6-noded triangular

element: (a) with 12 displacement degrees of freedom and 3 excess pore

pressure degrees of freedom; (b) with 12 displacement degrees of

freedom.

Fig. 5. 3D ﬁnite element mesh for the problem with vertical drains.

668 J.L. Borges / Computers and Geotechnics 31 (2004) 665–676

x = 23.9 m was considered as the lateral boundary with

zero displacement in x-direction.

With regard to drainage boundary conditions, excess

pore pressure was set as zero on the ground level (upper

drainage surface), i.e., on the y = 5 m plane, and on the

drainage surfaces deﬁned by the drains considered as

sheets, namely on the following planes: x = 0, x = 2,

x = 4, x = 6, x = 8 and x = 10 m, with y-coordinate

varying from 0 to 5 m and z-coordinate from 0 to 0.1

m (which means that centres of the drains are on the

z = 0 boundary plane and each drain was installed with

its larger dimension, 0.20 m, in z-direction).

The embankment construction was simulated activat-

ing the elements that form the ﬁll layers. Four 0.5 m

height layers were considered and, in order to assess

the drainage eﬀect even during the construction period,

a discontinuous sequence of construction was deﬁned as

indicated in Fig. 6. The ﬁrst three layers were con-

structed in 3.5 days each, and the fourth in 7 days.

The pause periods, which took place after each layer

construction, were respectively 3.5, 3.5 and 38.4 days.

As said in Section 1, the coupled analysis was performed

in all phases of the problem, both during the embank-

ment construction and in the post-construction period.

The constitutive relations of both the embankment

and foundation soils were simulated using the p–q–h

critical state model [4–6,8] with the parameters indicated

in Table 1 (k, slope of normal consolidation line and

critical state line; k, slope of swelling and recompression

line; C, speciﬁc volume of soil on the critical state line at

mean normal stress equal to 1 kPa; N, speciﬁc volume of

normally consolidated soil at mean normal stress equal

to 1 kPa). Table 1 also shows other geotechnical proper-

ties: c, unit weight; m

0

, PoissonÕs ratio for drained load-

ing; c

0

and /

0

, cohesion and angle of friction deﬁned

in eﬀective terms; k

x

and k

y

, coeﬃcients of permeability

in x and y directions. Table 2 indicates the variation

with depth of the at rest earth pressure coeﬃcient, K

0

,

and over-consolidation ratio, OCR, in the foundation.

The embankment soil was considered with 0.43 for K

0

and 1 for OCR. All these parameters were deﬁned tak-

ing into account typical experimental values for this

kind of soils [4,26].

Fig. 7 shows the 2D ﬁnite element mesh for the

embankment without the drains, problem that can be

considered as a plane strain problem, given the very

large longitudinal length of the embankment; y axis is

the symmetry line and, with exception of the boundary

conditions for excess pore pressure (set as zero only on

the upper drainage surface, i.e., at nodes with y = 5

m), all the other characteristics of the problem, when

compared with the three-dimensional problem, are

maintained.

Given the non-linearity of the constitutive model

used in the soils (p–q–h critical state model) and the

boundary conditions, in both problems (with and with-

out drains) mesh sensitivity in terms of variation of

numerical results was analysed by considering several

meshes and time increments (diﬀerent geometry and

time discretizations). The meshes (Figs. 5 and 7) and

the increments used in the paper were assessed adequate

by analysing, at each calculation of the coupled analysis,

the global equilibrium of the problem (comparing exter-

nal forces with stresses at all Gauss points of the ele-

ments). The smooth geometric variation of the stress

results in the medium (presented in the following

5 10 15 20 25 30 35 40 45 50 55 60 65 time (days) 0

0.5

1

1.5

2

0

embankment

height

(m)

Fig. 6. Embankment construction sequence.

Table 1

Geotechnical properties of the foundation and embankment soils

c (kN/m

3

) m

0

c

0

(kPa) /

0

(°) k

x

(m/s) k

y

(m/s) p–q–h critical state model

k k C N

Foundation 17 0.25 0 30 10

À9

10

À9

0.22 0.02 3.26 3.40

Embankment 20 0.30 0 35 – – 0.03 0.005 1.80 1.817

Table 2

At rest earth pressure coeﬃcient, K

0

, and over-consolidation ratio,

OCR, in the foundation

Depth (m) K

0

OCR

0–1 0.7 2.43

1–1.8 0.7–0.5 2.43–1

1.8–5 0.5 1

Fig. 7. 2D ﬁnite element mesh for the problem without vertical drains.

J.L. Borges / Computers and Geotechnics 31 (2004) 665–676 669

section) corroborated that the numerical convergence of

this non-linear problem was achieved adequately.

In the problem with the drains the total number of

increments (i.e., total number of ﬁnite element calcula-

tions) was 359 (209 during the construction and 150 dur-

ing the post-construction period). In the embankment

without the drains the same number was used during

construction, but a higher number (177) was considered

during the post-construction period (since the consolida-

tion time is longer).

3. Analysis of the results

When a load is applied on a saturated soil mass, the

distribution of the excess pore pressure has, usually, gra-

dients that determine a ﬁeld of relative velocity among

diﬀerent zones of the soil. Initial conditions of a tran-

sient ﬂow process are determined and transferences of

load from the water (pore pressure) to the soil skeleton

(eﬀective stress) take place. Therefore, until a steady

state is reached, the soil mass behaviour is determined

by the variation of the ﬁelds of stress (pore pressure

and eﬀective and total stress), strain and displacement

(consolidation).

Figs. 8 and 9 show results of excess pore pressures for

the two analyses of the problem, with and without ver-

tical drains, at diﬀerent phases, during and after the con-

struction period. For the 3D analysis, Fig. 8 shows

results both on the vertical plane that contains one

row of drain centres, z = 0 plane (on the right side),

and on the vertical plane equidistant from two rows of

drains, z = 1 m plane (on the left side).

Based on these results, and considering the founda-

tion divided into four typical zones as illustrated in

Fig. 10, one can say that, for the problem without verti-

cal drains, during construction period: (a) maximum

values happen in zone A and are approximately similar

to the vertical stress due to the embankment weight; (b)

in zone B, excess pore pressures decrease from zone A to

zone D, where their values are not signiﬁcant. After con-

struction, when the problem is, above all, characterised

by the transient water ﬂow, one can see that isovalue

curves have a very regular shape, normal to the ﬂow

lines.

With regard to the results of the problem incorporat-

ing the vertical drains (Fig. 8), the shape of the isovalue

curves clearly shows the three-dimensional condition of

the problem, with drainage occurring both horizontally

and vertically towards the several drainage surfaces

(band drains and upper drainage surface). Maximum

values also occur in zone A and also with similar values

to the vertical stress determined by the embankment

weight. However, the most important fact (see below

the analysis of the settlements) concerns the signiﬁcantly

eﬀect of consolidation (mainly in zone A) due to the ver-

Fig. 8. Excess pore pressure (u) for the embankment with vertical drains. (a) 1 m height embankment (time = 14 days); u

max

= 20.15 kPa. (b) 2 m

height embankment (end of construction); u

max

= 38.16 kPa. (c) 64 days after construction; u

max

= 29.29 kPa.

670 J.L. Borges / Computers and Geotechnics 31 (2004) 665–676

tical drains, in comparison with embankment without

the drains.

Figs. 11 and 12 show the deformed meshes for both

analyses, at the end of construction and at the end of

consolidation (displacements are represented in a scale

three times larger than the scale used for lengths). These

results are complemented by the results shown in Figs.

13–16, namely, settlements at the embankment base at

diﬀerent phases for the analysis with drains (Fig. 13),

and for both analyses: (i) settlements at the embankment

base at the end of construction and at the end of consol-

idation (Fig. 14); (ii) variation in time of settlement at

the middle point under the embankment on the ground

level, i.e., point with x = 0 and y = 5 m (and z = 0, for

three-dimensional case) (Fig. 15); (iii) horizontal dis-

placements at the end of construction and at the end

of consolidation, along vertical line under the toe, i.e.,

along points with x = 8.3 m (and z = 0, for three-dimen-

sional case) (Fig. 16).

Based on these results, one can point out that, for

both analyses, during the construction period: (i) there

are settlements in the central loaded zone (zone A of

Fig. 10); (ii) there are important upward vertical dis-

placements near the embankment toe (Figs. 11–14);

(iii) horizontal displacements are outwards (Fig. 16).

As explained by Borges [4] and Borges and Cardoso

[27], if the consolidation is not signiﬁcant during the

construction period (which is valid, in most cases, for

embankments without vertical drains, given the usually

low permeability of the soft soils), these displacements

are related to a strain ﬁeld characterised by volumetric

strains that are practically zero (undrained conditions)

and shear strains that have very expressive values. If

the consolidation eﬀect is signiﬁcant during the con-

struction period (which really happens in the problem

with the band drains), this eﬀect is essentially expressed

by the increase of the settlements (associated with the in-

crease of volumetric strains by consolidation), as shown

in Fig. 14 comparing maximum values of settlements at

the embankment base for both analyses (13.8 and 8.4

cm).

During the post-construction period, the main char-

acteristic of the problem in terms of displacements is

Fig. 9. Excess pore pressure (u) for the embankment without vertical

drains. (a) 1 m height embankment (time = 14 days); u

max

= 19.62 kPa.

(b) 2 m height embankment (end of construction); u

max

= 40.16 kPa.

(c) 925 days after construction; u

max

= 25.13 kPa.

A B D

C

Fig. 10. Four typical zones in the foundation.

Fig. 11. Deformed meshes for the embankment with vertical drains.

(a) End of construction. (b) End of consolidation.

Fig. 12. Deformed meshes for the embankment without vertical

drains. (a) End of construction. (b) End of consolidation.

J.L. Borges / Computers and Geotechnics 31 (2004) 665–676 671

expressed by generalised settlements and horizontal dis-

placements that can be outwards too, as shown in Fig.

16 for the embankment without the vertical drains. As

explained by Borges [4], these outward horizontal dis-

placements, in consonance with experimental results ob-

served in real works [9–12,28–31], are associated with

shear strains during the consolidation process which

are properly simulated only by elastoplastic models with

closed yielding surfaces, which is the case of the p–q–h

critical state model used in this study.

Three more important eﬀects about the use of the ver-

tical drains, obtained from the analysis of the results, are

pointed out below.

The ﬁrst eﬀect, as expected, is the very expressive de-

crease of the consolidation time (reduction from approx-

imately 5000 to 500 days, as shown in Fig. 15).

The second eﬀect is the reduction of the maximum va-

lue of the long term settlements (about 16%, from 48.7

to 40.9 cm, as illustrated in Fig. 14). This eﬀect is asso-

ciated with a certain improvement of the foundation soil

properties (decrease of voids ratio) by consolidation

-0.60

-0.50

-0.40

-0.30

-0.20

-0.10

0.00

0.10

0.00 2.00 4.00 6.00 8.00 10.00

Distance from x=0 plane (m)

S

e

t

t

l

e

m

e

n

t

(

m

)

h = 0.5 m (t = 7 days)

h = 1 m (t = 14 days)

h= 1.5 m (t= 17.5 days)

h =1.5 m (t = 55.9 days)

h = 2 m (end of construction)

h = 2 m (end of cosolidation)

h – embankment height

t – time after beginning

of construction

Fig. 13. Settlements at the embankment base for the embankment with vertical drains.

-0.600

-0.500

-0.400

-0.300

-0.200

-0.100

0.000

0.100

0.000 2.000 4.000 6.000 8.000 10.000

Distance from x=0 plane (m)

S

e

t

t

l

e

m

e

n

t

(

m

)

Embankment without

vertical drains (end of

construction)

Embankment without

vertical drains (end of

consolidation)

Embankment with

vertical drains (end of

construction)

Embankment with

vertical drains (end of

consolidation)

Fig. 14. Settlements at the embankment base for the embankment with and without vertical drains.

S

e

t

t

l

e

m

e

n

t

(

m

)

-0.60

-0.50

-0.40

-0.30

-0.20

-0.10

0.00

0 1000 2000 3000 4000 5000 6000

Time after the end of construction (days)

Embankment without

vertical drains

Embankment with

vertical drains

Fig. 15. Settlement in time at the middle point under the embankment

on the ground level (point with x = 0, y = 5 and, for three-dimensional

case, z = 0) for the embankment with and without vertical drains.

672 J.L. Borges / Computers and Geotechnics 31 (2004) 665–676

during the construction period. This is a kind of a soil

‘‘hardening’’ eﬀect that inﬂuences the decrease of long

term settlements (as well as the reduction of long term

horizontal displacements, as shown in Fig. 16). This ef-

fect only happens because shear stress increases during

the load periods and can reach higher values in the prob-

lem with the vertical drains (the consolidation eﬀect dur-

ing the pause periods increases undrained strength of the

soil). If the problem was one-dimensional (as in the

oedometer tests), this eﬀect would not take place be-

cause in the load periods there is no variation of eﬀective

stress (in undrained conditions) and it is indiﬀerent

whether there is pause periods or not, if total load is

the same.

The third eﬀect is the uniformity of settlements along

z-direction for the embankment with band drains, de-

spite its three-dimensional behaviour in terms of stresses

and water ﬂow. This point is justiﬁed by the existence of

‘‘arch eﬀect’’ inside the ﬁll, which is expressed by the

application of a non-uniform vertical load on the foun-

dation surface (see Fig. 17). The vertical load, at a deter-

mined phase, is smaller on zones that tend, by

consolidation, to settle more than the others, i.e., near

the vertical drains. This eﬀect, as shown by ﬁeld results

[10–12], tends to be equilibrated in a non-uniform distri-

bution of the vertical load that approximately unifor-

mizes the corresponding settlements.

Finally, Figs. 18 and 19 show values of the stress lev-

els (which vary from 0 to 1, being 1 the critical state le-

vel) at diﬀerent phases of the problem; Fig. 20 presents

the eﬀective principal stresses for the embankment with-

out vertical drains at the ends of construction and

consolidation.

The deﬁnition of stress level, SL, is given in Fig. 21

for an arbitrary stress state represented by the point A

in the p–q plane, where p is the eﬀective mean stress

and q the deviatoric stress.

For the embankment without vertical drains (Fig.

18), one can point out that: (i) during the construction

period, the main characteristic of the problem is

Fig. 16. Horizontal displacements at the end of construction and at the end of consolidation along vertical line under the toe (points with x = 8.3 m

and, for three-dimensional case, z = 0) for the embankment with and without vertical drains.

Fig. 17. Increment of vertical eﬀective stress (kPa) at the end of

construction for the embankment with vertical drains.

J.L. Borges / Computers and Geotechnics 31 (2004) 665–676 673

expressed by the increase of the stress levels in the foun-

dation (and therefore by the decrease of the problem

safety [27,32]), especially in Zone B (Fig. 10); as shown

in Fig. 20(a), this eﬀect is associated with an eﬀective

stress path basically characterised by the rotation of

the principal stresses directions (i.e., low variations of

eﬀective mean stress and signiﬁcant increases of devia-

toric stress); (ii) during the post-construction period,

the eﬀective stress path (associated with the dissipation

of the excess pore pressures) is characterized by expres-

sive increases of eﬀective mean stress and low variations

of deviatoric stress (for in Fig. 20 the magnitude of the

principal stresses increases without their directions sig-

niﬁcantly changing), which implies a generalised reduc-

tion of the stress levels, as illustrated in Fig. 18.

With regard to the results of stress levels of the

embankment with vertical drains (Fig. 19), the main

diﬀerence in relation to the embankment without

drains concerns the very signiﬁcant reduction of the

stress levels at all phases of the problem (and particu-

Fig. 18. Stress levels for the embankment without vertical drains. (a) 1

m height embankment (time = 14 days). (b) 2 m height embankment

(end of construction). (c) End of consolidation.

Fig. 19. Stress levels for the embankment with vertical drains. (a) 1 m height embankment (time = 14 days). (b) 2 m height embankment (end of

construction). (c) End of consolidation.

Fig. 20. Eﬀective principal stresses for the embankment without

vertical drains. (a) End of construction. (b) End of consolidation.

674 J.L. Borges / Computers and Geotechnics 31 (2004) 665–676

larly at the end of the construction period) due to the

consolidation acceleration determined by use of the

vertical drains.

4. Conclusions

In the paper, a numerical model based on the ﬁnite

element method was used to analyse the structural

behaviour of an embankment on soft soils incorporating

vertical drains. The model, which incorporates the BiotÕs

consolidation theory and constitutive relations simu-

lated by the p–q–h critical state model, was applied on

both the embankment with vertical drains (three-dimen-

sional analysis) and the same problem without vertical

drains (two-dimensional analysis). The analysis of the

results (excess pore pressures, settlements, horizontal

displacements and stress levels) allows to point out the

following conclusions on the eﬀects of the use of vertical

drains in embankments on soft soils:

1. The eﬀect on the total time of consolidation is very

expressive (reduction of about 10 times, from approx-

imately 5000 to 500 days).

2. This fact is obviously associated with the faster dissi-

pation of the excess pore pressures (and consequent

decrease of the stress levels) at all phases of the prob-

lem, during and after the construction period.

3. The increase of the maximum settlement value at the

end of the construction is signiﬁcant (about 64%,

from 8.4 to 13.8 cm), which implies a certain

improvement of the foundation soil properties

(decrease of voids ratio) by consolidation during the

construction period.

4. This eﬀect, which is a kind of a ‘‘hardening’’ eﬀect of

the soil, inﬂuences the decrease of the long term settle-

ments (about 16%, from 48.7 to 40.9 cm), as well as

the reduction of long term horizontal displacements.

5. In spite of its three-dimensional behaviour in terms of

stresses and water ﬂow, settlements of the embank-

ment with vertical drains are approximately uniform

along longitudinal direction. This is justiﬁed by the

existence of ‘‘arch eﬀect’’ inside the ﬁll, which is

expressed by the application of a non-uniform verti-

cal load on the foundation surface.

References

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