Frontiers in Offshore Geotechnics: ISFOG 2005 – Gourvenec & Cassidy (eds

© 2005 Taylor & Francis Group, London, ISBN 0 415 39063 X

Bearing capacity and large penetration of a cylindrical object
at shallow embedment
E.R. Barbosa-Cruz & M.F. Randolph
Centre for Offshore Foundation Systems, The University of Western Australia, Perth, Australia

ABSTRACT: The penetration of a cylindrical object into soft clay starting from a very small embedment
has been investigated using a large deformation finite element approach, the Remeshing and Interpolation
Technique with Small Strains (RITSS). The study has application to pipeline penetration of the seabed, and also
to the interpretation of cylindrical penetrometers such as the T-bar at very shallow depths. The results of the
analyses show the evolution of bearing capacity factor and soil flow mechanisms as the cylindrical object is
penetrated from 0.5% of the diameter up to nearly 5 diameters. Comparisons of results are made for fully
smooth and fully rough interfaces and for homogeneous and non-homogeneous soil profiles.



The penetration resistance of an infinite cylindrical
object at shallow embedment into soft soils is of
importance to offshore pipeline design and the interpretation of T-bar penetration tests close to the surface. Previous studies of pipeline penetration have
made use of bound solutions (Murff et al. 1989, Aubeny
et al. 2005) but these do not account of factors such
as: local heave; variation of shear strength with depth;
and disturbance of the strength profile due to pipe
penetration. For T-bar tests (Stewart & Randolph 1991,
1994), a constant bar factor is generally adopted for
estimating the shear strength from the bearing resistance, regardless of depth. However, at very shallow
depths this factor should be reduced.
At deep penetration, the limiting effective force P
per unit length of cylinder may be related to the shear
strength su of the soil by a bearing factor Nb:
where D is the diameter of the cylinder. Randolph &
Houlsby (1984) presented a plasticity solution for this
factor, with a lower bound increasing from 9.14 for
fully smooth to 11.92 for fully rough interface conditions. Subsequent upper bound solutions give a very
similar range, from 9.21 to 11.92 (Randolph 2004).
For interpretation of T-bar tests, a bearing factor of
10.5 has been suggested.
Near the surface, however, the bearing factor will
reduce and in the limit at very shallow penetration the

penetration resistance will reduce to the classical
result of 5.14Bsu where B is the contact width between
pipeline and soil.
A numerical study has been undertaken using large
deformation finite element analysis in order to follow
the evolution of the bearing resistance and deformation
mechanism during pipe penetration from the surface
to full burial. The analyses have covered fully smooth
to fully rough interface conditions and both uniform
soil and soil with a significant strength gradient.


Details of the analysis

Deep penetration of objects into the soil from the surface implies very large strains and deformations within
the soil, and thus cannot be simulated using conventional small strain finite element analysis. Hu &
Randolph (1998a) proposed a process that they termed
‘Remeshing and Interpolation Technique with Small
Strain’ or RITSS, which falls in the category of
Arbitrary Lagrangian-Eulerian (ALE) finite element
techniques, to analyse this kind of problem. This technique combines a series of small-strain analysis followed by a complete remeshing of the domain and then
interpolation of the stress field and material parameters between the Gauss points of the new and old
meshes. Details of the technique and strategies for the
size of displacement increments and frequency of
remeshing may be found in Hu & Randolph (1998a,
1998b) and Lu et al. (2000, 2001, 2004).


Taking advantage of the vertical axis of symmetry only half of the domain was modelled. As a check.49.5 0. Details of finite element analyses. using sixnoded triangular elements with three Gauss points.5 0.005 0. The soil was represented as a simple elastic. where z/D is the depth normalised by the cylinder diameter.05 0. Additionally a minimum zone for remeshing was adopted.001 0. and the modulus ratio. Four different combinations of cylinder roughness (fully smooth and fully rough).001 0. Poisson’s ratio was taken as 0. Initial geostatic stresses were calculated based on an effective unit weight for the soil of D  6 kPa (typical for submerged soft soil with a pipe diameter of about 1 m) and K0 of unity.05 0.001 0. two different analyses were performed to evaluate the effect of the minimum mesh size on the results. nodal joint elements were used to model the soilcylinder interface.01 0. in the remainder of the domain the position of the nodal coordinates were updated according to the displacements. Figure 1. (E  500su.01 0. with appropriate adjustment to .01 0. bounded approximately by a circular line centred on the cylinder centre and with a radius equal to 5 times the cylinder radius. A shear strength profile of su  5  1. to confirm that the response resistance curves from the two different preembedments would merge at deep penetration. Partial remeshing is useful to minimise any error in the interpolated stress field close to the domain boundaries.00005 0. but for pre-embedment by half a diameter. The size of the finite element mesh was chosen to ensure that the boundaries were far from the plastic zone.05 0.005 0. The cylinder was modelled as a cylindrical boundary that was advanced into the soil. analyses were performed from an initial preembedment of half a diameter.005 0.00005 0.00005 0. and strength profiles (homogeneous and nonhomogeneous) were modelled. Analysis Initial embedment (m) Minimum mesh size (m) Displacement increment (m) Remeshing interval (m) Cylinder roughness Soil strength profile* c1 c2 c3 c4 c5 c6 c7 c8 c9 c10 0.005 0. perfectly plastic material with Tresca failure criterion.5 z/D kPa.05 0.5 0. Figure 1 shows an example of an initial mesh used in the analysis. The details of the analysis presented here are summarised in Table 1.5% of the diameter). Table 1. The quantities su and  have been non-dimensionalised with respect to D in order to allow application of the results for D values close to 1 m. Homogeneous.5 z/D kPa was adopted for the nonhomogeneous soil analyses.01 0.The RITSS technique can accommodate remeshing the domain totally or partially. For the homogeneous soil the shear strength was taken as su  9 kPa.00005 0.00005 0. where the mesh is coarse. 616 .00005 0.5 0.00005 0.005 0. was taken as 500.001 0.5 0. E/su.00005 0.05 0.001 0. su  9 kPa. v  0.001 0. In the case of the slightly preembedded fully smooth cylinder penetrating into non-homogeneous soil.01 0. The combined effect of the minimum mesh size and remeshing interval was assessed for the same cylinder and soil conditions. Initial finite element mesh (distance scale in cylinder diameters).49 for both). The horizontal and vertical extends of the domain were taken as 15 times the cylinder diameter.005 0.00005 0. wherever the nodal displacements exceeded 10% of the maximum displacement. su  5  1.005 Smooth Smooth Rough Smooth Rough Smooth Smooth Rough Smooth Rough Non homogeneous Non homogeneous Non homogeneous Homogeneous Homogeneous Non homogeneous Non homogeneous Non homogeneous Homogeneous Homogeneous * Strength profile: Non homogeneous.00005 0. The large penetration analyses were initiated from a point where the cylinder was very slightly embedded (by 0.005 0. In the present study the domain has been remeshed partially.005 0.

01 m 16 c1 14 c2 12 10 Minimum element size 0.5 z/D kPa.2D.15 0.8 0. The two analyses converge for displacements greater than 0. It was found necessary to use a very fine mesh and frequent remeshing.6 Analysis Minimum mesh size mm c1 50 c2 10 0. D. but the coarser mesh. Using a computer with a 2. B. which compares analyses c1 and c2 up to an embedment of 0. The average contact pressure resisted by the soil is then calculated as the force per unit length of cylinder (from the finite element results). ignoring local heave. calculated in broad terms as the cylinder load (per unit length) divided by the contact width (maximum of 1 cylinder diameter) and then by a characteristic soil strength. mainly depending on the density of the mesh and the roughness of the cylinder. 1. 617 0. B (3) Figure 3.05 0.05 m 8 6 4 Smooth cylinder Soil properties su = 5 + 1. 2. which is related to the nominal embedment depth.It should be noted that this type of analysis is computationally intensive. This volume may be related to the angle. less the buoyancy force.1D. where the cylindersoil contact region expanded rapidly. the theoretical contact width is given by (Figure 3) For penetration greater than D/2 (  /2).4 Variation of contact width with embedment. As the cylinder penetrates the soil. will initially exceed the theoretical contact width.3 Embedment. the buoyancy force per unit length of cylinder stays at R2. Geometry of cylinder penetrating seabed soil.81 GHz Intel Pentium Processor and 2. divided by either the theoretical contact width.2 0. Nc. particularly during the initial penetration of the cylinder. Details of this processing of the data are given below. z.0 GB of RAM the analysis times were between 1 to 30 days.05 0. z/D 0.0 1. The need for the finer mesh and smaller remeshing interval at shallow embedment is shown in Figure 2. E = 500 su 2 Theoretical c1 c2 1 Contact widths B/D or B'/D Load kN/m 18 0.2 Step size mm 0.1 0.5 . Note that since some heave will occur adjacent to the cylinder. B. . Comparison of load-displacement responses from analyses c1 and c2. For the 10 analyses presented here a total computing time of 111 days were required.2 Processing of results The computed loads are reported as a bearing capacity factor. B becomes equal to the diameter. c1. with results from the finite element analyses c1 and c2 compared with the theoretical relationship.4 0. and  is the semi-angle subtended at the cylinder centre by the theoretical contact width. a buoyancy force will act on the cylinder. by (4) Once the embedment exceeds the cylinder diameter. Figure 4.2 0 0 0.0 0 0 Embedment. cylinder (2) where R is the radius of the cylinder (D/2). the actual contact width. z/D Figure 2.05 Remeshing every mm 1.2 20 Minimum element size 0. This buoyancy force is calculated from the (theoretical) volume of cylinder below the soil surface. Since the cylinder is modelled as a hollow cylindrical zone penetrating soil with a non-zero effective unit weight. 0. by θ R heave seabed B nominal embedment.1 0. This is shown in Figure 4. multiplied by the effective unit weight of the soil. shows significant jumps at certain remeshing stages at shallow embedment.

c2 9 Minimum element size 0. sum. B. a small region of water appears to be trapped immediately above the cylinder before closure. Nc for smooth cylinder.13 at shallow depth to 8.02 5.97 10.23 4. the contact pressure is then divided by a characteristic soil strength. Using the finer mesh size of 1% of diameter and the smaller remeshing interval equal to 0. Nc.89 Minimum element size 0. taken as that at the widest (theoretical) contact width of the cylinder with the soil. the value of Nc increases from just over 5 at very shallow embedment to just over 9 once it becomes fully embedded.01 4.24 4. c1 Detailed variation of bearing capacity factor.05 m re-meshing every 0.27 12. Bearing capacity factors. B.05 0.48 11. 0 Overall variation of bearing capacity factor.97 8.97 7 c6 4 3 5 2 Normalised embedment. Nc = 8. B.97 Nc theoretical contact width. Figure 11).46 9.1% of diameter from the analysis.97 10 8 Nc 6 8 c7 2 6 4 0 1 2 3 4 Nc computed contact width.2 Normalised embedment.48 5.96 8.50 5. Thus suo is taken as the surface soil strength. z/D Figure 5.5 z/D kPa.Table 2.25 5.12 5. The bearing capacity factor Nc for a smooth cylinder may be expected to increase from around 2   initially to 9.86 P/Bsuo 4. for initial embedments of 0.49 9. This jump is associated with closure of the soil around the top of the cylinder.49 5. c2 Nc 5 Smooth cylinder Soil properties su = 5 + 1. As commented above. results are presented in terms of the theoretical contact width.5D for a fully smooth cylinder in non-homogeneous soil (analyses c2 and c6). and as (5) where k is the strength gradient. are summarised in Table 2.5 z/D kPa.25 11.97 9. Nc. Details of the corresponding Nc variation for shallow embedment are shown in Figure 8.26 11.01 10.01 m re-meshing every 0.2.1 0. For the former case.18 5.01 m 3 Nc computed contact width 2 Smooth cylinder Soil properties su = 5 + 1. Figures 5 and 6 show the need for finer mesh and smaller remeshing intervals for shallow and deep pre-embedment. 3 c2. Bearing capacity factor.001 m BEARING CAPACITY FACTOR The bearing capacity factors.14 6. The overall variation of Nc is shown in Figure 7 1 2 3 4 5 Normalised embedment.17 5. z/D Smooth cylinder Soil properties su = 5 + 1. Nc.52 6.28 12.01 12 Minimum element size 0.99 9.13 Minimum element size 0.15 0. Nc.43 5. E = 500 su 1 0 0 0.5 z/D kPa.10 9.2 (average of upper and lower bound solutions) once the cylinder is fully embedded.42 P/Bsuo 4. Nc varies from 5.40 11. suo. and the computed contact width.005D and 0. Initial Nc P/Bsuo 5. Nc = 8. which is excellent accuracy considering the complexity of the analysis.81 6.63 4. E = 500 su 1 Figure 6.89 5.72 9. 0 or the actual contact width. The computed asymptotic Nc factor at large embedment is about 2% below the theoretical lower bound of 9. allowing for soil heave. but the remeshing strategy ignores this and replaces this zone with soil (see later. for embedment depths less than D/2.83 9.40 Nc = 8. E = 500 su 0 c6.04 9. Nc Final Nc P/Dsuo 9. In order to calculate a bearing capacity factor.80 4.13 5.96 Max. with that for an initial embedment of 0.15 5.01 P/Dsuo 8. z/D Figure 7.03 4.5D. 7 Nc max = 5. The close agreement of the occurrence of this closure.97 after deep penetration.005D occurring just ahead of that for an initial embedment of 618 .005 m 10 Nc = 9. The curves in Figure 7 show a slight jump at embedment greater than 2.54 c1 c2 c3 c4 c5 c6 c7 c8 c9 c10 Minimum Nc P/Bsuo 5.05 m 6 c2 Case 5 Nc 4 Nc max = 5.

Figure 8.24D. c5. For the homogeneous strength profile (analyses c4 and c5) the bearing capacity factor Nc of the cylinder calculated from the computed contact width varies from 5.64 depending on the interface roughness and the soil profile once the pipe embedment is 0.Nc = 10.13 Nc computed contact width 3 c2.97 12 8 6 Nc min = 4. Examples of the patterns of incremental displacement vectors for the fully smooth cylinder and non homogeneous soil (analysis c2) are shown in Figure 11 for cylinder embedments of 0.014D.18 (based on computed contact width) or 4. This factor increases monotonically.14 for a fully smooth cylinder and 11. 0.25 (fully rough) at shallow embedment (Figure 9). smooth cylinder Non homogeneous soil. rough cylinder Homogeneous soil. The incremental displacements show the classical rotational velocity field around the fully embedded cylinder. which is plotted in Figure 10.555D. 8 su = 5 + 1. extending out to about 2.525D (after closure).524D (before closure). 1.25 c5. c3.2 0. At shallow embedment the values are very close to the theoretical lower value 5. z/D Figure 10.4 0.96 (fully rough) and reaches limiting values at deep displacement between 9. At shallow embedment (Figure 8) the initial peak in Nc based on the computed contact width is very close (within 0.25 (fully smooth) and 11. The bearing capacity factor then reduces slightly reaching a local minimum of 4. 619 .81 Nc 5 Nc 4 Nc max = 5. so that the cylinder surface represents a weakness introduced into the soil.Nc = 8.2 0. P/Dsuo.02 (fully smooth) to 5.72 at deep penetration.03 (fully smooth) and 4. z/D Figure 9.3 0. reducing the bearing capacity below the theoretical value for a flat strip. rough cylinder 0 1 2 3 4 Normalised embedment. smooth cylinder Homogeneous soil.14. z/D 0.00 and 6. Detailed variation of Nc at shallow embedment for smooth cylinder. 2. 4 2 2 1 0 Smooth cylinder Soil properties su = 5 + 1.72 c4.1 0. E = 500 su 0 0 0.Nc = 9. The plastic zones (not shown here) were somewhat larger than anticipated from upper bound solutions. It is also useful to see the variation of the ‘nominal’ bearing factor.97 c3. 2. allowing for buoyancy effects). In this case the Nc based on computed contact width. c4.5 z/D kPa. so there is a combined effect of the cylinder geometry and distortion of the soil stratigraphy (Figure 9). but this did not seem to affect the overall load displacement response of the flow patterns.2 cylinder radii from the centre of the cylinder.43 at shallow penetration then reduces slightly to 5.5D (with additional soil heave present in the former analysis) is further confirmation of the robustness of the analyses.Nc = 11. Nominal bearing capacity factor. although in this case soft soil from the surface level will be dragged down more with the cylinder.97 (fully rough). P/Dsuo (where P is the net cylinder force. Then the Nc decreases to 4.5 z/D kPa 6 Nominal Nc 0.81 (theoretical contact width) for embedments of 0.505D. 5 Summary of overall variations in Nc.4 Non homogeneous soil. is 5. and 2. This is due to the smooth cylinder-soil interface condition adopted.94 for a fully rough cylinder.18D to 0.1 0. The reverse would occur for a fully rough cylinder placed into non-homogeneous soil (analysis c3). B.24 and reaches an asymptotic value of 10.2%) to the theoretical value of 5.8 14 Nc theoretical contact width Nc max = 5. 4 c2 c3 su = 9 kPa 2 c4 c5 E = 500 su 0 0 0.205D.5D.5 Normalised embedment.3 0. reaching Nc values between 5.14 and for deep penetration the calculated Nc values are in agreement with the plastic solution of 9.52 7 6 10 Nc min = 4.5 Normalised embedment.18 c2.

524 (just before closure) Figure 11.014 z/D = 0. The work used the RITSS algorithm developed by Hu & Randolph (1998a).505 z/D = 2. The aim of the study was to evaluate the gradual evolution of the bearing factor for a cylindrical object penetrating from very small initial embedment. The analyses involved a 1 m diameter cylinder displaced into soft soil. 4 CONCLUSION This paper has summarised the results of large displacement finite element analysis of a cylindrical object penetrating soft clay. It was found that the bearing capacity factor (expressed as force normalised by contact width times 620 .005D.205 z/D = 2.525 (just after enforced closure) z/D = 1.z/D = 0.555 z/D = 2. to a final embedment from 3 to 5D. Incremental displacement vectors at increasing penetration of cylinder (analysis c2: smooth cylinder in nonhomogenous soil). from an initial embedment of 0.

Lu. Characterisation of soft sediments for offshore applications. Q. The calculated Nc values are close to those predicted from plasticity theory. M. 621 . Stewart. 1: 209–231. Proc. 2001. 2000. M. and Anal. Q. Porto. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS This work was carried out while the first author was an International Postgraduate Research Scholar in Australia. & Randolph. A numerical study of cone penetration in clay. J.C. D.F. 22(5): 327–350. Soils and Foundations. USA.F. I. H. Int. Hu. FE analysis for T-bar and ball penetration in cohesive soil. Randolph. Proc.P. Geotechnique 54(4): 257–267.005D. Aubeny. ASCE (in press). M. Keynote Lecture. Conf. & Houlsby.F. Deep penetration of shallow foundations on non-homogeneous soil.. 2004. J. Analyses run from an initial embedment of 0. Y. Seattle. 2005. Y. Offshore and Polar Engineering Conf. Pipe penetration in cohesive soil. with the curves merging by a penetration of 1. & Randolph. J. M. D. Hu. ISOPE 2001. Methods in Geomech. 531–538. M. Int.5D showed essentially identical resistance to that for the initial embedment of 0. Y.F. Y. Balkema.F. 1989. Deep penetration in soft clay with strength increasing with depth. Hu. 2004.P. & Murff. G. & Randolph.. D. Randolph. Stavanger. Boulder. Geotechnique 34(4): 613–623. Lu. Num. M.A.4D to 4. A new site investigation tool for the centrifuge.F.F. 2nd Int.2D. ISOPE 2000. 2: 617–623.P.F. The analyses showed that the mechanism gradually evolved from a classical Prandtl field at shallow embedments to a rotational mechanism similar to confined flow of soil around a laterally loaded pile. 120(12): 2230–2235. Geotechnique 39(2): 213–229. ASCE. Hu. T-bar penetration testing in soft clay. Proc. J. 2: 453–458.. 38(1): 241–246. Geotechnical Engineering. Closure of the soil over the top of the cylinder occurred (for the particular soil properties modelled) at an embedment from 2. Lu.T. REFERENCES Hu. M..F.F.D. & Randolph. Randolph. on Site Characterisation. Collapse loads for a cylinder embedded in trench in cohesive soil. Wagner. Y. Murff. 1994. 10th Int.5D. 11th Int. of Geomechanics. Norway. Offshore and Polar Engineering Conf. Part of the work was undertaken in collaboration between the Norwegian Geotechnical Institute (NGI) and the Centre for Offshore Foundation Systems (COFS). Stewart.soil strength at maximum cylinder contact width) depends on the combination of the interface roughness and soil strength profile.. & Randolph. & Randolph.. Q. & Randolph. J. C. The limiting pressure on a circular pile loaded laterally in cohesive soil. Centrifuge ’91. Proc. 1998a. M. Shi. A practical numerical approach for large deformation problem in soil. University of Western Australia. 1984. M. 1998b.D. 1991. M.. & Bugarski.