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Geotechnical Earthquake Engineering and Soil Dynamics IV

GSP 181 2008 ASCE

Sand Aging Field Study


R.A. Green1, M. ASCE, P.E., R.D. Hryciw2, M. ASCE, D.A. Saftner3, S.M. ASCE,
C.D.P. Baxter4, M. ASCE, P.E., Y. Jung3, and T. Jirathanathaworn3
1

Associate Professor, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of Michigan,


2372 G.G. Brown, Ann Arbor, MI 48109-2125; rugreen@umich.edu
2
Professor, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of Michigan, 2366 G.G.
Brown, Ann Arbor, MI 48109-2125; romanh@umich.edu
3
Graduate Student Research Assistant, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, University
of Michigan, 2340 G.G. Brown, Ann Arbor, MI 48109-2125; dsaftner@umich.edu;
yongsub@umich.edu; jirathan@umich.edu
4
Associate Professor, Departments of Ocean/Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of
Rhode Island, Narragansett, RI 02882; baxter@oce.uri.edu

ABSTRACT: Aging effects in sand, such as increases in penetration resistance with


time after deposition, densification, and/or liquefaction, are known to occur in situ, but
the causes of these effects are not fully understood. Nonetheless, these effects have
important ramifications in earthquake engineering. First, the lack of understanding of
the phenomenon is an impediment to quality assurance/quality control (QA/QC) for
ground densification projects aimed at mitigating the damaging effects of liquefaction.
This can be understood by considering that most liquefaction evaluation procedures
correlate liquefaction susceptibility to in situ indices, such as penetration resistance
(SPT and CPT) and small strain shear wave velocity (Vs), all of which are influenced
by aging. Consequently, it is unclear as to how long after ground densification QA/QC
in situ tests should be performed to ensure that the densification was sufficient to
mitigate liquefaction susceptibility. Presented herein is an overview of an ongoing
sand aging field study where liquefaction is being induced by explosives,
vibrocompaction (using a vibroflot), and a NEES vibroseis in a heavily instrumented
sand deposit. The state and properties of the sand are being monitored as a function of
time after the disruption of the soil structure.
INTRODUCTION
Presented herein is an overview of an ongoing field study, the objective of which is
to develop a better understanding of the mechanisms and engineering implications of
time-dependent changes, commonly referred to as "aging," in the state and properties
of recently deposited, liquefied, and/or densified sands. The research study is
collaborative and synergistic in nature and involves researchers from the University of

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Michigan (UM) and the University of Rhode Island (URI). Additionally, Nicholson
Construction is a corporate partner in the project, donating equipment time and use,
and Dr. James K. Mitchell (Virginia Tech) is a project consultant.
Numerous field case histories in the literature attest to the existence of the aging
phenomenon, which manifests itself through increases in in situ test indices such as
CPT and SPT penetration resistances and small strain shear wave velocity (Vs) after
deposition, densification, and/or liquefaction (e.g., Mitchell and Solymar, 1984;
Dumas and Beaton, 1988; Jefferies et al., 1988; Schmertmann, 1991; Charlie et al.,
1992; Ng et al., 1996; Stokoe and Santamarina, 2000; Howie et al., 2000, 2001; Amini
et al., 2002; Ashford et al., 2004a,b). Several differing hypotheses have been proposed
for the underlying mechanisms for the aging phenomenon, including secondary
compression and microstructural changes (Mesri et al., 1990; Schmertmann, 1991;
Bowman and Soga, 2003), chemistry (Mitchell and Solymar, 1984; Joshi et al., 1995),
blast gas dissipation (Dowding and Hryciw, 1986), and biological activity (Martin et
al., 1996). However, laboratory investigations have been inconclusive in determining
the controlling mechanism (Baxter and Mitchell, 2004), and no study has been able to
replicate in the laboratory the large increases in penetration resistance and shear wave
velocity observed in situ. Impeding the understanding of the mechanisms underlying
the aging phenomenon is that most published field case histories lack sufficient detail
about spatial variability of soil properties, soil and pore water chemistry, and longterm property changes (> 1 yr). Nevertheless, field case histories provide ample
empirical evidence of the phenomenon, and under controlled conditions, field
investigations represent the best opportunity to study the aging process and to develop
and test a quality assurance/quality control (QA/QC) metric for remedially densified
sand.
In the remaining portions of this paper, an overview of previous studies examining
the sand aging phenomenon is given first. This information was used to design the
current field study, an overview of which is then presented.
PREVIOUS SAND AGING STUDIES
Published data showing the existence of sand aging come primarily from remedial
ground densification case histories (explosive compaction, vibrocompaction, and deep
dynamic compaction), supplemented in part by data from laboratory investigations.
Because liquefaction is typically induced as the first step in the remedial ground
densification process, it is logically surmised that aging also occurs in sand deposits
following liquefaction by earthquake shaking (e.g., Arango and Migues, 1996; Lewis
et al., 1999; Arango et al., 2000; Olson et al., 2001; Gassman et al., 2004). Extensive
summaries of aging investigations are given by Mitchell et al. (1997) and Baxter
(1999). The following brief review is excerpted from C. Baxter's contribution to
Mitchell et al. (1997).
Field Investigations
The Jebba Dam project on the Niger River, Nigeria, was the first well documented
field study where aging effects in sands were both significant and widespread

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(Mitchell and Solymar, 1984). The project involved the treatment of foundation soils
beneath a 42 m high dam and seepage blanket. The foundation soils consisted of deep
deposits of alluvial medium to coarse silica sand. In some areas the depth to bedrock
was greater than 70 m. Due to the large depths of loose sand requiring improvement,
densification was performed in two stages. The upper 25 m of sand (and a 5 to 10 m
thick sand pad placed by hydraulic filling of the river) was densified using
vibrocompaction, while the deposits between 25 to 40 m were densified by blasting.
Following the blasting operations, it was observed that the sand exhibited both
sensitivity (i.e., strength loss on disturbance) and aging effects after redeposition
and/or densification. This phenomenon occurred throughout the site. Initially after
improvement, there was a decrease in penetration resistance, despite the fact that
surface settlements ranging from 0.3 to 1.1 m were measured. With time (measured up
to 124 days after improvement), however, the cone penetration resistance was found to
increase to approximately 150-200 % of the pre-densification values.
Aging effects were also observed after placement of hydraulic fill working platforms
and after densification by vibrocompaction. In the case of vibrocompaction, however,
there was considerable variability in the degree of aging throughout the site. Because
of the greater increase in density and lateral stress caused by vibrocompaction than by
blast-densification, no initial decrease in the penetration resistance (sensitivity) was
observed following compaction.
A more recent example of aging effects in sand was reported by Ng et al. (1996)
during construction of the Chek Lap Kok airport in Hong Kong. Vibrocompaction was
performed in specific areas to improve the penetration resistance of the hydraulically
placed sand. Cone penetration testing was performed at one location at different times,
up to 47 days after improvement. A clear increase in penetration resistance was
observed. As with the Jebba Dam project, the time-dependent increase in cone
penetration resistance after vibrocompaction occurred with no detectable increase in
density (i.e., surface settlement).
Laboratory Investigations
Although most of the examples of aging in sands reported in the literature are from
field studies, some observations have been made in the laboratory as well. Afifi and
Richart (1973) showed that when sand specimens are maintained under a constant
confining pressure, the shear modulus determined at small strains increased with time
of confinement. Thomann and Hryciw (1992) furthermore showed that a moderate
shear straining following an initial aging period will decrease the small strain shear
modulus, (i.e. negate the aging effects) only to be regained during a subsequent aging
period. Daramola (1980) investigated the effects of aging on both the stiffness and
shear strength of Ham River sand. Four consolidated drained triaxial tests were
performed on samples with the same relative density and confining pressure (400
kPa), but consolidated for different periods of time (0, 10, 30, and 152 days). The test
results showed that the stiffness increased and the strain to failure decreased with
increasing time of consolidation. The samples consolidated for long periods of time
also exhibited greater volumetric expansion (dilatancy) for given values of axial strain.
Daramola concluded that a 50 % increase in modulus occurred for each log cycle of

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time under stress. Despite the increase in modulus and dilatancy, however, there was
no increase in peak shear strength with time of aging. More recent studies by Howie et
al. (2001) and Bowman and Soga (2003) present results showing similar trends.
A laboratory study on the effect of time on penetration resistance was performed by
Joshi et al. (1995). The influences of both sand type and pore fluid composition on the
magnitude of aging effects were investigated. Two different sands were tested: a river
sand and Beaufort Sea sand. Three different pore fluids were used: air, distilled water,
and sea water. Specimens were prepared by pluviating the sand through either air or
water (depending on the pore fluid to be used) into fixed wall cells and vibrated under
a static vertical stress of 100 kPa until a desired density was achieved. This method
resulted in very dense samples, ranging from 87 to 100 % relative density.
After loading, the specimens were aged for two years, and values of penetration
resistance were obtained at various times in each specimen using a series of four, 1 cm
diameter penetrometers so that redundant data could be obtained at each time. Aging
effects were observed in all cases, but the effects were greater for submerged sand
than for dry specimens. Scanning electron micrographs of the aged specimens in
distilled water and sea water showed the presence of precipitates on and in between
sand grains. An energy dispersive x-ray analyzer was used to determine the
composition of the precipitate. For the river sand in distilled water, the precipitates
contained calcium and possibly silica. For the river sand in sea water, the precipitates
contained sodium, silica, calcium, and chlorine.
Baxter and Mitchell (2004) present the results of an extensive laboratory
investigation that examined the influence of different combinations of relative density,
temperature, and pore fluid on the aging effects of two different sands: Evanston
Beach sand and Density sand. Evanston Beach sand is a tan, sub-angular, poorly
graded fine sand and was selected because it had been used in a previous aging study
by Dowding and Hryciw (1986). Density sand is a white, rounded, poorly graded, fine
to medium sand used for sand-cone tests, and was chosen because its chemical
composition (almost pure quartz) and grain shape are markedly different than those of
Evanston Beach sand. The results from this study showed increases in the small strain
shear modulus throughout most of the tests, and chemical analyses suggested that
precipitation of carbonate and silica occurred in two tests. However, despite these
changes, there was no corresponding increase in the mini-cone penetration resistance
with time in any of the tests. The dichotomy between their laboratory results and the
field observations of others lead to the following statement: "some condition in
natural deposits is not replicated in small-scale laboratory testing. Possible conditions
that may be different in the field include the introduction of air and gas into the soil
during ground improvement, heterogeneity of the deposit, energy imparted by ground
improvement, and biological activity."
Hypothesized Aging Mechanisms
Historically, the most widespread theory used to explain aging effects in sand has
involved interparticle bonding. Terzaghi originally referred to a "bond strength" in
connection with the presence of a quasi-preconsolidation pressure in the field
(Schmertmann, 1991). Generally, this bonding mechanism has been thought of as

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cementation, which would increase the cohesion of a soil without affecting its friction
angle. The cementing agent has commonly been thought to be silica-acid gel, which
has an amorphous structure and would form a precipitate at particle contacts (Mitchell
and Solymar, 1984). There is little direct evidence that cementation of sand particles
by silica precipitation occurs after ground improvement. However, in a laboratoryscale blasting study, Hryciw (1986) demonstrated that explosive generated gases
produce a significant fluctuation in pore fluid pH, which enhances dissolution and
precipitation of silica and thus possibly assists the early diagenesis of sands. The
strongest evidence to date of a chemical mechanism being responsible for aging
effects is the work done by Joshi et al. (1995) presented earlier. A precipitate was
observed on aged specimens of sand. In addition, the composition of the precipitate in
the samples of river sand was found to contain calcium (the much more soluble
fraction of the sand), possibly silica, and sodium and chlorine when sea water was the
pore fluid.
Mesri et al. (1990) proposed that aging effects in sands are mechanical in nature and
are due entirely to an increased frictional resistance which develops during secondary
compression. However, this increased resistance does not occur solely from the
change in density that occurs during drained secondary compression. Rather, it is due
to a continued rearrangement of particles resulting in increased macro-interlocking of
particles and increased micro-interlocking of surface roughness. These mechanisms
are postulated to cause an increase in both stiffness and horizontal effective stress.
Although no direct evidence was presented supporting their hypothesis, Mesri et al.
(1990) used the triaxial test data from Daramola (1980) to argue against a chemical
mechanism responsible for aging effects in sands. Specimens of Ham River sand that
underwent drained secondary compression for up to 152 days had an increased
modulus up to approximately 3 % strain. According to Mesri et al. (1990), this large
strain would destroy any cementation and another less brittle mechanism must be
responsible for the increase in stiffness.
Schmertmann (1991) also hypothesized that aging effects in sands are caused by
mechanical effects. Like Mesri et al. (1990), increased interlocking between particles
with time was proposed by Schmertmann as a significant factor. He also suggested
that small particle movements during secondary compression would lead to internal
stress arching and a more stable arrangement of particles. Bowman and Soga (2003)
recently measured such particle movements in samples of dense sand. They showed
that microstructural changes during secondary compression, including particle rotation
and variations in local void ratio distributions, leads to the development of load chains
and increased dilatancy.
CURRENT SAND AGING FIELD STUDY
As evident from previous studies, the underlying mechanisms of sand aging remain
uncertain. The present study builds on the previous research and involves a field
investigation where liquefaction/densification is being induced by explosives, a
vibroflot, and a NEES vibroseis in a heavily instrumented sand profile and the state
and properties of the sand are being monitored as a function of time after disruption of
the soil structure. Explosives and vibrocompaction were selected because they are

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Geotechnical Earthquake Engineering and Soil Dynamics IV

GSP 181 2008 ASCE

ground densification methods in which the aging phenomenon has been observed in
the past. However, both methods introduce foreign elements into the soil, as
explosives generate gases and vibroflotation introduces heavily aerated water. The
dissipation of the blast gases and air from the ground water with time after treatment
may be one of the contributors to aging in sand. Also, as noted above, the blast gases
change the pH of the pore fluid, which may contribute to the aging effects. To
determine whether the dissipation of gases from pore water and the change in pH of
pore water influences aging, liquefaction will be induced in the third region using a
vibroseis from the University of Texas (i.e., NEES equipment). The vibroseis only
introduces seismic waves into the ground and have been known to induce liquefaction,
even unintentionally, in deposits of loose, saturated sand (e.g., Hryciw et al., 1990).
The site where the field aging study is being carried out is an active sand quarry
owned by Mulzer Crushed Stone, Inc. and is located in southwestern Indiana. The
authors characterized the field study site using vision cone penetration tests (VisCPT)
(Hryciw and Shin, 2004; Jung et al., 2008), Marchetti dilatometer tests (DMT),
seismic cone penetration tests (SCPT), and grain size analysis. The site profile consists
of a clay cap of approximately 2 m overlying a thick deposit of sand. The water table
at the time of the site investigation was approximately 1.75 m below the ground
surface. Figure 1 shows a representative CPT sounding from the site. As may be
observed from this figure, there is a loose sand layer from 2.5 to 3.2 m below the
ground surface. Immediately below the loose sand layer is a dense sand layer, which
will allow the influence of density on the aging phenomenon to be investigated.
Tip Resistance, qc (MPa)
0

10

15

Pore Pressure, Pw (kPa)

Friction Ratio, fs/qc (%)


20 0

10

15 -50

50

100

150

200

Dr = 30%
40%
50%
60%

Depth, z (m)

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Geotechnical Earthquake Engineering and Soil Dynamics IV

Clay

70%

Loose sand

4
Dense sand
5
Static pore
pressure
6

FIG. 1. CPT logs from the field test site. Superimposed on the tip resistance log
are contours of equivalent relative density per Jamiolkowski et al. (1985).
The sand at the test site is "poorly graded" (SP), with a coefficient of uniformity of
2.05 and a coefficient of gradation of 0.78. Figure 2 shows the grain size distribution

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Geotechnical Earthquake Engineering and Soil Dynamics IV

GSP 181 2008 ASCE

for the sand. As observed, the grain size curve falls close to the "coarse boundary" that
defines "most liquefiable soil." The VisCPT recorded movement of sand (or boiling)
as the CPT probe advanced through the loose sand layer, clearly indicating that this
soil is liquefiable.
100
90

Mulzer Quarry Soil


Most Liquefiable Soil
Potentially Liquefiable Soil

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% Passing by wt.

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80
70
60
50
40
30
20
10
0
10

0.1
Diameter (mm)

0.01

0.001

FIG. 2. Grain size distribution of sand from the loose sand layer. Superimposed
on the plot are ranges of the grain size distributions of "Most Liquefiable Soil"
and "Potentially Liquefiable Soil," per Tsuchida (1970).
At the site, liquefaction/densification will be induced by the three methods (i.e.,
explosives, vibrocompaction, and vibroseis) in three, non-overlapping regions. It is
estimated that each region should have a minimum 15 m radius to ensure the energy
imparted to induce liquefaction in one region does not influence an adjacent region, as
well as to ensure that elevated pore water pressures do not migrate among adjacent
regions. A plan view of the site test layout is shown in Figure 3, wherein the
compaction/blast/shake points (labeled as energy points in Figures 3 and 5) are
arranged in a diamond pattern with approximately 2.5 m between the points. The
purpose for using multiple points is to replicate actual conditions for remedial
densification projects. For the explosives test region, the four charges will be
detonated sequentially, with a 0.5 sec delay between detonations 1 & 2 and 3 & 4,
with a 4 hr delay between detonations 2 & 3. The selected delays are to ensure that the
soil is subjected to multiple "hits," similar to actual explosive densification projects.
Within each of the regions, pore pressure transducers, accelerometers, and
settlement tubes will be installed. The purpose of the pore pressure transducers is to
confirm that liquefaction has been induced (i.e., excess pore pressure equal to the
initial effective overburden pressure), and to allow the temporal and spatial monitoring
of the excess pore pressure generation and dissipation. The accelerometers will allow
the induced strains to be computed (e.g., Rathje et al., 2002, 2004). Also, using a
similar approach to that of Zeghal and Elgamal (1994) or Davis and Berrill (1998,
2000) the accelerometers at different depths can be used to calculate the energy
dissipated in the soil during the liquefaction process, which will allow an assessment
of whether the amount of energy imparted in the soil influences the magnitude of
aging effects (e.g., Baxter and Mitchell, 2004). Settlement tubes will provide
settlement data as a function of depth and distance from the energy source.

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GSP 181 2008 ASCE

Additionally, a light detection and ranging (LIDAR) system will be used to survey the
ground surface before and at various times after the disruption of the soil structure,
which will provide temporal and spatial ground surface settlement information.
a)

15 m

15 m

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2.5 m

explosives
test region

2.5 m

energy
points

vibrocompaction
test region
15 m
2.5 m

vibroseis
test region

FIG. 3. Plan view of the site test layout: three non-overlapping regions will be
used, one for each method by which liquefaction will be induced. The "energy
points" are the location where liquefaction will be induced via vibro-compaction,
explosive compaction, or using the vibroseis.
Two data acquisition systems will be used in the field study, with different types of
data being collected by each. The first acquisition system is a series of wireless
sensors that are being integrated with the MEMS accelerometers and pore pressure
transducers. The wireless sensors were developed at the University of Michigan by
Professor Jerome Lynch (Figure 4).
Data acquisition computer

Accelerometers

Shaker

Geophones

Sensors

FIG. 4. Wireless sensing unit prototype developed at the University of Michigan


by Prof. J.P. Lynch. Right: Sensor without battery and external container
(Dimensions of the fully assembled unit are approximately 8 15 3 cm.). Left:
Laboratory calibration of sensors with geophones and accelerometers.
The second data acquisition system being used is a tethered monitoring system by
Olson Instruments, Inc. (i.e., the Freedom Data Acquisition System PC). This system

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uses SHM Version 2.1 software and has 16 channels. Presently, the authors are
performing comparisons of data acquired by the wireless and Olson systems.
A layout of the post-liquefaction in situ test plan is shown in Figure 5. The purpose
for this plan is to monitor for aging effects in each of the three regions. The use of
different techniques for inducing liquefaction/densification will allow chemical versus
mechanical mechanisms to be discerned, to some extent. For example, if larger aging
effects manifest in the region in which explosive compaction is performed relative to
the other two regions, one possible explanation may the change in the pH of the
groundwater due to the blast gases. However, conclusive discernment of the chemical
versus mechanical aging mechanisms will be made from the synergistic laboratory
study using soil and groundwater from the field site. In large part, the laboratory study
will be driven by the field observations. The laboratory will provide a more controlled
environment wherein the boundary conditions can be systematically varied so that the
influence of each on aging can be ascertained, with the field investigation providing a
comparative baseline of the cumulative influence of the various testing conditions and
parameters.
Using the test plan shown in Figure 5, the in situ indices will be measured on a
regular basis for the first four weeks after liquefaction/densification. However, the
time interval between the radial sets of soundings will increase as the changes in the
values of the in situ indices with time decrease. Monitoring of the aging effects will
continue for the duration of the project.
5.0 m
10 days
100 days

1 day
preliquefaction

2.0 m

Energy points

preliquefaction

100 days

1 day

10 days
VisCPT, uSCPT, and DMT soundings
Potential VisCPT, uSCPT, and DMT soundings

FIG. 5. Idealized plan view of in situ sounding locations for monitoring postliquefaction/densification aging effects. In this figure, the four "energy points"
indicate the locations of the vibrocompaction points, the explosives, or the
vibroseis. At a given time after liquefaction/densification, in situ soundings will be
performed at the prescribed radial distances from the center of the energy points.
As currently scheduled, explosive densification will be performed in Spring, 2008.
This method of inducing liquefaction is being performed first because it will be the
most demanding on the instrumentation and will serve to debug the test setup (and will
be repeated if needed as a result of any experienced equipment failure).
Vibrocompaction and vibroseis will be performed during the Summer or Fall of 2008.

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CONCLUSIONS

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The sand aging phenomenon posses an impediment to remedial ground densification


programs, as it is uncertain how long after ground densification in situ index tests
should be performed to ensure the soil is sufficiently densified. An ongoing field study
and synergistic laboratory study is being conducted to improve the understanding of
the mechanisms underlying the aging phenomenon and their quantitative influences on
engineering properties. An increased understanding of sand aging will lead to greater
efficiency in site improvement projects aimed at mitigating the risk of seismically
induced liquefaction.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
Support for the research presented herein came in part from the NSF grants CMMI
0530378 and CMMI 0636710. Mulzer Crushed Stone, Inc. is donating the use of its
quarry and the expertise of its employees, and Nicholson Construction is donating the
vibroflot equipment time and the expertise of its employees. Drs. Richard Woods,
Jerome P. Lynch, and Kyle Rollins provided valuable assistance in the selection of
field instrumentation and data acquisition systems. Mr. Jan Pantolin, Mr. Ayman
Ibrahim, and Capt. Theresa White, USAF, provided valuable assistance in performing
the preliminary site characterization. This support and assistance is gratefully
acknowledged
REFERENCES
Afifi, S.S. and Richart, F.E., Jr. (1973). "Stress-History Effects on Shear Modulus of
Soils." Soils and Foundations, Vol. 13(1): 77-95.
Amini, A., Howie, J.A., Woeller, D., and Beaton, N. (2002). "Effect of Ground
Improvement on CPT Response." Ground and Water: Theory to Practice, Proc.
55th Canadian Geotechnical and 3rd Joint IAH-CNC and CGS Groundwater
Specialty Conf. (D. Stolle, A.R. Piggott, and J.J. Crowder, eds.), Southern Ontario
Section of the Canadian Geotechnical Society, 827-834.
Arango, I. and Migues, R.E. (1996). "Investigation of the Seismic Liquefaction of Old
Sand Deposits." Report on Research, Bechtel Corporation, NSF Grant No. CMS94-16169, San Francisco, CA.
Arango, I., Lewis, M.R., and Kramer, C. (2000). "Updated Liquefaction Potential
Analysis Eliminates Foundation Retrofitting of Two Critical Structures." Soil
Dynamics and Earthquake Engineering, Vol. 20: 17-25.
Ashford, S.A., Rollins, K.M., and Lane, J.D. (2004a). "Blast-Induced Liquefaction for
Full-Scale Foundation Testing." J. Geotechnical & Geoenv. Engrg, Vol. 130(8):
798-806.
Ashford, S.A., Rollins, K.M., and Lane, J.D. (2004b). "Errata for Blast-Induced
Liquefaction for Full-Scale Foundation Testing." J. Geotechnical & Geoenv.
Engrg, Vol. 130(12): 1350.
Baxter, C.D.P. (1999). "An experimental study on the aging of sands," Ph.D.

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