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D Kallehave, C LeBlanc Thilsted and MA Liingaard
DONG Energy A/S, Fredericia, Denmark

Monopiles are currently the preferred concept of support structures for offshore wind turbines. However, experiences from operating offshore wind farms indicate that the current design guidelines (e.g. American Petroleum Institute (API)) under-predict the soil stiffness for large-diameter monopiles. Due to the structural
dynamic of a wind turbine, it is unconservative to both over-predict and under-predict the soil stiffness. Only
an exact prediction is conservative. The objective with this paper is to introduce an approximate method for
determining the soil stiffness of sand regarding large-diameter monopiles by modifying the initial stiffness of
the API p-y formulation. The modification introduces both a stress level and a strain level correction derived
on basis of sound theoretical considerations without introducing new empirical parameters. It has been shown
by benchmarking with full-scale measurements from Walney offshore wind farm that the modified approach
provides a more accurate determination of the total soil stiffness, although it is still under-predicted.
1. Introduction

shore wind turbines located in sand profiles in the

Walney offshore wind farm (see Figure 1) reveal an
under-prediction of the wind turbine structures fundamental frequency of ~57%. Figure 1 shows the
relative frequency deviation (fRel) being the difference between the measured and predicted frequency
relative to the predicted frequency. Each dot represents a 10min average measured value in the period
15 August 2011 to 26 September 2011. The measured frequencies are seen to drop slightly at high
wind speeds, which is most likely due to an increased load cycle amplitude at such wind speeds.

The p-y curves evolved primarily from research in

the oil and gas industry, as the demand for large
pile-supported offshore structures increased during
the 1970s and 1980s. Research has included testing
of full-sized piles in sand under both static and cyclic loading conditions. The p-y curves for piles in
sand described by Reese et al. (1974) and ONeill
and Murchison (1983) led to recommendations in
the American Petroleum Institute (API) standards
for oil and gas installations (2011). In 2004 these
recommendations were adopted in the Det Norske
Veritas (DNV) standard (2004), which represents the
current state of the art for design of monopiles in the
offshore wind industry. The p-y curves for piles in
sand were developed based on full-scale load tests
on long, slender and flexible piles with a diameter of
0.61m (Reese et al., 1974). In addition, they have
been widely applied to relatively shorter and stiffer
piles with diameters up to 6.0m in the offshore wind
turbine industry.

Under most circumstances and particularly for static

structures, under-predicting the stiffness is conservative. However, because of the structural dynamic of
a wind turbine, both over-predicting and underpredicting the soil stiffness is unconservative. Only
an exact prediction is conservative. It must be emphasised that the p-y curves have never been developed with the objective to accurately predict the soil
stiffness for large-diameter piles.
The objective of this paper is therefore to present
modifications to the current p-y curves that result in
a better prediction of the soil stiffness. From a commercial point of view, under-predicting the soil
stiffness increases uncertainties, adds additional but
unnecessary costs to the industry and decreases the
feasibility of the monopile foundation. Moreover, in
the worst case it could have a negative influence on
the structural lifetime.

The impacts of applying p-y curves empirically developed outside the verified range can now be observed. Nacelle measurements from DONG Energys offshore wind turbines show that the fundamental frequencies are much higher than bestestimate predictions using the API p-y formulation
for piles in sand. This may be due to an underprediction of the soil stiffness. For example, fullscale measurements for three randomly chosen off-


where A = 0.9 is a factor to account for cyclic loading; k is the initial modulus of sub-grade reaction according to Reese et al. (1974); z is the depth; and pu
is the modified ultimate soil resistance, according to
Bogard and Matlock (1980). It is given by:


where c1, c2 and c3 are factors depending on the internal friction angle of the sand; D is the diameter of
the pile; and is the effective soil weight. In the current formulation, the initial slope of the p-y curve is
assumed to be:


The tangent hyperbolic shape of the p-y formulation

was first suggested by Parker and Reese (1970) as
the best fit of p-y curves to be described as a continuous function providing a smooth transition between the initial slope of the curve and the ultimate
soil resistance. This shape then assumes that the degradation of stiffness as a function of increasing deformation can be represented by the tangent hyperbolic function. In addition, it can be assumed that the
shape of the curve is scaled mainly through the ultimate soil resistance.
ONeill and Murchison (1983) show that the currently applied method is a best estimate after reviewing a database of full-scale load tests with diameters
in the range of 51mm to 1.22m. They concluded that
it could not reasonably be expected to under-predict
static pile-head displacement by more than about
70%, or static maximum moment by more than
about 20%, although over-predictions in both cases
can be higher. Over-predicting the pile-head displacement is equivalent to under-predicting the soil
stiffness and would result in an under-prediction of
the fundamental frequency of the wind turbine structure, as shown in Figure 1.
The API p-y curves for two different pile diameters
is shown in Figure 2. They are D = 0.61m, which is
equivalent to the pile diameter in the Mustang Island
tests reported by Reese et al. (1974), and D = 6m,
which is a typical pile diameter for offshore wind
turbine monopile foundations. The p-y curves are
shown plotted for a depth of 8m and for an internal
friction angle of 39 equivalent to the Mustang Island test site. The considerations shown in Equations
2 and 3 are directly observed in the figure.

Figure 1: Relative frequency deviations from three offshore

wind turbines in the Walney offshore wind farm

2. Review of the API p-y formulation

The API p-y formulation for piles in sand (API,
2011), are based upon the recommendations from
ONeill and Murchison (1983) and Reese et al.
(1974). The lateral soil resistance (p) as a function of
the lateral deflection (y) are then assumed as:

2.1 Governing parameters

A review of input parameters and the chosen shape of
the API p-y curve is needed to identify short-comings
that could potentially explain why a larger soil stiffness is observed for large diameter piles, as shown in
Figure 1. The governing parameters are the ultimate
soil resistance, the initial modulus of subgrade reac-



proximately two times steeper for a 6m-diameter

pile than a 0.61m diameter pile for a deformation
level of 1mm. It is easily observed form Figure 2
that the API p-y formulation do not properly account
for changes in strain levels in the soil as a result of
diameter variations.

tion, the initial stiffness distribution with depth and

finally the representation of the strain level.

Figure 2: The p-y curves for piles in sand: (solid line)

D = 0.61m and (dashed line) D = 6m, with z = 8m

2.1.1 Ultimate soil resistance

Considering the ultimate soil resistance obtained
from Equation 2, the expression represents the failure mode of shallow and deep soil layers. It is also a
slight simplification of the ultimate soil resistance by
Reese et al. (1974), which used large efforts to derive a rigorous theoretical basis for ultimate soil resistance. This basis accounts for the pile diameter,
and it is currently assumed to be equally applicable
to large-diameter piles. The formulations were
adopted by API and have long, proven track records
from the oil and gas industry. Thus, in respect of ultimate soil resistance, the formulation by Reese et al.
(1974) is considered adequate in this paper for the
design of large-diameter piles, although they might
turn out to be over-conservative.

Figure 3: Degradation of shear modulus as a function of shear

strain: (hollow markers) D = 0.61m; (solid markers) D = 6m;
() y = 0.02mm; () y = 1mm; () y = 5mm

The concept of considering the strain level in the soil

is supported by the diameter effects included in the
p-y formulation for piles in clay (Stevens and Audibert, 1979). Stevens and Audibert recasted existing
p-y formulations for piles in clay with a dependency
on pile diameter. After reviewing a broader database
of load tests, including large-diameter piles, they
were able to derive an expression for the initial p-y
slope increasing with the square root of pile diameter. Later research has revealed that a gradual transition between the modulus reduction behaviour of
sand and clay (e.g. Ishibashi and Zhang (1993) supporting that a formulation similar to that of Stevens
and Audibert) could potentially be equally applicable for piles in sand.

2.1.2 Effects of strain level

First, a lateral depth related to the diameter of the
pile, in which strains are mobilised as, for example,
the concept in Terzaghi (1955) of bulb of pressure,
is assumed. The average shear strain () mobilised
for a lateral pile movement (y) in the soil around the
pile are given by Kagawa and Kraft (1980), after
Matlock (1970):

2.1.3 Initial sub-grade reaction modulus

The applied initial sub-grade reaction modulus (k) is
obtained from Meyer and Reese (1979) and is directly evaluated from Reese et al. (1974). The initial
sub-grade reaction modulus is defined from the theory of linear elasticity (Terzaghi, 1955). Therefore,
when considering the behaviour of sand, it is applicable for very small strain levels (<105). This suggests that in general the initial sub-grade reaction
modulus should be applied when determining the
initial slope of the p-y curve. As shown in Figure 3,
the soil modulus is already affected for deformations
larger than 0.02mm for the Mustang Island test setup
and reduced to ~50% for a deflection of 1mm. A linearisation of this part of the curve would therefore
seem logical, although it would result in k being a


where is Poissons ratio. By keeping y constant, it

then follows that the shear strain decreases as the diameter increases. Decreased shear strains yield an
increase of soil shear modulus, which will effectively increase the p-y stiffness as the diameter increases. This is shown in Figure 3 following the
stiffness degradation approach given in Khouri
(1984). The markers illustrate the concept for lateral
deformations for a 0.61m and a 6m diameter pile, respectively. Following the results of Figure 3, the
slope of the p-y curve should theoretically be ap467

It is the opinion of the authors that k should be considered as the initial modulus of sub-grade reaction
and hence a constant. However, the soil modulus
should be evaluated based on the correct strain level.
It is therefore questionable if the API p-y formulation
is the best estimate for evaluating deformations of
large-diameter piles when the choice of the shape of
the curve and n depends on a particular deflected
shape of the pile.

function of a specific strain level. In this paper, the

initial sub-grade reaction modulus is not investigated
even though it could be subjected to variations not
accounted for in the API approach. In general an in
situ evaluation of k would yield more accurate results.
2.1.4 Initial stiffness profile
The current p-y formulation assumes the initial stiffness to increase linearly with depth, however, as is
well recognised for sand, the response is governed
by the isotropic stress level. A common attempt to
account for the influence of isotropic stress level can
be made by expressing the soil modulus (E) as:

3. Suggestions for Modifications

Based on this review of the governing parameters, the
API p-y formulation seems to provide a poor representation of the small strain stiffness variation with
depth and the rate of stiffness degradation with increasing shear strain. Considering the behaviour of
other geotechnical structures, Clayton (2011) analysed the deformation of a retaining wall by a range
of constitutive models. He concluded that high initial
stiffness, coupled with stiffness degradation with increasing strain, is needed to mimic the pattern of observed ground surface movements for structures that
take the soil to intermediate strain levels. Clayton also
states that predicted displacement patterns are sensitive to most parameters, including very small strain
stiffness, rate of stiffness degradation, and anisotropy.


where is the effective stress level; the value of

is a reference soil modulus; and

is a reference
effective stress level for which . This formulation is equally applicable to the shear modulus of
the sand (G).
Much research has been carried out to determine the
variation of the small strain soil moduli E and G as a
function of the confining pressure. Hertz (1881)
found that n = 0.33 for uniform spheres by applying
contact theory, and Goddard (1990) reported n = 0.5
for conical asperities. Based on measurements on real
soil Hardin and Richart (1963), Hardin and Black
(1968) and Drnevich and Richart (1970) all suggested
applying n = 0.5 as a representative value. Considering the range of values reported in the literature, Hryciw and Thomann (1993) reported values of n ranging
from 0.39 to 0.72 based on bender element tests on
various sands. Wichtmann and Triantafyllidis (2009)
carried out 163 resonant column tests on 25 different
grain size distributions of quartz sand with subangular grain shape. They found n ranging from 0.41
to 0.58, increasing with decreasing uniformity of the
sand grains. Furthermore, Wroth et al. (1979) reported values of n to vary from 0.435 at very small
strains, to 0.765 at very large strains.

A need for modification of particularly the small

strain stiffness variation with depth and the rate of
stiffness degradation with increasing shear strain
could be justified to obtain a more accurate determination of the soil stiffness for large-diameter piles.
This justification could be based on the strain levels
observed in Figure 3 and the fact that the API approach has been fitted to a particular deformation
shape (Parker and Reese, 1970). As a matter of
choice, it is proposed to maintain the overall format
of the API p-y formulation, but include an isotropic
stress level correction for the small strain soil
modulus. In addition, a strain level correction is to
be included to account for the rate of stiffness degradation with increasing strain in the formulation of
the initial stiffness. The proposed modifications take
their set-point from the Mustang Island tests (Reese
et al., 1974).
3.1 Depth effects
On basis of fundamental behaviour of sand, and using
that is approximately proportional to z, it is reasonable to assume that the formulation could be
extended to account for the effective stress level by:

Parker and Reese (1970) discussed the representation of the initial stiffness of the p-y curve in a format equivalent to Equation 5. They concluded that
for a realistic problem, k and n may not be constants,
but may be functions of a number of parameters, one
of which is the deflection of the pile. Since the variation in soil modulus with depth may be approximated by a straight line for a particular deflected
shape, the use of Equation 3 as a computational
technique is valid.



where is a reference depth identified from the

original formulation and n is a site specific parameter expected to be in the range of 0.40.7.


where D0 is a reference diameter that is equal to the

pile diameter used to derive the original formulation

D0 = 0.61m; is the initial soil stiffness; and m is

a diameter exponent. Stevens and Audibert suggest
applying m = 0.5 for clay. Tabulated values for m(y)
have been included in Table 1 for realistic values of
y after the stiffness degradation approach by Khouri
(1984) and for a pile diameter of 6m.

The deflections in the Mustang Island tests (Reese et

al., 1974) were primarily in the upper 5m (200
inches) of the soil, and the moment peak was ~2.5m
(100 inches) below the seabed. Thus, if = 2.5m is
used, then the modified formulation should remain
consistent with the Mustang Island tests. This modification causes a slightly higher stiffness above z =
2.5m and a slightly lower stiffness below z = 2.5m.
The curves fitted for the Mustang Island tests in
Reese et al. (1974) are reproduced in Figures 4 and
5. It is seen that the measured moment peaks were
actually above the predicted moment peaks. This
supports the conclusion that the soil stiffness must
have been higher above =2.5m and lower below z
= 2.5m. While this correction may have a small effect on the Mustang Island results, the effective
stress correction is important when scaling to larger
and stiffer piles, where layers of higher stress level
are mobilised.

Table 1: Diameter exponent for varying lateral displacement

y [mm]











Due to the nonlinear formulation of the stiffness

degradation, m is a function of the deformation
shape of the pile. Therefore, the highest values of m
are applied for the top soil layers in which the pile
deformations are largest, and conversely, the smaller
values are applied for lower soil layers. However, as
a first approximation a constant value of m is assumed. By choosing m = 0.5, the stiffness of the top
soil layers will be under-predicted while the stiffness
of the lower layers will be over-predicted. It is therefore estimated that this will be a representative value
when evaluating the total soil stiffness.
3.3 Modified formulation
A modified formulation of the initial stiffness of the
p-y curve therefore applies. Combining Equations 6
and 7 gives:

Figure 4: Static Mustang Island test (Reese et al., 1974)

For completeness, the unmodified API p-y curve illustrated in Figure 2 is reproduced and plotted together with the modified p-y curves in Figure 7.
They are plotted in a depth of 8m, which is below
the reference depth. Hence the initial stiffness of the
p-y curve for the D = 0.61m pile decreases, whereas
the initial stiffness of the D = 6m pile increases. Applying Equation 8 instead of Equation 3 is therefore
expected to give a more accurate evaluation of the
soil stiffness, and hence the fundamental frequency
of wind turbine structures supported by monopile

3.2 Strain level effects

The approach by Stevens and Audibert (1979) suggest the diameter to be included in the formulation as:


where D0 = 0.61m and z0= 2.5m to ensure that the

formulation is consistent with the Mustang Island
tests. The modified formulation accounting both for
strain and stress level dependency is illustrated in
Figure 6 for a pile with D = 6m, together with the
individual contributions to the modified stiffness.
The figure is plotted for m = 0.6, as this value has
been used in the benchmark study in section 4.

Figure 5: Cyclic Mustang Island test (Reese et al., 1974)



cal parameters. It has been found that the proposed

modifications provide a better prediction of the fundamental frequency, although they have only been
verified for structures within one wind farm.

Figure 6: Modified p-y stiffness with D = 6m: (Solid thin line)

Equation 3; (dotted-dashed line) Equation 6; (dashed line)
Equation 7; (thick solid line) Equation 8, m = 0.6.

Figure 7: The p-y curves for piles in sand: (solid lines) D =

0.61m; (dashed lines) D = 6m and X= 8m; (thin lines) unmodified API p-y curve; (thick lines) modified API p-y curve

3.4 Benchmark study of full-scale measurements

To validate Equation 8, the modification of the API
p-y formulation has been benchmarked against fullscale measurements from the same three wind turbines in the Walney offshore wind farm (see Figure
1). The results are shown in Figure 8 assuming m =
0.6. In general, the modified p-y formulation gives a
better prediction of the fundamental frequency and
hence the total soil stiffness, although it still underestimates the fundamental frequency with ~24%.
Based on the current level of knowledge, it is unwise
to assign the evaluated effects in the modified approach higher importance. More detailed analysis
and in situ measurements are needed to determine
and understand the complexity in the results and the
effects causing the remaining stiffness.

Figure 8: Benchmark of modified p-y formulation using

Equation 8 with full-scale measurements

A site-specific evaluation of the governing parameters k, m and n might therefore be required when
considering other structures. The current tuning has
only been made considering the total soil stiffness
and a constant strain level correction has been as-

3. Discussion and Future Works

The proposed modifications to the API p-y formulation have been derived on basis of theoretical considerations without the introduction of new empiri470

sumed. However, it should be noted that a strain

level correction depending on the deflection of the
pile would be more accurate. The resultant p-y
curves have not been compared to experimental determined p-y curves for large-diameter piles. This is
necessary to increase robustness of the proposed
modification. Therefore it is only recommended to
extend the formulation to other sites if more detailed
investigations and site-specific parameters are taken
into account.

During periods with high mean wind speed, a decrease of the fundamental frequency is observed. As
soon as the wind speed decreases, the fundamental
frequency increases to the same value as previously
observed for similar wind speed. This is expected to
be directly related to the variations of soil stiffness.
Based on this consideration and the current level of
knowledge, degradation of soil stiffness has not been
Therefore, the proposed modifications of the API py formulation provide a more accurate yet conservative approach in the determination of the total soil
stiffness than the unmodified approach. It is also believed that the soil stiffness will not degrade with
time. This hypothesis will need to be verified by
longer data records.

The results presented in Figures 1 and 8 only covers

a period of one and a half months within the first
years of the Walney offshore wind farm lifetime. It
could therefore easily be argued that the fundamental frequency of the wind turbine structures would
decrease over time due to cyclic degradation of the
soil. This is why application of a stiffer soil response
should only be done with great caution. Although
based on a five-month long record of the fundamental frequency for more wind turbines and corresponding wind speeds, it has been found that variations in the fundamental frequency are due to
variations in the wind speed, as illustrated in Figure

4. Conclusion
The current API p-y formulation was found to significantly underestimate the stiffness of sand. An attempt was made to derive corrections to the initial
stiffness of the API p-y curve by adding both a
stress-level and a diameter correction. These corrections were derived on basis of sound theoretical considerations without the introduction of new empirical parameters.
The modified p-y formulations were benchmarked
against three randomly chosen wind turbine structures on the Walney offshore wind farm. Measurements of the fundamental frequency showed that
they provide a better estimate of the total soil stiffness, although the best-estimate fundamental frequency still under-predicts the actual frequency of
the structures.
Benchmarking with full-scale measurements for
large-diameter piles is found to be the best approach
for a possible reformulation of the currently applied
API p-y formulation. However, the proposed modifications must be benchmarked with full-scale
measurements from structures within more offshore
wind farms. In addition, the theoretical p-y curves
must be compared with experimental p-y curves obtained from large-diameter piles before a complete
and rigorous p-y formulation can be obtained. Nevertheless, it is a fact that the actual soil stiffness is
under-predicted by the actual approach and that the
modified formulation provides a better prediction of
the measured fundamental frequency of the structures.
Finally, long-term effects were considered based on
the currently available data covering a five-month
period. It was concluded that the soil stiffness is not
expected to degrade over time, although longer timeseries is needed to verify this.

Figure 9: (Top) Evaluation of long-term variation of the relative 1hr average fundamental frequency for one offshore wind
turbine; (bottom) corresponding wind speed


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