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LUGEON TEST INTERPRETATION, REVISITED

Camilo Quiñones-Rozo, P.E.1
ABSTRACT
The Lugeon test is widely used to estimate average hydraulic conductivity of rock
masses. Interpretation methods currently available in the literature were developed at a
time when measurements were made in an analogous fashion and data was subsequently
recorded by hand at rather large intervals of time. Current technology allows measuring
and digital recording of data in real time, thus granting us an opportunity to update the
interpretation procedures for Lugeon tests. This paper provides an interpretation method
that expands the current procedures to benefit from the recent advances in data
acquisition equipment.
INTRODUCTION
The extents of grouting and cut-off depths required in a dam foundation are directly
related to the hydraulic conductivity (permeability) of the rock masses involved. In
contrast to other geotechnical parameters for which variations can usually be measured in
percentage terms (e.g., shear strength, density, compressibility, etc.), variations in
hydraulic conductivity are usually measured in terms of magnitudes (e.g., 10-2 to 10-3).
Selecting a representative value of hydraulic conductivity becomes of the outmost
importance during design; especially, since under such a wide variation range, averaging
the measured values will not suffice.
Unlike soils, where seepage takes place through a series of small, closely spaced,
interconnected pore spaces, seepage through rock masses occurs mostly along discrete
planar discontinuities (e.g., joints, foliations, shears, etc.). Thereby, whereas in soils
hydraulic conductivity is mostly controlled by the size, shape and arrangement of its
voids (Terzaghi et al., 1996), in rock masses the conductivity depends on the aperture,
spacing and infilling characteristics of its discontinuities (Goodman, 1980).
Discontinuity aperture plays a particularly important role in the hydraulic conductivity of
a rock mass. Consequently changes in the stress condition of the rock mass can produce
significant changes on its hydraulic conductivity. The existence of an interrelation
between stress and hydraulic conductivity ultimately means that accurate estimates of the
hydraulic conductivity of a rock mass can only be obtained using in-situ tests.
The Lugeon Test
The most commonly in-situ test used to estimate hydraulic conductivity of rock masses is
the Lugeon test – also called the packer test. The test, which derives its name from
Maurice Lugeon (1933), is a constant head type test that takes place in an isolated portion
1

Senior Civil/Geotechnical Engineer, URS Corporation, 1333 Broadway Suite 800, Oakland, CA 94612,
camilo_quinones-rozo@urscorp.com

Lugeon Test Interpretation

405

Lugeon test configuration Prior to the beginning of the test a maximum test pressure (PMAX) is defined. where D is equal to the minimum ground coverage – depth in the case of a vertical boring in a flat site or minimum lateral coverage in the case of a test conducted in a hillside. PMAX = D × 406 1 psi ft (1) Collaborative Management of Integrated Watersheds .of a borehole. Water at constant pressure is injected into the rock mass through a slotted pipe bounded by pneumatic packers (Figure 1). PMAX is chosen such that it does not exceed the confinement stress (σ3) expected at the depth where the test is being conducted. Figure 1. A pneumatic packer is an inflatable rubber sleeve that expands radially to seal the annulus space between the drill rods and the boring walls. As a rule of thumb. PMAX is usually established using Equation 1. thus avoiding the development of hydraulic fracturing or hydraulic jacking.

thus describing a “pressure loop”.6 x 10-4 6 x 10-4 . Condition of rock mass discontinuities associated with different Lugeon values Lugeon Range Classification <1 1-5 5-15 15-50 50-100 >100 Very Low Low Moderate Medium High Very High Hydraulic Conductivity Range (cm/sec) < 1 x 10-5 1 x 10-5 . Table 2.. L[m]. as well as the typical precision used to report these values.42 when the English units system is used (q [gal/min].1 x 10-3 > 1 x 10-3 Lugeon Test Interpretation Condition of Rock Mass Discontinuities Very tight Tight Few partly open Some open Many open Open closely spaced or voids Reporting Precision (Lugeons) <1 ±0 ±1 ±5 ± 10 >100 407 . and P [MPa]) and a value of 12. increasing the pressure in each subsequent stage until reaching PMAX.75·PMAX PMAX 0.e. Under ideal conditions (i. Table 1. Table 2 describes the conditions typically associated with different Lugeon values.50·PMAX During the execution of each stage. it is required to introduce a dimensionless factor α in Equation 2 to accommodate the use of different systems of units. which is empirically defined as the hydraulic conductivity required to achieve a flow rate of 1 liter/minute per meter of test interval under a reference water pressure equal to 1 MPa (Equation 2). average values for P and q are then used to compute the hydraulic conductivity for each stage.The test is conducted in five stages. A single stage consists of keeping a constant water pressure at the test interval for 10 minutes by pumping as much water as required. pressures are decreased following the same pressure stages used on the way up. and P [psi]). Pressure magnitudes typically used for each test stage Test Stage 1st 2nd 3rd 4th 5th Description Low Medium Maximum (peak) Medium Low Pressure Step 0. 2005). Lugeon Value = α × q P0 × L P (2) Since the Lugeon value is defined in SI units. Once PMAX is reached. both water pressure (P) and flow rate (q) values are recorded every minute. homogeneous and isotropic) one Lugeon is equivalent to 1. This factor takes a value of 1 when the SI units system is used (q [lt/min].50·PMAX 0. Subsequently.75·PMAX 0. L[ft]..6 x 10-5 6 x 10-5 . with a particular water pressure magnitude associated with each stage. The term P0 corresponds to a reference pressure equal to 1MPa or 145 psi. The hydraulic conductivity is expressed in terms of the Lugeon value. The first stage is held at a low water pressure. Table 1 shows the pressure magnitudes customarily used during the five test stages.3 x 10-5 cm/sec (Fell et al.2 x 10-4 2 x 10-4 .

Void Filling: Hydraulic conductivities decrease as the test proceeds.Once a Lugeon value has been computed for each of the five test stages. where seepage velocities are relatively small (i. and thereby increases the hydraulic conductivity. Turbulent Flow: The hydraulic conductivity of the rock mass decreases as the water pressure increases. geared towards establishing grouting requirements. less than four Lugeons). usually due to infillings wash out and/or permanent rock movements. Houlsby (1976) classified the typical behaviors observed in practice into five different groups. as follows: - - - - Laminar Flow: The hydraulic conductivity of the rock mass is independent of the water pressure employed. Houlsby proposed that representative hydraulic conductivity values should be selected based on the behavior observed in the Lugeon values computed for the different pressure stages. This behavior indicates that either: (1) water progressively fills isolated/non-persistent discontinuities. Dilatancy causes an increase in the cross sectional area available for water to flow. 408 Collaborative Management of Integrated Watersheds . thus causing a temporary dilatancy (hydro-jacking) of the fissures within the rock mass. This behavior is characteristic of rock masses observing low hydraulic conductivities. CURRENT LUGEON INTERPRETATION PRACTICE The current Lugeon interpretation practice is mainly derived from the work performed by Houlsby (1976). regardless of the changes observed in water pressure. On his work. a much greater value is recorded at the maximum pressure. Dilation: Similar hydraulic conductivities are observed at low and medium pressures. a representative value of hydraulic conductivity is selected based on the trend observed throughout the test. as well as the representative Lugeon value that should be reported for each group. regardless of the changes observed in water pressure.. however. This behavior is characteristic of rock masses exhibiting partly open to moderately wide cracks. Table 3 presents a graphic summary of the five behavior groups defined by Houlsby (1976). (2) swelling occurs in the discontinuities. as explained in the next two sections. Wash-Out: Hydraulic conductivities increase as the test proceeds. This behavior indicates that seepage induces permanent and irrecoverable damage on the rock mass. This behavior – which is sometimes also observed at medium pressures – occurs when the water pressure applied is greater than the minimum principal stress of the rock mass. or (3) fines flow slowly into the discontinuities building up a cake layer that clogs them.e.

Lugeon Test Interpretation 409 . nd th th 2 .50PMAX VOID FILLING LUGEON PATTERN 0.75PMAX REPRESENTATIVE LUGEON VALUE All Lugeon values about equal regardless of the water pressure Average of Lugeon values for all stages 5th Stage Lugeon values decrease as the water pressures increase. 5 stage) Lugeon values increase as the test proceeds.75PMAX 1st Stage 1st Stage 2nd Stage 2nd Stage 3rd Stage 3rd Stage 4th Stage 4th Stage 5th Stage 5th Stage Water Pressure. aims to update the Lugeon interpretation process to incorporate the use of current technology.00PMAX Lugeons 1. the procedure was devised at a time when discrete readings were made using dial gages at rather large intervals of time. 4 .75PMAX Lugeons 1. Either non-persistent discontinuities are progressively being filled or swelling is taking place Final Lugeon value th (5 stage) Lugeons 1.50PMAX WASH-OUT DESCRIPTION 1st Stage 2nd Stage 0. 1976) PRESSURE STAGES 1st Stage 2nd Stage 3rd Stage 3rd Stage 4th Stage th 4 Stage 5th Stage Water Pressure. Use of Automated Data Acquisition Systems Automated data acquisition systems capable of measuring. The maximum Lugeon value is observed at the stage with the maximum water pressure Lowest Lugeon value recorded. but will also facilitate interpretation in those occasions when the test does not proceed according to plan.00PMAX 1st Stage 1st Stage 2nd Stage 2nd Stage 3rd Stage 3rd Stage 4th Stage 4th Stage 5th Stage 5th Stage Water Pressure.75PMAX Lugeons 1. This equipment measures flow rate and pressure at regular intervals of time and displays the information on an LCD display (Figure 2).00PMAX PROPOSED MODIFICATION TO LUGEON INTERPRETATION PROCEDURE Despite its inherent simplicity the interpretation procedure proposed by Houlsby (1976) correctly captures the interaction between the different variables involved in the phenomena of seepage through rocks.50PMAX 0. P 0. P TURBULENT DILATION 0. The procedure proposed below. P 0. Discontinuities’ infillings are progressively washedout by the water Highest Lugeon value recorded th (5 stage) Lugeon values decrease as the test proceeds. Furthermore. P 0.00PMAX 1st Stage 1st Stage 2nd Stage 2nd Stage rd 3 Stage th 4th Stage 3 Stage rd 4 Stage 5th Stage 5th Stage Water Pressure. The minimum Lugeon value is observed at the stage with the maximum water pressure Lugeon value corresponding to the highest water rd pressure (3 stage) Lugeon values vary proportionally to the water pressures. this procedure will not only contribute to streamline the Lugeon interpretation process. P 0. displaying and recording Lugeon test and grouting data in real time have become available over the last years.50PMAX 0. corresponding either to low or medium st water pressures (1 . However.LAMINAR BEHAVIOR Table 3.00PMAX 1st Stage 1st Stage 2nd Stage 2nd Stage 3rd Stage 3rd Stage 4th Stage 4th Stage 5th Stage 5th Stage Water Pressure.50PMAX 0.75PMAX Lugeons 1. Summary of current Lugeon interpretation practice (as proposed by Houlsby.

with flow loss defined as the flow rate divided by the length of the test interval (q/L). it is proposed to analyze the Lugeon test results using the flow loss vs. pressure space The terms in the equation defining the Lugeon value (Equation 2) can be rearranged such that the flow loss (q/L) is expressed as shown below. the flow loss could be interpreted as the product of the Lugeon value and the dimensionless pressure factor ψ. then the flow loss could be ultimately expressed as shown in Equation 5. ψ= 1 P × α P0 q = Lugeon Value × ψ L (4) (5) In other words. if the results of the 410 Collaborative Management of Integrated Watersheds . Lugeon interpretation using the flow loss vs. pressure space. q 1 P = Lugeon Value × × L α P0 (3) If the product of the last two factors in Equation 3 is defined as a dimensionless pressure factor (ψ). Data acquisition equipment for real time monitoring of Lugeon tests and grouting (Photo by Atlas Copco) Since this equipment is able to measure both pressure and flow rate in real time it is possible to monitor the behavior of the Lugeon value as the test proceeds. In order to take advantage of this possibility.Figure 2. According to this interpretation.

sets of data having the same Lugeon value will plot over a straight line (Points c and d in Figure 3). For example. pressure space (q/L vs. Lugeon Test Interpretation 411 . in those cases where turbulent or dilation behaviors are observed. ψ space.g. However. Furthermore. The proposed Lugeon interpretation procedure conserves the same behavior categories proposed by Houlsby (1976). it is recommended that the Lugeon value selected corresponds to those values observed at the range of pressures expected during operation (e.15 ug eo ns 4 50 l 100 lu geon s Flow Loss. 5 3 ns eo ug l 5 2 1 eon 1 lug Pressure Factor. Interpretation of Lugeon test data in the flow loss v pressure space If a set of Lugeon values corresponding to the five stages of a test are plotted in the q/L vs. while using an approach that renders it compatible with the use of automated data acquisition systems. implying that a laminar behavior was observed. The same type of analysis can be performed for each of the behavior categories proposed by Houlsby. q/L lug eo ns Lugeon test are plotted in a flow loss vs. The choice of the representative Lugeon value for each behavior category remains essentially unchanged. after dam filling). The shape of this loop describes the behavior of the Lugeon value as the test proceeds. if all the points lie atop of a line crossing through the origin it is known that the Lugeon value remained constant throughout the test. It is expected that the use of this interpretation procedure will allow real time monitoring and interpretation of test data.. ψ). a “pressure loop” will be observed. as summarized in Table 4. and thereby can be used for interpretation purposes. ψ Figure 3. this line – which will start at the origin – will have a slope equal to the Lugeon value.

Flow Loss. 2 . 4 . q/L WASH-OUT Water Pressure. Discontinuities’ infillings are progressively washed-out by the water Highest Lugeon value th recorded (5 stage) Lugeon values decrease as the test proceeds. q/L LAMINAR 3 4 2 5 1 Flow Loss. P 3 2 1 4 5 Water Pressure. P Flow Loss. P 2 3 1 4 5 Water Pressure. The maximum Lugeon value is observed at the stage with the maximum water pressure Range of Lugeon values observed at water pressures expected during operation. P 412 Collaborative Management of Integrated Watersheds . Proposed Lugeon interpretation procedure using the flow loss vs. th or 5 stage) Lugeon values increase as the test proceeds. If water pressure expected during operation is unknown use the value corresponding to either low or medium st nd th water pressures (1 . q/L VOID FILLING Water Pressure.Table 4. Either nonpersistent discontinuities are progressively being filled or swelling is taking place Use final Lugeon value th (5 stage). pressure space WATER LOSS VS PRESSURE PATTERN BEHAVIOR DESCRIPTION REPRESENTATIVE LUGEON VALUE All Lugeon values about equal regardless of the water pressure Average of Lugeon values for all stages Lugeon values decrease as the water pressures increase. provided that presence of non-persistent discontinuities and/or occurrence of swelling is confirmed by observation of rock core. q/L DILATION 3 4 2 5 1 Flow Loss. P 4 5 3 2 1 Flow Loss. The minimum Lugeon value is observed at the stage with the maximum water pressure Range of Lugeon values observed at water pressures expected during operation. If water pressure expected during operation is unknown use the value corresponding to the medium water nd th pressure (2 or 4 stage) Lugeon values vary proportionally to the water pressures. q/L TURBULENT Water Pressure.

e. In most practical cases. the maximum Lugeon value obtained should be reported as a lower bound value (i. it assigns a lower level of reliability to these results. less than).. such analytical solutions usually require an adequate knowledge of the location of the ground water table elevation.e. In such cases. it is advisable to interpret the Lugeon data as follows: . by reporting lower and higher bound values –rather than representative values –. 1984). slope decreases as ψ increases). the assumptions used by the analytical methods do not correspond to the actual conditions of the rock mass to be studied (i.. etc).e. This suggests that the hydraulic conductivity value estimated from this test is only representative for a cylinder of rock delimited by the length of the test interval and the radius given above. pump used was not able to achieve the intended pressure at the maximum flow capacity. the maximum Lugeon value obtained should be reported as an upper bound value (i. It has been estimated that the effect of the Lugeon tests – with a test interval length of 10 feet . . However. it is usually observed that ground water elevation measurements while drilling can be artificially high due to the large amounts of water pumped into the hole to circulate the cuttings. The procedure above allows using the limited information available to gain a better understanding of the rock mass permeability.. ψ space (i. slope increases as ψ increases). Due to the spatial limitation of the Lugeon test it is not recommended to estimate the hydraulic conductivity using closed-form analytical solutions that rely on the assumption that a large portion of the rock mass is engaged during the test..If results from the test stages available describe a concave curve in the q/L vs. However. LIMITATIONS OF THE LUGEON TEST One of the main drawbacks of the Lugeon test is that only a limited volume of rock around the hole is actually affected by the test. continuous media) or the parameters required in these equations can not be Lugeon Test Interpretation 413 . As observed by Hoek and Bray (1974) many of the mathematical theories available in the literature have gone beyond the bounds of practical application. Furthermore. Although the use of well-pumping tests with observation wells can overcome this limitation (Cedergren.g. the drilling rods could not be filled.Interpretation of Lugeon data when test does not proceed according to plan In practice it is common to encounter situations where the five pressure stages required to complete a “pressure loop” can not be completed (e.e. greater than).If results from the test stages available describe a convex curve in the q/L vs. it would be advisable to ignore these data points..is restricted to an approximate radius of 30 feet around the bore hole (Bliss and Rushton. Although.e. isotropic. 1989). there are occasions where the amount of information at hand is so limited that disregarding data is not an option.. such tests are seldom conducted since they involve drilling several holes which increases the exploration cost considerably. ψ space (i. laminar flow through homogeneous.

H.. 414 Collaborative Management of Integrated Watersheds . R. A. Q. 81-91. J. Cedergren. UK. (1980). REFERENCES Bliss. (1976). New York. (1996). Routine Interpretation of the Lugeon Water-Test. Bray. New York. J. Taylor & Francis. (1933). 9. Hoek. N.readily estimated or quantified. (2005). J. Equations that can be used to automate this procedure are provided to facilitate its use with automated data acquisition systems. New York. Third Edition. Wiley & Sons. Q. D. First Edition. 17. K. Geotechnical Engineering of Dams. Mesri. This will avoid the use of elaborate closed-form analytical solutions that rely on assumptions that seldom correspond to the conditions observed in practice. E. Introduction to Rock Mechanics. Vol. pp. (1984). R. Goodman.. Rock Slope Engineering.. pp. Vol. Institute of Mining and Metallurgy. Geol. pp. Eng..Y.Y. Due to these limitations it is recommended to avoid over reliance on such analytical methods and limit their use to perform sensitivity analysis that can be used to assess the validity of the results obtained from Equation 2. G. Soil Mechanics in Engineering Practice. Bell. Houlsby. and Flow Nets. 303-313. J. SUMMARY This article presents a modification to the Lugeon interpretation procedure proposed by Houlsby (1976). 72-73. pp.. R. pressure space and interpreted based on the shape of the resulting “pressure loop”. J. Geol. Barrage et Géologie. London. London. Peck. Wiley & Sons. (1989). Under this updated procedure data corresponding to different stages of the test are plotted in the flow loss vs. J. UK. 32-34. N. Lugeon. Drainage.. Seepage.Y. MacGregor. J. Third Edition. Stapledon. The reliability of packer tests for estimating the hydraulic conductivity of aquifers. N. M. Rushton. Wiley & Sons. Fell. K.. Eng. G. (1974). P. Paris Terzaghi. Dunod. It is expected that the use of this method can contribute to focus the interpretation of hydraulic conductivity exclusively on data collected in the field.