You are on page 1of 18

Downloaded from http://qjegh.lyellcollection.

org/ by Tint Lwin Swe on February 1, 2017

The role of rock mechanics

in the reconnaissance
of rock foundations

1. Introduction
THE GEOLOGIST and the engineer are both faced with specific difficulties when they
attempt to forecast the behaviour of a large rock mass. All the difficulties come from the
fact that a rock mass is always crossed by a number of joints, or cracks, or fractures, or
shear faults. In addition, these discontinuities are often open due to stress relief near the
free surface of the mass. Knowledge of the mechanics of a discontinuous medium is still
new and so rock testing cannot be considered to have any rigorous theoretical basis and,
despite the considerable increase in the number and diversity of tests made over recent
years, progress has been rather uncoordinated. Some trends, however, are noticeable in
the approach used by practitioners, mainly dam designers. In the past the engineer or the
geologist faced with the decision of building or not building a dam on a given rock site
was asked to guess its future behaviour. There was a temptation to display a gift of
divination. More and more engineers however refuse to gamble or to make believe that
they are especially gifted and instead they use rock mechanics. In other words, the time
has come when not only experts are consulted but the rock itself.

2. Geological description
Validity o f tests. The rock mass takes the form of an assemblage of blocks with a very low
void ratio (Fig. 1). The surfaces of separation are called major discontinuities to distinguish
them from fine cracks in the rock material. Fine cracks affect the behaviour of individual
blocks, but not that of the mass as a whole as at this level the major discontinuities are
the decisive factor. This distinction allows us to estimate the significance of specific tests
according to the volume of rock involved as compared with the size of the blocks.
As a rule, laboratory tests on small samples are valid for studying the properties of the
rock material whereas in situ tests are needed to investigate the behaviour of the mass.
It should, however, be noted that considerations of a purely geological nature often
give much greater weight to the tests on the material because, in many cases, fine cracks
and large fractures have the same origin, usually of a tectonic nature, so that the material
can be considered as a faithful small-scale reproduction of the entire mass, at least as

Pierre Londe, Ingenieur Civil des Ponts et Chaussees, M.LC.E., F.A.S.C.E., Coyne & Bellier, Bureau
d'lngenieurs Conseils, Paris.
The following three papers were given as lectures arranged by the University of London in its series of
Special University Lectures in Mining and Metallurgy at the Imperial College of Science and Technology
in May 1971. The general title of the lectures was "The mechanics of rock slopes and foundations".
Q. Jl Engng Geol. Vol. 6, 1973, pp. 57-74, 31 figs. Printed in Great Britain.
Downloaded from by Tint Lwin Swe on February 1, 2017

P. Londe

FIG. 1.

FIG. 2.

Downloaded from by Tint Lwin Swe on February 1, 2017

Reconnaissance of rock foundations

regards the basic features of its behaviour. The geologist has therefore to describe clearly
and thoroughly the whole pattern of the discontinuities. It is a difficult task owing to the
three-dimensional nature of the data and the large number of parameters, yet it is essen-
tial for the maps or graphs to be readily understandable, to be accurate and to show at a
glance the numerical value of the parameters which will be used by the engineer. Polar
diagrams (Fig. 2) are usually used to plot the orientation of fractures. It is much less easy
to show the spacing of the various families of discontinuity, their extension, their width
and the nature of their infilling.
What is needed is some equivalent of the grading curve of soils, although the problem is
complicated by the fact that many parameters come into the picture. Our engineering
geologist, B. Schneider, has proposed the following solution (Fig. 3). All observed
discontinuities are classified in distinct populations as microfissures, fissures, joints,
shear planes and faults whose spacing is measured by suitable means varying from
microscopic examination to aerial photography. The results of the statistical analysis of
these data are compiled as histograms to compute the coefficient of variation for each
series of discontinuities. Using a grid of the type shown in Fig. 4, each category is then
drawn as a rectangle whose height denotes the range of spacing and whose width is
proportional to the coefficient of variation. The range of validity of the methods of testing
is shown on the right hand side.
This method provides the engineer with comprehensive diagrams characteristic of a
given site. Their main value is that they permit comparison of the structure of different
sites and assessment of the validity of any tests that might be made in terms of the geologi-
cal structure.

3. Scale effect
The measured results of tests are affected by the volume of the samples tested. Figure 5
shows histograms of unconfined compression tests made on samples of increasing size.
As the size of sample increases the arithmetic mean of measured strengths decreases
together with the scatter of the results. This property is characteristic of discontinuous
bodies. Figure 6 illustrates the reasons for this: small samples might either contain no
cracks or have a crack running from one side to the other, which means a high mean
value and high scatter; larger samples will certainly be crossed by at least one crack which
means a low mean value and low scatter.
The relationship between scale effect and cracking has been studied from the results of
triaxial tests with high confining pressure made in one of the triaxial cells at the Labora-
toire de M6canique des Solides at the Ecole Polytechnique (Fig. 7). There is a well-
marked scale effect on tensile strength as measured by Brasilian tests which disappears
completely in triaxial tests at 1000 bar confining pressure owing to the increase of shear
resistance of fractures under compression. At high confining pressure the discontinuous
medium behaves nearly like a continuous one.
Should the scale effect be considered an inherent limitation to the validity of rock
mechanics testing because the tests involve an extremely small proportion of rock masses
of the size of the abutments of large dams ? The answer is no because the important thing
is to know the failure mechanisms which are a priori possible. When these are clearly
realized, the engineer can measure the parameters which have the greatest influence while
making certain that the values stay on the side of safety.
Downloaded from by Tint Lwin Swe on February 1, 2017

P. Londe

S{sFIoUO ,(r

enb!ws!s e l!&,ed

I ...... s)1oo('
= OU!|Se; ~SO|OJOq07

t -_ aO!lS u!q.L
~lno..,I 1
II )

uo Jnss!:l.
s;)!Hnu!iuoo s!p o Jo!IN

(.9 .,.. 0 0 -- -- E " 0

z - o - o - o 6


Downloaded from by Tint Lwin Swe on February 1, 2017

M = 1260 bars
CT= 3 0 0 bars
.5 M~-= 0.24

R,c .bar
" ;i~/~
i~t 200 600 1.000 1400 1800 2200


FIG. 6.

M 9 900bars

ET= 240 bars

~ =0.27
200 600 I000 1400 laO0

FIG. 5


: ~ O=A.

| ..
50 -- " "o

I I I I , I I OIA-'mm
0 ~0 ZO 30 40 5O 60 70

9 9 LI ' Lx LI

FIG. 8.

,o~- ~ ~.p~. ,o~

Vm I I I ,9 ~__
o 5o ~ 1oo 15o~ ~o-4
Downloaded from by Tint Lwin Swe on February 1, 2017

P. Londe

All tests currently made to investigate the stress pattern and strength of a discontinuous
medium point to the interface friction angle as the decisive factor. If an attempt is made
to analyze the general concept of the strength of a material in terms of cohesion and
friction, both reasoning and experiment lead to the conclusion that strength due to
cohesion decreases with size and strength relying on friction on the planes of separation is
not subject to scale effect. The reasoning behind this can only be schematic. Figure 8 is a
diagram of the risks involved in sampling when making shear-tests of a discontinuity
where bonding between the walls introduces some cohesion into the overall shear strength
value. This cohesion is designated by T*; it is a function of the location of the sample.
The term m is used to denote the arithmetic mean of the values of ~* derived from a series
of measurements in which scatter is characterized by the coefficient of variation tr/rn. The
value of r*max/m can be calculated for a sample of large size containing a number of
elementary samples sheared simultaneously using one of two assumptions:
(a) that the walls are sufficiently deformable for the shearing stress to be uniformly
distributed over all the elementary samples (Fig. 9, curve I), or
(b) that the walls are rigid and the stiffest samples are subjected to the greatest
stress (curve II).
The actual state of stress lies somewhere between these two extremes. It should be noted
that the scale effect on cohesion becomes more important as the scatter on test results
increases. The cohesion values measured by tests on rocks are generally very scattered
(Fig. 10) so that it would be unwise to include the cohesion found in samples in the
stability calculations of a large rock mass. On the other hand, where failure depends only
on friction, the scale effect can only increase the strength of the larger samples because if
it is assumed that the normal stress distribution is more or less uniform over the whole
area sheared, the strength will be governed by those elements where the friction angle is
highest. Moreover, shear tests show that ultimate strength values (due to friction only)
generally exhibit very little scatter. It seems then justified to take for the stability analysis a
friction value equal to the mean of the observed results.
With regard to experimental confirmation of this theory, there are the results (Fig. 11)
of shear tests on joints in limestone with fairly high cohesion (samples were 80 mm and
300 mm diameter). This figure is very striking. The scatter is much higher on peak strength
(triangles) than on ultimate strength (circles). With larger sample size, peak strength
(mainly cohesion) falls sharply, whereas ultimate resistance (friction only) is slightly
increased. Scale effect is therefore no obstacle to the development of testing in rock
mechanics. It merely defines the role of each type of test and its field of validity, whether
it be a laboratory or in situ test. It is of course very difficult to make a clear distinction
between the respective domains of laboratory and in situ testing. For instance, when
investigating the friction angle of major discontinuities, laboratory tests on large enough
samples can show good agreement with in situ tests and the laboratory tests are, of course,
much quicker to perform and less costly.
This was checked on a clayey joint in limestone rock studied both in the laboratory on
25 cm diameter cores, 50 cm long and in situ where a 4.4 m 2 area was sheared. The
laboratory shear rig is shown in Figs. I2 and 13. It is a direct shear machine with normal
load adjustable up to 50 tons maximum and shearing load up to 50 tons. The strain rate
can be adjusted from 1 mm/min to 1 micron/min. Figure 14 compares the results obtained
with this machine on samples with a moisture content below saturation (to prevent pore
Downloaded from by Tint Lwin Swe on February 1, 2017

FIG. 9. Fro. 10.

Fro. I 1.
Downloaded from by Tint Lwin Swe on February 1, 2017
Downloaded from by Tint Lwin Swe on February 1, 2017

Reconnaissance of rock foundations

pressures appearing) and the results of in situ tests, and it can be seen that there is excellent
agreement between the friction angles (ultimate resistance) found by both methods.

4. Special samples
The job of cutting samples can be difficult when it is imperative to have them undisturbed,
for example when they are to be used for the measurement of the shearing strength of a
joint. In certain cases, diamond coring along the joint plane can give excellent results
(Fig. 15) but if the material filling the joint has little cohesion, or if the rock is brittle, the
sample breaks up in the core barrel and more elaborate methods of sampling must be
When the strength of a clay-filled joint in a fissured limestone had to be studied, a
method of cutting out a block using a wiresaw was developed. The principle of the
method is as follows (Fig. 16): four slightly converging 120 mm diameter holes are drilled
about 1 m deep on either side of and parallel to the joint plane. These form the edges of
the long sides of the rectangular block to be extracted. Two tubes with small pulleys lying
in their diametric plane are fitted into two of the holes. Their position can be adjusted with
screw jacks. The running steel cable passes between the two pulleys and is looped over
larger pulleys taking it to the drive and straining device. The abrasive, carborundum, is
thrown onto the cable by a water jet. As the tubes with their pulleys are forced into the
holes, the cable cuts a slot forming one of the walls of the block. This operation is repeated
for the sides and top. To cut the two remaining faces, i.e. the back and base, the two tubes
with their pulleys are introduced into the two lower holes, and the cable is slid through
the side and top slots already cut and passed over the back face of the block. The cable is
tensioned quite strongly and cuts the back as it descends. Once the rear face is completely

FIG. 14. FIo. 15.

Downloaded from by Tint Lwin Swe on February 1, 2017

P. Londe

freed, the small pulleys are turned parallel to the joint plane and slowly withdrawn to cut
the base of the block. As the cable is withdrawn, chocks are placed under the block to
prevent it breaking under its own weight. Once this operation is completed, the block is
free on all sides. It has at no time been subjected to shocks or strains liable to disturb the
Although this method is free from shocks and vibrations, splinters of rock may slip
into the slots when the joint walls are very friable and thus hamper the introduction of the
cable to cut the back face. The lateral faces must in this case be cut by line drilling and
the saw is used only for the base and rear face (Fig. 17).
Figure 18 shows the process being used in an adit.

5. In situ tests
If the deformation characteristics of the rock abutments of dams have to be ascertained,
it is not primarily to find numerical values for the structural analysis. The stress distribu-
tion in an arch dam, for example, is much less sensitive to deformation from one point to
another. Deformation, like strength, is subject to scale effect. On the other hand, different
zones of the abutments can be usefully compared by stressing them far below their ulti-
mate strength. The results of deformation tests can also be used to compare various sites,
and it is exactly in so far as such tests are indicative of the fractured state of the rock
mass that they are most valuable.

FIG. 16. F1G. 17.

Downloaded from by Tint Lwin Swe on February 1, 2017

Reconnaissance of rock foundations

The rock can be stressed either by applying static forces (the various kinds of jacking
tests) or dynamic loads (seismic methods).
Jacking Tests. The plate bearing test, which originated in Algeria in the thirties, was one
of the first rock mechanics tests and considerable experience has been acquired in its use
(Fig. 19). In recent years, however, other means of loading the rock have appeared, parti-
cularly the borehole dilatometers which have several advantages.
Borehole Dilatometers. Measurements made in boreholes mean that the rock mass can be
investigated without having to drive the adits required for jacking tests. In addition,
diamond core drilling disturbs the natural stress pattern much less than blasting. There are
now several types of dilatometer, and they can be classified in two groups:
(a) Rigid dilatometers such as the C.E.B.T.P. type (Fig. 20). Hydraulic jacks splay
two half-cylinders bearing on two opposed sides of the hole. The distance
between them is measured. Theoretical analyses show that the concentration
of the stresses does not in practice affect the overall results of the test.
(b) Flexible dilatometers, such as the Mederatec E.D.F. (Fig. 21).A uniform radial
pressure of up to 200 bars is applied in a section of borehole by a rubber mem-
brane. Strains are measured at the central section of the instrument in three
directions at 120 ~ which is a simple way of studying the anisotropy of the rock.
The membrane is 800 mm long and is used in 165 mm diameter boreholes. A
relatively large volume of rock is thus loaded, in the region of 4 cubic metres.
Seismic Measurements. Seismic methods are usually restricted to geological investigations
to determine the geometry of the contacts between different rocks or the thickness of
weathered surface zones. They can, nevertheless, be used for more mechanically oriented
investigations, and one method is the petite sismique (Fig. 28). Measurements are taken
over fairly short bases, about 50 m long, so as to concentrate the study on homogeneous
parts of the exposure, free from major faults or joints. The propagation of the transverse
waves (shear waves) is observed. These waves are more affected by the fracturing of the
rock mass than the longitudinal waves.
The receiver (a geophone) is fixed and the transmitter (a hammer falling from a con-
stant height) is moved along predetermined lines on outcrops or in adits. All the data
obtained at a site are plotted on graphs (Fig. 22) to show:
(a) the propagation of velocities of the transverse waves; the curve shows some
scatter inside a fairly wide band,
(b) the attenuation or energy loss of the wave; the scale is arbitrary; here it is the
graduation of the receiver potentiometer; once again, results are scattered, and
(c) the wave length of the first transverse wave received, whose distribution is

The operator also judges the quality of the signal received (its pitch, tone and duration)
by ear. This method is an extension of the geologist striking the rock with his hammer,
but on a much wider scale. The rock is also tested with a sclerometer.
The study of some thirty sites has shown that the parameters taken together give a very
instructive picture of the structure of the rock mass. Without going into details of inter-
pretation, the results are summed up in Table 1.
Downloaded from by Tint Lwin Swe on February 1, 2017

P. Londe

Results of deformability tests. Not too much attention should be paid to the various moduli
of deformation deduced from tests, either static or dynamic. Moreover, the moduli are
always calculated on the basis of theories which are valid for the elastic phase of a con-
tinuum, whereas these assumptions are usually far removed from the actual state of affairs
in a fissured rock mass.
It seems that the most interesting points to be studied by jacking tests are the following
(Fig. 23):
(a) the ratio Co/Ca of the deform-
ation slopes observed at the peak for

FIo. 18. FIo. 20.

FIG. 19. FIG. 21.

Downloaded from by Tint Lwin Swe on February 1, 2017

Reconnaissance of rock foundations


Properties of the rock mass Corresponding seismic characteristics

Non-homogeneous Scatter of velocities, energy loss and wave length
Weathered, superficial High attenuation at origin, low velocities at origin
Jointed and decompressed High attenuation
Compact Slight attenuation
Hard rock matrix with High sclerometric values, low velocities and slight attenuation
discontinuous fracturing
(e.g. hard beds)
Weathered matrix with finely Long wave length, long clear note
cracked structure

loading Cc a n d u n l o a d i n g Ca. W a l s h (1965) has s h o w n in the l a b o r a t o r y

that this m e a s u r e m e n t o f the hysteresis, due to friction along the discontinuities,
increases with the n u m b e r o f discontinuities.

FIo. 22.
Downloaded from by Tint Lwin Swe on February 1, 2017

P. Londe
(b) the ratio CJC of the global deformation slope Cg and the deformation slope C
under increasing load, which is linked with the width of fractures.
(c) the coefficient of permanent deformation Cp which represents the extent of
non-elastic behaviour.
Turning to dynamic tests, it is worth noting that the attenuation (loss of energy) is
linked with the intensity of fracturing and that the natural frequency of the rock mass


F[O. 23.


Cg =
Pz - P I

C = XF _ X <
P(s _ P~x

Cp = R MAX.



, ~

FIG. '24.

= VT
~ /el4 'AT
/ ,2
50000 I~060g O?

T FREQUENCY (cycle per second)
; 3100 400 500 600 ~-~

Downloaded from by Tint Lwin Swe on February 1, 2017

Reconnaissance of rock foundations

(wave length) gives an indication of the average spacing of the discontinuities. It is

interesting to note that results obtained by static and dynamic methods can be correlated
remarkably well, as illustrated in Fig. 24, where the relationship between the frequency of
the transverse wave length and modulus of elasticity derived from jacking tests is shown.
A theoretical justification for this phenomenon has recently been published by Roussel
(1968), using a rheological model with viscoelastic properties.
Measurement of Stresses with Flat Jacks. In the measurement of stresses with flat jacks the
rock face is decompressed locally by means of a slot in which a flat jack is placed, The
jack is pressurized until the deformations due to stress relief, measured by comparators,
are taken up (Habib & Marchand 1953). The inflation pressure of the jack measures,
after correction, the original stress in the rock normal to the plane of the slot. It must be
noted, and this is very important, that with this method there is no need to know the
elastic modulus of the rock beforehand.
The delicate part of the operation is cutting the slot. The method using a diamond
edged circular saw, originated by Rocha, has been adopted in France. The "Soci6t6
d'Etudes Industrielles en Laboratoire" has developed extremely light equipment based on
this idea (Figs. 25 to 29). The slot is cut by a circular saw driven by a compressed air
engine (for use underground). The jacks are 4 mm thick. Their high flexibility and strength
make it possible to measure stresses over a range from 4 to 600 bars (Bern~de et al, 1968).
As this type of test requires only a few hours, a whole series can be made and discrepan-
cies arising from the non-homogeneity of the stress field can be offset by statistical
analysis. Determining the directions of the principal stresses is a simple matter.

6. Monitoring of rock foundations

In the measurement of abutment deformations the displacement targets fixed to the rock
surface can be measured by geodetic surveying methods. Such observations are made for
practically all large dams and they are valuable, provided great care is taken in making
sure that the reference monuments are actually fixed points as it is known that the
deflection of rock foundations affects very great areas. Deformations must also be measured
inside the abutments to detect any possible active joint or slip along specific planes. The
most important of the instruments in use today are:
Inverted Pendulums. A wire is anchored at the bottom of a vertical borehole and tensioned
by means of a float at the head (Fig. 30). By observing the movements of the top end of
the wire, the relative displacements of the top and bottom of the hole can be measured.
This apparatus is.very reliable, provided it is anchored at an adequate depth. Mladyeno-
vitch (1970) has recently published the results of computation showing that the load
applied at the surface of a rock mass induces displacements down to much greater depth
than considered up to now (Fig. 31).
Clinometers. Clinometers detect variations of inclination of a borehole. They take the
form of a probe which is slid into a plastic casing sealed in the hole and which deflects
as the rock deforms. The measuring unit consists of a steel rod with a weight at its lower
end, and its top end fixed to the body of the instrument. Any change of angle causes the
rod to bend and this is monitored by vibrating wires. It can detect variations of slope of
10 -3 i.e. 0"5 per cent.
Downloaded from by Tint Lwin Swe on February 1, 2017

Downloaded from by Tint Lwin Swe on February 1, 2017

Reconnaissance of rock foundations

Steel Wires Anchored in Boreholes. This method can be used to measure the relative
longitudinal movements of chosen points in a borehole. The wires are anchored and
maintained under constant tension. The longitudinal displacement of a marker fixed
solidly to the end of the wire at the m o u t h of the hole is observed. Eight wires can be
installed in a single hole.
These techniques, however, give only local records. There is a need for an instrument
which could measure all the deformations of the rock continuously over the whole
length of a borehole. A prototype of such an instrument using a type of tape recorder is
now being developed.

/ '

1:1 I [,; Wire


FIG. 30.

[o // ,.,eoooo,

-20 FIo. 31.

1c 3
80m -~

B;~ C2

~OOm ~

Downloaded from by Tint Lwin Swe on February 1, 2017

P. Londe

Piezometric Measurements. The need to keep piezometric records was not realized for a
long time and it is only over the last few years that the often decisive influence of seepage
forces on abutment stability has been proved. Only very rough measurements were
therefore taken in the past and the instruments used fell into two categories:
(a) Drain holes, stopped off at the head and fitted with a manometer, allow several
piezometric levels to communicate and give only general data which are of
limited use.
(b) A few short pre-selected sections of borehole, which give only point measure-
ments and are often erratic as regards the general water seepage in the whole
rock mass.
In an attempt to make complete and accurate observations of pore pressures in dam
abutments an instrument has been developed which measures pore pressures and per-
meability of a rock mass at all points in an ordinary borehole without disturbing the
natural seepage pattern. This apparatus will be described in the paper on water seepage.

7. Conclusion
It is essential for the designer to pay great attention to rock mechanics tests and measuring
instruments. Some improve our general knowledge. Others act as warning systems in each
individual case. Andr6 Coyne said: " N a t u r e always gives us a warning, but we must hear
and understand her message". This is what such measurements are for.

8. References
BERN/~DE,J., HABIB, P. & PLOUVIEZ,P. 1968. Stress measurement in an alpine tunnel lining.
Int. Symposium Rock Mech., Madrid 307-11.
HAHm, P. & MARCnAND, R. 1952. Mesures des pressions de terrains par l'essai de verin plat.
Annis Inst. Tech. Bdtim Serie sols et foundations x, 5th ann. No. 58, 967-7I.
MLADYENOVITCH,V. 1970. D6placements ~ l'int6rieur d'un massif dus aux charges r6parties
sur sa surface. Revue de l'Industrie Minerale, Special Issue, 15 July.
ROUSSEL, J. M. 1968. Theoretical and experimental considerations of the dynamic modulus of
rock masses. Revue de l'Industrie Minerale, 80, No. 8, 373-600.
WALSH, J. B. 1965. The effect of cracks on the compressibility of rock. Journal of Geophysical
Research, 70, No. 2, 381-89.