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GIBSON, R. E., G. L. ENGLANDand M. J. L. HUSSEY, 1967.

Giofechnique, 17:261-273


1. Finite Non-Linear Consolidation of Thin Homogeneous Layers

R. E. GIBSON, D.Sc.(Eng.), M.I.C.E., * G. L. ENGLAND, Ph.D., A.M.I.C.E.,*

and M. J. L. HUSSEY, Ph.D.*

The equations governing the one-dimensional Les equations regissant la consolidation a une
consolidation of a fully saturated clay layer are dimension d’une couche d’argile pleinement saturee
derived here on the basis of assumptions more general sont deduites ici en se basant sur des suppositions
plus g&&ales que celles adoptees habituellement.
than those usually adopted. The limitation of small La restriction des petites deformations n’a pas tte im-
strains has not been imposed and the variation of posee et la variation de la compressibilite et de la per-
soil compressibility and permeability during con- meabilite du sol pendant la consolidation a 6te prise
solidation has been taken into account. Further- en consideration. En outre, quoique la loi de Darcy
more, although Darcy’s law is assumed to be valid, soit supposee etre valable elle est Bnoncee sous une
forme differente d’apres laquelle la vitesse relative
it is recast in a form in which it is the relative velocity
du squelette du sol et l’eau interstitielle sont ex-
of the soil skeleton and the pore fluid that is related primees en fonction de la pente excedentaire de la
to the excess pore fluid pressure gradient. pression de l’eau interstitielle.
The consolidation of a thin clay layer, the self- La consolidation d’une couche d’argile mince, dont
weight stresses of which are negligible compared les contraintes de son poids propre sont negligeables
with those applied, is examined in detail. Non- en comparaison de celles qui lui sont appliquees,
homogeneity, time-effects intrinsic to the soil est examinde en detail. La non homog&x%te, les
effets du temps intrinseques au squelette du sol et a
skeleton and compressibility of the pore fluid are
la compressibilite de l’eau interstitielle sont in-
incorporated in the theory, but a detailed considera- corpores a la theorie, mais une consideration de-
tion of their importance is deferred to later papers taillee de leur importance est remise a des exposes
in which the case of the thick clay layer will also be ulterieurs dans lesquels sera aussi presente le cas de
presented. la couche Bpaisse d’argile.

It is widely recognized that Terzaghi’s theory of one-dimensional consolidation of saturated
clays is based on simplifying assumptions which are, in practice, only approximately satisfied.
For example, it is assumed that both the permeability and compressibility of the clay remain
constant during consolidation under a particular increment of load. Clearly, the errors arising
from such assumptions will depend on the magnitude of the load increment and of the resulting
void ratio changes, but to quantify the error requires a complete investigation. We notice
that a number of authors have sought to extend the classical theory to take account of the
variation of permeability and compressibility during consolidation (Richart, 1957 ; Lo, 1960 ;
Davis and Raymond, 1965 ; Janbu, 1965 ; Barden and Berry, 1965). These factors are likely
to be of real importance only if the void ratio changes and strains are appreciable, yet these
studies have all been based essentially on the small strain theory.
In the derivation which follows, the limitation of small strains has been removed and the
changes in soil compressibility and permeability have been taken into account. The validity
of Darcy’s law has been assumed1 but it has been incorporated in the theory in a form which
relates the relative velocity of the soil skeleton and the pore fluid to the excess pore pressure
gradient. Although not essential to our arguments, non-homogeneity, time-effects intrinsic
to the soil skeleton and compressibility of the pore fluid and solids are allowed for in the theory,

* King’s College, London.

i It is believed that for most soils, any departure from Darcy’s law is likely to lead to errors which are
unimportant compared with those arising from a use of the law in a physically unacceptable form.

in order to ensure as much generality as is likely to be required in particular applications, but

a detailed consideration of the importance of these factors is deferred to later papers.
In the absence of these effects, and for those problems which treat a ‘thin’ clay layer in
which the stresses arising from the self-weight of the layer are negligible compared with those
applied, our analysis recovers an equation due to McNabb (1960) and Mikasa (1965). For this
special case our analyses are equivalent, but we have sought here to avoid the economy of
treatment which is a feature of their work and to develop the argument in extelzso so that its
physical significance may be more clearly revealed. This equation, which governs the void
ratio, is weakly non-linear and it may, if the coefficient of consolidation is constant, be linearized
without any restriction on the form of the relation between effective pressure and void ratio.
This case is examined numerically in some detail in the present Paper.
For the application to ‘thick’ natural clay strata we have taken account of the self-weight
of the medium. This weight may itself be the sole agency causing consolidation in, for
example, a layer of clay increasing in thickness with time due to sedimentation. Again, we
leave the detailed consideration of these two topics to future papers.

In most derivations of Terzaghi’s equation of one-dimensional consolidation our attention
is directed towards an element, and the equations of pore fluid flow and of equilibrium, and
Darcy’s law are referred to this element. But invariably there seems to be some ambiguity
as to the nature of this element. Some authors refer to an element of space whose dimensions
do not change with time and through which soil particles and pore fluid flow. In other treat-
ments an element of the soil skeleton, the boundaries of which always encapsulate the same
soil particles, is apparently intended.2 Sometimes both viewpoints are adopted in the same
development and, indeed, it can be argued that if the strains are sufficiently small no distinc-
tion need be made. But clearly, when strains of unrestricted magnitude are contemplated a
careful distinction is required.
In the derivation which follows we shall adopt consistently’the second standpoint and con-
sider an element of the soil skeleton of unit cross-sectional area normal to the direction of pore
fluid flow which at a time t = 0 lies between planes embedded in the soil skeleton at distances
a and (a+ 8a) from an embedded datum plane (Fig. l(a)). At some subsequent time t these
same planes will be located at (unknown) distances ,$(a, t) and ((a + Sa, t) from this datum
plane. We have here chosen a and t as independent variables while f is a dependent variable.

a= a,

A 6
f G.,G
I . . . .:_ . .
. . . .
((.ta.,t) . . .

i 7


Fig. l(a). Initial configuration 1= 0 Fig. l(b). Current configuration at time t

a In hydrodynamics these viewpoints are associated respectively with the names of Euler and Lagrange
(Lamb, 1932).

Each plane of particles is labelled throughout its subsequent motion by its initial distance a
from the datum plane; for example, the upper boundary of the layer is always ‘at’ a = a,
(Figs 1 (a), (b)). By using these Lagrange co-ordinates3 we have secured the following ad-
vantage: the boundary can always be identified (a = a,), and the boundary conditions on it
introduced into the analysis, although we are ignorant of its exact location : [(a,, t).
In the main, the basic physical assumptions of classical consolidation theory are carried
over into the present analysis, but where qualification is required this will be introduced at the
appropriate point.
The vertical equilibrium4 of the soil grains and the fluid currently occupying the cylinder
ABCD (Fig. l(b)) requires that

2 IL [np,+(l--n)p,l$ = 0 . . . . . .

where the vertical total stress (T,the volume porosity n and the densities5 pr, p s of the fluid and
solid phases must be regarded as functions of a and t ; the positive sign is taken if a is measured
against gravity as in Figs 1 (a), (b).
The fact that the chosen co-ordinate element always embraces the same weight of solids
leads to a particularly simple equation of continuity for the solid phase, namely

~~(a, 0)[1 -n(a, 0)] = p,[l-fin] ki . . . . * (2)

To determine the equation of continuity for the fluid phase we denote the velocity of the
solid phase by ZI, ( = at/at) and that of the pore fluid by vf. The rate of weight inflow of
fluid into the element ABCD is then
where account has been taken of the equality of area and volume porosities (Biot, 1955). The
rate of weight outflow of fluid is the above quantity augmented by

but this must equal the rate of change of weight of fluid in the element, so that

We shall assume that the pore fluid moves through the soil skeleton in accordance with
Darcy’s law, but we shall need to express this law so that it is consonant with the physics of
the problem and in a form rather more general than that usually adopted. First, it is im-
portant to appreciate that the drag forces6 on the soil skeleton, due to the pore fluid flowing
through it, depend not on the velocity of the pore fluid alone7 but on the relative velocity
(vr-vzI,) between the two phases (see, for example, Biot, 1955). Second, the law must be
generalized to take account of the compressibility of the pore fluid. The most simple
generalization which is reasonably consistent with the experimental evidence (Schiedegger,
1957) is
n(v,-v,J = -k% . . . . . . .
Pi aE

3 Had the Eulerian scheme been adopted we should have required knowledge of the location in space of
the boundary at time t before the relevant boundary condition could be introduced in the analysis.
4 Inertia terms have been ignored (vide Mandel, 1952).
5 Weight per unit of their oum volume.
6 And the reverse forces to these which give rise to an excess pore fluid gradient.
7 l‘his is the usual assumption.

where the excess fluid pressure gradient

z’r’p* . . . . . . . . . (5)

where p is the fluid pressure (above atmospheric) and the positive sign is taken if 6 is measured
against gravity. The differentiations here take place with respect to 8 which we have regarded
as a dependelzt variable ; consequently8 we must use the relation

. . . . . . (6)
to unite (4) and (5) into a form consonant with our frame of reference:

. . . . . . (7)

We regard the permeability coefficient k as a function both of the porosity n (or the void
ratio e) and, to allow for possible non-homogeneity, the location of the particular portion of
the soil skeleton under consideration g :
k = k(n, a). . . . . . . . . . (8)
The porosity at a particular point will depend in general upon the local effective stress
U’=fJ-Tp, . . . . . . . . . (9)
but we shall be concerned in the main with a solid phase of constant density ps, and in these
circumstances 77 = 1. Furthermore, if the soil skeleton is non-homogeneous and exhibits
intrinsic time effects the porosity will depend on a and also in some way on the past effective
stress history :
n = *(CT’, a, t) . . . . . . . * (10)
where 9 is a functional.
Finally, we suppose that the fluid density pr depends on the local fluid pressure,lO so that
an isothermal equation of state
pf = pr(P) . . . . . . . . * (11)
is applicable.


It is convenient to introduce at this stage a new independent variable z to replace a :

z(a) = I[l--n(a’, O)]da’. . . . . . . (12)

This implies that a point of the soil skeleton is now identified by the volume of solids z in a
prism of unit (bulk) cross-sectional area lying between the datum plane and the point (McNabb,
1960). Clearly, as with a, the z-labelling of a point is time-independent.
In addition, some simplification results from working in terms of the void ratio
e = n(l-n)-l
rather than the porosity n.

B See, for example, Lamb (1932), p. 13.

s Due to different amounts of induced anisotropy the permeability may differ at the same porosity in
normally consolidated and over-consolidated samples of the same clay. Where consolidation and swelling
occur simultaneously in contiguous parts of the same layer, some allowance for this effect may need to be
made in Eqn (8).
I0 Note that p is not an absolute pressure.
Expressed in these new variables the equations of the previous section become :

. . . . . . (1) bis

$(l+e)$j=O . . . . . . (2) bis

a [+%-r’s)] +jj-$&$] = 0 . . . (3) bis

az 1+e
4% - v,) +1 as+L2=,
k(1+e) - I a.2 /+ az . * - - * C7)his

The governing equation

As we have mentioned earlier, we shall defer the examination of these general equations to
later papers and consider now the simplification which results from assuming that
(a) the soil skeleton is homogeneous and possesses no intrinsic time effects ;
(b) both the pore fluid and the solids are incompressible. In this event, and in terms
of the new variables, Eqns (S), (9) and (10) become

k=k(e) ‘. . . . . . . (8) bis

0’ = u-p . . . . . . . (9) bis
u’ = u’(e) . . . . . . . (10) bis
where the last equation holds only for monotonic consolidation.ll The relations of the pre-
vious section can now be combined with these to yield the following equation governing the
void ratio :

and it is to an examination of this equation that we now turn our attention.


It is convenient to distinguish here between consolidation of thin layers, such as laboratory

samples or natural strata a few feet thick, and thicker layers. The former case attracts a
natural approximation, namely, that the influence of the self-weight of solids and pore fluid on
the consolidation process is quite unimportant compared with that due to the applied stresses.
The structure of Eqn (13) suggests that the most natural way to effect this approximation is
to set pS = pf therein:
a ae ae
[ I =a . . . . . . . . (14)

where we have returned to the space variable a since in this simple case z yields no special
advantages. The quantity cF is given by the expression
k(e) (1 +e,J2 da
c,(e, e,) = --- - * (15)
pf (l+e) de ’ ’ * ’ ’
which is seen to be closely related to the familiar coefficient of consolidation c, of Terzaghi’s
theory.12 But it depends not only upon the current void ratio but also on the (uniform) void

11 If swelling processes are to be analysed (10) bis must be a functional rather than a function.
la cF = (1 +eo)c,/(l +e).

ratio e, at the beginning of any particular increment of consolidation when the a-labelling
is done. To this extent we cannot expect it to be a soil constant, and in most applications it is
preferable to work in terms of
k(e) 1 do’
de)= -p, (I de
which is independent of e,.
It is an especially fortunate circumstance that the quantities k and ael& occur in con-
junction, for it is known from laboratory tests with standard load increments that the varia-
tions in c, (and hence in cr and g) are much less marked than are the changes in k and de/da’.
Indeed, for some clays, g will be sensibly constant unless the load increment is very large.

(a) Linear theory

The foregoing remarks suggest that to a first approximation we may take cF as constant.
We are led therefore to the following linear equation
a2e ae
CFz2=Tt . . . . . . . . (16)
which holds without any restriction on the form of the relation between effective pressure and
void ratio.
However, it can be verified readily that in these circumstances it is only the void ratio that
is governed by a linear equation with constant coefficients. The vertical effective pressure CT’,
the fluid pressure 9 or excess fluid pressure u, will each be governed by a linear equation only
if we make Terzaghi’s assumptions that k and &‘/de are both constants and that (1 + e) can be
replaced by (1 + e,). These assumptions are clearly much more restrictive than that adopted.
It may be useful to record the solution to Eqn (16) corresponding to step-loading. We
consider a thin layer of clay initially consolidated and in equilibrium under a pressure q0 which
is fully effective through the initial thickness h(0) of the layer (Figs 2(a), (b)). The (uniform)
initial void ratio of the layer is e, so that

q. = o’(eo).
The applied pressure is suddenly increased to and maintained at q, and at a time t after this
loading the void ratio distribution is given by :

. . . . . .:’ .. .. .*...-..- -:-

:. 1.’ . . . . ..’ : . ..: .

h (01

- t,,,.i
I.- (I

PLANE .:,-


Fig. 2(a). Initial configuration t = 0 Fig. 2(b). Current configuration at time t


or in the alternative form

2rr2,T,] cos [ (2ti&l))“u-j (17b)

where the time factor

To = /V(O)
and the final void ratio e, is defined by
q1 = +G
The datum plane a = 0 has been taken as the mid-plane of the layer, and the pore fluid is able
to escape freely from the boundaries a = ‘+ *h(O).
To determine the effective pressure or pore fluid pressure isochrones from (17)) we calculate
the former from (10) bis and then the latter from (9) bis, but they will not in general correspond
to those obtained from Terzaghi’s theory. It may be shown that, despite the difference in the
form of Darcy’s law adopted in this Paper (see Appendix), the Terzaghi equation is the limit
to which (16) approaches as the void ratio difference (e, - e,) and the pressure increment ratio
(~~-q~)/q~ tend to zero. It is only under these circumstances that the isochrones can be
expected to correspond.
The settlement
h(0)-h(t) = (E) h(0) o(T,) . . . . . (18)

where the average degree of consolidation u is given by

h(O)-w = 42/-T;;

r12+2 z
(-1)“ierfc -
( 22/z )I . (19a)

or in the alternative form

D = 1-~~~o(2n~1)2exp[-(2n+l)2n2To]. . . . PW
Despite the more general assumptions on which our theory is based, Eqns (18) and (19a)
show that the early part of settlement will, as in the Terzaghi case (Fox, 1948), behave like t1j2,
and this provides a method for measuring I+. It is worth emphasizing that this result, as
recorded from laboratory tests cannot therefore, by itself, be considered a validation of
Terzaghi’s assumptions (McNabb, 1960).
It is interesting to note that if, as in this example, there is (by symmetry) no fluid flow
across the datum plane, then v), = 0 and vI = 0 on it. It follows therefore that
v,+ev,=O . . . . . . . . - (20)
through the layer, and

(b) Non-linear theory

When the linearization procedure of the previous section is likely to lead to errors of un-
acceptable magnitude, either because of the nature of the soil or the size of the load increment,

Eqn (14) must be solved numerically using a relation between c, and e determined experi-
mentally. This could be done, in principle at least, from laboratory consolidation tests using
sufficiently small load increments to permit the results to be analysed using the linear equation.
However, it will generally be sufficient to improve somewhat the basis for analysing labora-
tory test results and predicting consolidation behaviour of thin natural clay strata. This can
be achieved with sufficient accuracy for most purposes by assuming that cr is related linearly
to the void ratio :
CF = c,+a(e-ee,) . . . . . . . * (22)
where c0 and a are constants.
We consider again the problem of Figs 2(a) and (b) and setting

hG = a’; e (co-aeo) ffeO

e, = e'; -jqq--= T; -=
co - ae,

in equation (14) it follows that

A[(he’+l)$] =$, . . . . . .
e’ = 1 at T = 0; la’] 5 4

e’ = zat la’1 = 4; T > 0.

This system involves two parameters : l3 h which is a measure of the change of c, with void
ratio, and eJeo which depends upon the size of the load increment.
It was anticipated that numerical solutions of this weakly non-linear equation would be
well-behaved. After some preliminary numerical experimentation, using a corresponding
system of finite difference equations and the Runge-Kutta formula for advancing in the time
variable T, this was indeed found to be the case. These calculations were carried out on the
ATLAS computer over the parameter ranges :

z = O.Z(O92)O.S; h = -0.4(0.2)0.4.

There is some gain in clarity by presenting the numerical computations in terms of a time
To=~= (l+h)T

and in this way the perturbation parameter a is involved only in h. Figs 3(a), (b), (c) and
(d) record how the relation between the degree of consolidation u and this time factor To is
influenced by h and eJe,. It is noteworthy that a relation of the type

0 = #(X, e,/eo)To1/2 . . . . . . . (24)

holds in every case up to about 0 = 0.5 and the behaviour of # as a function of its arguments
is shown in Fig. 4. The classical case X = 0 is associated with the well-known value (CI= 4n- l/2,
and departures from this value are shown to increase, as would be expected, with increasing
load increment (smaller e,/eo) and with the absolute value of /\.
13The linear case can be shown to be parameter-free if we set h = 0 and introduce the new variable
f = (e-e,)/(e,-e,).



(a) (a)

0.1 T.f0.1 0.4 0.5

0 0.2 - 0.5 0.4 0.5 O,b


(cl Cd)

Fig. 3 (above). The relation be-

tween the average degree of
consolidation d and the time
factor T, for a void ratio change
from e, to e, and for -0.4 < X
< 0.4

Fig. 4 (right). The effect of X and

el/eo on the initial slope I/ of
the ??, T,ll” relation 0.2 0.4 0.b 0.8 I.0

If the value of cF corresponding to the void ratio e, at the end of consolidation is denoted
by cr, then

and this equation can be used in conjunction

1I -


with Fig. 4 to estimate the effect on # of the

. . . . . . . (25)

ratios (cl/co) and (e,/e,).

The progress of consolidation at particular points in the layer can best be followed by con-
sidering the variation with time there of the quantity

f=S . , . . . . . . (26)
which we term the ‘local degree of consolidation ‘. For example, on the mid-plane a = 0 the
local degree of consolidation is given as a function of the time factor To in Fig. 5 for the case
of a constant coefficient of consolidation c,(h = 0) and for the two extreme cases of variable
cr which have been computed (A = &O-4; el/eo = O-2). These results establish that a

0 0.05 0.10 0.1s 0.20 0.25 0.10 0.35


Fig. 5. Typical variations of the mid-plane degree of consolidation with time factor TO

decrease of cr during consolidation (A > 0) retards the rate : result


Fig. 6. Variation of the local degree of con-

solidation f through the thickness of the
0.6 clay layer with time factor To (nu-
merical values on curves), for X = 0;
f 0 < el/eo< 1


Fig. 7. Variation of the local degree of con-

solidation f through the thickness of the
clay layer with time factor To (aumer- j
ical values on curves), for h = 0.4;
el/eo = 0.2

I.0 0.6 0.6 0.4 0.2 0



Fig. 8. Variation of the local degree of con-

solidation f through the thickness of the
clay layer with time factor T, (numer-
0.2 ical values on curves), for A = -0.4;
el/eo = 0.2

-1.0 0.6 0.6 0.4 0.2 0
2.11 (D)

It may be remarked that although the two extreme cases (A = + 0.4 ; el/eo = 0.2)
correspond to rather modest changes in cF, namely :

-Cl = 0.77 for X = 0.4


-= 1.53forh = -0.4

this variation has a significant effect on the shape of the isochrones (cf. Figs 7 and S), the
negative X value being associated with a nearly linear space variation of void ratio near the
boundaries of the layer.

In this Paper we have sought to derive the equations governing the process of one-dimen-
sional consolidation of a saturated clay layer in a form sufficiently general for most applica-
tions. Our study has indicated some shortcomings of earlier treatments and has revealed that
the void ratio is a privileged variable : other quantities of interest are controlled by much more
complicated equations.
We have also specialized the theory to deal with thin homogeneous clay layers and have
shown that linearity of the equation governing the void ratio can be secured without unduly
restricting its generality. We have not undertaken detailed computations to examine the
effect on the pore fluid pressure isochrones-for example-of various relations between the
effective pressure and the void ratio : sufficient data have been recorded to make this a matter
only of arithmetic and patience.
Finally, some guide to the influence on consolidation of a coefficient cF varying with the
void ratio has been given.

We are indebted to Professor Robert L. Schiffman of the University of Illinois not only for
fruitful discussions during the preparation of this Paper but for generously allowing us to use
the results of his computations in support of our own.

It can easily be shown that for sufficiently small pressure increment ratio and void ratio difference
(e, -ei) expression (15) for cr approaches the usual definition for c,, and that an equation of type (16)
governs u’, p and u. It may perhaps not be clear why this should be so, for Darcy’s law (4) does not approach
the usual form
k 2’~
Q =nu,= ---
Pr at
at the same limit.
The explanation is that the usual (incorrect) form for the equation of continuity of fluid flow ignores the
movement of the solids and (3) appears, in the usual derivation-effectively-as

A consistent use of both the above incorrect equations in place of (4) and (3) will lead to the correct result
(16) ; that is, the errors arising from these two equations exactly cancel!
However, the present theory in this limit is not completely consonant with Terzaghi’s theory. For
example, the pore fluid velocity zrr(Eqn 21) will be incorrectly predicted by the latter theory to the extent of
a multiplicative factor (I+ e).

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