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Ultimate Lateral Resistance of Piles in Cohesive Soil

Lassaad Hazzar, University of Sherbrook, Canada; +1 (819) 446 5100;

Mourad Karray, University of Sherbrook, Canada
Mounir Bouassida, University of Tunis El Manar, Tunisia
Mahmoued N. Hussien, University of Sherbrook, Canada

The ultimate lateral resistance of piles in cohesive soil is studied using the well-known finite difference code,
FLAC2D. The Modified Cam Clay (MCC) constitutive relation is adopted in the analyses to model the cohesive
soil behavior, whereas the structural pile model with three degree of freedoms, available in FLAC2D library, is
adopted to model the piles. The reliability of Borms's method, still used in the current design practice of piles
under lateral loads, is verified. Comparisons between the ultimate lateral resistances of piles and those
deduced from the graphs proposed by Broms (1964) are presented in graphs. Different factors thought to
affect the lateral resistance of piles in cohesive soil, not adequately consider in Borms's method, such as clay
stiffness, pile length, pile diameter and axial load are parametrically studied. A special concern is devoted to
elucidate the effects of over-consolidation ratio (OCR) on the ultimate lateral resistance of piles in cohesive

Introduction difficult for practicing engineers to effectively select

the appropriate method when designing laterally
Pile foundations have been used extensively for
loaded piles in cohesive soils. In this paper an
supporting both axial and lateral loads for a variety of
assessment of the most important method, Borms's
structures including heavy buildings, transmission
method, still used in the current design practice of
lines, power stations, and highway structures. In
piles under lateral loads, is done. A two-dimensional
some case, the lateral loads may be relatively light
(2D) finite difference code, FLAC2D (Version 6, Manual
and there is no need to account for in pile design,
[2008]) is used to this end. The Modified Cam Clay
however in other cases, lateral loads govern the
(MCC) constitutive relation is adopted in the
design of piles. A key element in the design of pile
analyses to model the cohesive soil behaviour,
foundation under lateral loads is the determination of
whereas the structural pile model with three degree
the ultimate lateral resistance that can be exerted by
of freedoms, available in FLAC2D elements library, is
the soil against the pile (Murff and Hamilton, 1993).
adopted to model the piles. Different factors thought
For example, the ultimate lateral resistance is
to affect the ultimate lateral resistance of piles in
required for calculating the p-y curves, which are
cohesive soil such as clay stiffness, pile length, pile
used extensively in recent years in piles design.
diameter and axial load are parametrically studied. A
Several methods have been published for predicting
special concern is devoted to elucidate the effects of
the ultimate lateral resistance of piles in cohesive
over-consolidation ratio (OCR) on the ultimate lateral
soils (Brinch Hansen, 1961; Broms, 1964; Poulos
resistance of piles in cohesive soil. The
and Davis, 1980; Fleming el al.,1992; Reese and
investigations were carried out for single piles in a
Van Impe, 2001). However, these methods often
type of clay which has been used by several studies
produce significantly quite different predictions of the
conducted at the University of Sherbrook, Quebec,
ultimate resistance. This makes it difficult for
engineers to effectively select the appropriate
The existing method of predicting the ultimate lateral
method when designing laterally loaded piles in
resistance of pile foundations under lateral loads are
cohesive soils.
first reviewed, to be followed by the main part of the
Because the problem of determining the ultimate
study with respect to the effects of clay stiffness, pile
resistance of a laterally loaded pile is three
length, pile diameter, axial loads and OCR on the
dimensional (3D) and nonlinear problem, finding a
lateral ultimate resistance of pile foundations. The
rigorous solution is very unlikely. Thus existing
primary findings from this study were summarized as
solutions for the ultimate lateral resistance of the pile
are either of a semi empirical nature or employ
approximate analysis which often involves many
simplifications (Jamiolkowski and Garassino, 1977). Existing Methods of Prediction of Ultimate
These approximations may account for the Lateral Resistance
significantly different ultimate resistance values The existing methods used to estimate the lateral
obtained from the different methods. This makes it resistance of vertical piles can be divided into two
main categories: methods of ultimate lateral Broms's method is still used in the current design
resistance and methods of acceptable deflection at a practice of piles under lateral loads to calculate the
given working lateral load. First investigation by lateral bearing capacity of piles because of its
Terzaghi (1955) consisted in the use of variable simplicity. This method will be briefly reviewed in the
passive earth coefficient for modeling the lateral next paragraph.
reaction of soil as a function of its internal angle of Broms’ method (1964), proposed for the prediction of
friction. In 1960’s, ultimate lateral resistance lateral resistance of vertical piles, is similar to that
approaches for rigid piles by assuming that the full developed by Hansen without consideration of c-φ’
passive Rankine earth pressures were mobilized. soil parameters. In fact, Broms’s method is based on
Adopting the method proposed by Brinch Hansen earth pressure for calculation of lateral resistance of
(1961), the pile is assumed to rotate with respect to vertical piles, but quite simple assumptions are made
centre of rotation, the ultimate lateral load is then for the distribution of ultimate soil resistance over the
estimated and the shearing force and bending length of the pile. These method studies two types of
moment diagrams are drawn. Broms (1964) piles, a short-rigid and long-flexible, embedded in
presented a method to determine the ultimate lateral mono layered half space. Broms (1969) elaborated
load in cohesive and cohesionless soils. Kasch charts for determination of the ultimate lateral load
(1977), state that using Rankine’s passive states will for each class as illustrated in Figures 1(a) and 1(b)
result in a very conservative solution. Reese (1977) respectively (FHWA, 1997). Figures 1(a) and 1(b)
developed a computer program that widely used to show also that the ultimate lateral resistance of the
predict the performance of piles subjected to lateral piles is affected by pile head conditions. The ultimate
loading. This program solves differential equation lateral resistance of fixed head pile is higher than that
derived on the assumption that the pile is linearly of free-head conditions for both cases of short and
elastic and that the soil reaction may be represented long piles.
as a line load. In recent years, extensive research In this method, the load-deflection relationships of
and developments have been undertaken to predict laterally loaded piles driven into cohesive soils are
theoretically the behavior of laterally loaded piles in similar to the stress-strain relationships as obtained
clayey soils (Poulos and Davis, 1980; Brown and from consolidated-undrained tests (Broms, 1964).
Shie, 1991; Fleming el al.,1992; Liang, 1998; Reese
and Van Impe, 2001).

[Fig. 1] Ultimate Lateral Ultimate Load of Piles in Cohesive Soils; (a) Short Pile, (b) Long Pile (Broms, 1964)

In fact, Broms method calls for some comments the vertical component of load as well. The
that be discussed later. Broms’ contribution does numerical modeling also aims to verify whether the
not consider the effect of axial loading on lateral OCR for clayey soil has a significant effect when
bearing capacity of piles. determining the lateral capacity at failure of the
In this study, the finite differences method is loaded pile. Note that the OCR has not been taken
implemented to examine how the lateral load into consideration in several previous
capacity of the pile is influenced by varying the investigations made about the ultimate lateral
length of the pile, its diameter and by considering capacity of piles. Elsewhere, as for Broms’ method,
the vertical load component was not considered in plane strain condition. This pile is modeled by
prior analyses, this study aims to clarify how the means of a plate element which is discretized as a
behavior of laterally loaded pile will be when set of beam elements having three degrees of
subjected to additional vertical load. freedom: horizontal and vertical displacements
Therefore, the main objective is to draw design and a rotation with respect to perpendicular axis of
charts making possible the design of laterally the plan in Figure 2.
loaded pile in cohesive soils and to compare the
numerical predictions by FLAC2D (Fast Lagrangian Material proprieties
Analyses of Continua in 2D) program with the The soil used is soft post-glacial clay, of marine
Broms’ solution. origin, sampled from the site of Grande Baleine
River (Demers, 1980). Two specimens (COE-01
Studied Model and COE-02) have been tested to identify the
geotechnical characteristics of this clay. Table1
Geometry of the model summarizes the recorded geotechnical
The two-dimensional finite differences code characteristics, including results of the oedometer
FLAC2D has been used to model single piles and undrained shear strength, of tested clays.
embedded in a clay layer in non-symmetric loading

[Fig. 2] Numerical plane strain model

[Table 1] Geotechnical properties of clay studied

Test n° Depth Proportion Water Initial Compression Swelling Total Undrained

(m) < 2 μm content, ω void index, Cc (-) coefficient unit shear
(%) (%) ratio, e0 Cs (-) weight: γ strength,
(-) (kN/m³) cu (kPa)
COE-01 4.8- 6.3 59.0 53.8 - 63.8 1.59 0.90 0.08 16.7 16.0-39.0
COE-02 10.7 - 45.0 35.2 - 51.7 1.57 0.88 0.06 16.7 43.0- 62.0

υ= (1)
Figure 3 presents the oedometer curve in the Vs
semi-logarithmic plot (υ, ln p) where p, is the effective Vs is the volume of solid particles, assumed
pressure and, υ, the specific volume of specimen incompressible, contained in a volume, V, of soil
defined as: specimen.
[Fig. 3] Oedometer curves of tested clays (Demers, 1980)

The length D and the diameter b of pile are

The Modified Cam-Clay Model (CCM) was variable in order to investigate their influences on
adopted as quite appropriate, particularly for the lateral bearing capacity of pile. The ultimate
materials which behaviour is influenced by volume lateral load of pile, Qu, is represented by the
variation. In fact, the CCM may be used to dimensionless factor defined by “Qu/cu b2” for
represent materials when the influence of volume which the influence of several parameters will be
change on bulk property and resistance up to studied.
failure should be taken into consideration, as for
soft clays. Prediction of lateral resistance of pile
In this study, eight material parameters were The adopted modeling of beam element subjected
required to specify the soil model, including either to the lateral action/reaction of soil the behavior of
the elastic bulk modulus “K” or elastic shear pile is derived from the well-known equilibrium
modulus “G”, mass density “ρ”, Poisson’s ratio “μ”, equation of beams:
slope of the normal consolidation line “λ”, slope of
the elastic swelling line“κ”, frictional constant “M”, d4 y
EI + p(x) = 0 (2)
pressure of reference “p1” and the specific volume dx 4
at pressure of reference, p1, on the normal Figure 4 details how the horizontal resistance of
consolidation line “υλ”. soil p(x) can be determined by adopting the spring
The material properties adopted in the analyses equation:
for soft, medium and hard clay (referred to
p(x) = k(x) ⋅ y (3)
proprieties of specimens) are presented in Table
2. - k(x) : modulus of the horizontal reaction of soil
Pile properties - y :horizontal displacement of the pile at depth x
The pile is modeled as a structure element made (m);
up of concrete material characterised by a - E : young’s Modulus of the pile (kPa);
Poisson’s ratio of 0.2, a unit mass of 2500 kg/m3, - I : moment of Inertia of the cross section at x (m4);
and Young’s modulus equals to 25 GPa. - x: current depth along the length of pile.
[Table 2] Soft clay parameters according to CCM
Soil rigidity ρ (kg/m ) G (MPa) K (MPa) μ (-) λ (-) κ (-) M (-) p1 υλ (-)
Soft clay 1670 4.80 12.48 0.33 0.262 0.065 0.77 1 5.3
cu = 16.0 kPa
medium clay 1670 11.70 30.42 0.33 0.262 0.065 0.77 1 5.3
cu = 39.0 kPa
Stiff clay 1670 19.20 49.92 0.33 0.257 0.064 0.77 1 5.25
cu = 64.0 kPa

Effect of Soil Stiffness on Lateral

The undrained shear strength has been varied in
order to study the effect of the stiffness of clayey
soils on the ultimate lateral resistance of pile.
For capped plasticity model, like the modified cam
clay here investigated, the undrained shear
strength, cu, is uniquely related to the specific
volume, υ, by the equation [2]:
Mp1 ⎛Γ−υ⎞
cu = exp ⎜ ⎟ (4)
2 ⎝ λ ⎠

Where the specific volume, Γ, at the critical state

line for p=p1, is given by:
Γ = υλ − ( λ − κ ) × ln ( 2 ) (5)

The numerical analysis has been conducted by

adopting zero free vertical distance from the head
[Fig. 4] Model of soil reaction by elastic springs
of pile to the soil surface (ec=0), and varied ratio
D/b, D is the embedment of pile in the clay layer.
Introducing the bending moment, M (kN.m) and
The comparison between numerical predictions
the shear force, V (kN) at depth x within a current
and Broms’ results (Figure 7). For this case, it can
cross section of pile, the equilibrium equation
be seen that Broms’ assumption greatly
provides relationships between the bending
overestimates the ultimate lateral resistance of pile
moment and shear force, and, then as illustrated in
in purely cohesive clays that was assumed equals
Figure 6, the lateral resistance of soil is derived
to 9bcu, but numerical predictions show that the
from Eq. (3). The complete solution is obtained
soil will collapse much earlier.
once the horizontal deflection of pile is determined.
Therefore, we concluded that the lateral soil
reaction p (x) can be determined as follows (see Effects of Vertical Load and Pile
figure 5): Diameter on its Lateral Resistance
The influence on pile diameter has been also
investigated. Figure 8 shows that the variation of
pile diameter, especially when D/b is less than 14,
does not significantly affect the normalized
ultimate lateral bearing capacity of pile.
The influence of vertical load on the ultimate lateral
bearing capacity is studied. At this stage, first, the
ultimate vertical bearing capacity is obtained, and
then by introducing a factor of safety equals to 3
[Fig. 5] Shear and lateral load
the allowable vertical load is deduced. The
For a pile of length D = 8.0 m and diameter b = 0.8 ultimate lateral bearing capacity of pile is finally
m. Figure 6 displays the diagrams for profiles of determined. Results of Figure 9 show up that the
pile behavior under a lateral load equal at 250 kN. ultimate lateral resistance will decrease when the
vertical load component increases. Therefore a
special care should be accorded when it comes to
the prediction of the ultimate lateral resistance of a

[Fig. 6] Behaviour of pile under lateral load

[Fig. 7] Effect of soil stiffness on lateral load capacity compared with Broms method

[Fig. 8] Effect of diameter on lateral bearing of capacity pile

[Fig. 9] Effect of vertical load, ec/b = 0

Figure 10 shows the effect of OCR on the ultimate

Effect of Over-Consolidation Ratio lateral capacity of pile. When the OCR increases
The over-consolidation ratio, OCR, is defined as from 2 to 10, the increase in the ultimate lateral
the ratio of initial pre-consolidation pressure to the load is of about 20%. Thus, it is concluded that the
in situ overburden effective stress. The influence role of pre-consolidation pressure cannot be
of OCR on the behaviour of assumed Cam-clay neglected for the design of piles.
soil is studied numerically.

[Fig. 10] The ultimate lateral capacity vs OCR

piles of different diameter, the failure criteria

Conclusion suggested by Broms has adopted. From obtained
results the conclusions below are drawn.
The main objective of this study is to investigate
- The soil collapse is expected earlier than that
numerically ultimate resistance of single pile in
predicted by Broms method that is
cohesive soil subjected to lateral loading. For this
work, the two-dimensional (2D) finite difference code
- The effect of pile diameter was studied; it
FLAC2D was employed to simulate a single pile
would not have significant effect on
embedded in a clay layer that has known many
normalized ultimate bearing capacity.
investigations. The study primarily aimed at
- The effect of pile stiffness, the ultimate lateral
presentation of the design which cover a variety of
resistance of pile increase and the curves go 12. Murff, J.D. and Hamilton, J.M. P-Ultimate for
toward Broms curve. Undrained Analysis of Laterally Loaded Piles. J.
- Vertical allowable load applied on pile and Geotech. Eng., Vol. 119(1), 1993, pp. 91-107.
presented more general graphs. It is shown 13. Poulos, H.G. and Davis, E.H. Pile Foundation
that the axial load increase ultimate bearing Analysis and Design. Wiley, New York, 1980.
capacity and a special care to choose the 14. Reese, L.C. Laterally Loaded Piles: Program
ultimate bearing capacity of pile should be Documentation. J. Geotech. Eng. Div., ASCE.
taken. Vol. 103(GT4), 1977, pp. 287-305.
- The CCM is a suitable model to describe 15. Reese, L.C. and Van Impe, W.F. Single Piles and
Piles Groups Under Lateral Loading. A. A.,
sensitive clays, and it is necessary to take
Balkema, Rotterdam, 2001.
care of the value of OCR or pre-consolidation
16. Terzaghi, K. Evaluation of Coefficients of
pressure in the design of piles embedded in
Subgrade Reaction. Géotechnique. Vol. 5(4),
cohesive soils. 1955, pp. 297-236.

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Cohesive Soils. J. Soil Mech. Found. Div., Vol.
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