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Geotechnical Investigation

1.0 What is Geotechnical Investigation

• It is the exploration of earth crust material not very far below the ground
level to know the type and characteristics of the bedding material on which
engineering structures are built.
• It includes boring, sampling and testing the materials encountered and
reporting for all activities performed.
• The investigation work is performed for both on the onshore and marine

1.1 Scope and necessity of investigation

• The GI is necessary because we need the structure safe against any loading
or adverse conditions in its life. The ground is explored for necessary
improvement if required.
• Safe

1.2 Specification of investigation work

• Normally a specification is prepared by a consultant responsible for design of
structure or facilities to be provided for the client. A specification should meet
minimum requirement for the design of the structure. It should not be
exaggerated as well.
• The specification should include all details necessary for the investigation
work. The subcontractor responsible for the investigation work must fulfil all
the requirements set out in the specification without an unreasonable delay.
• The specification includes a geological aspect of the site, scope of work,
detailed study inclusive of boring, CPT, test pits, sampling, field and
laboratory tests. It also includes the borelog and laboratory test reports
within the scope and time frame.

1.3 Spacing and depth of boring

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Geotechnical Investigation

• A very hard and fast rule is not available for SPACING of boreholes. It is
dictated by available fund and field conditions.
• DEPTH of boring is dependent on size and type of structures and
characteristics of the deposits. Borehole depth is recommended in some
engineering codes and design manuals. It is essential that a boring must pass
through unsuitable strata.
• A restriction may be made on total number of blows. Usually not more than
50 blows are applied to penetrate 150mm of the spoon. In such cases record
the penetration in mm for 50 blows.
• The termination depth is defined in the specification or literatures for design
of pile foundation. Normally it must lie in a hard bed for an end bearing pile or
in a cohesive material when the frictional stress exceeds the FoS.

1.4 Personnel engaged in the work and their qualification

• All personels in the investigation work must be well trained and capable of
doing their work with confidence. A lack of knowledge may lead to
unbearable situations.
• A supervising engineer should be capable enough to foresee a possible
outcome of the investigation work being carried out. At the site the engineer
oversees boring work, soil encountered, performance of the equipment,
safety of the workers, progress of boring, temporary storage of soil,etc.

1.5 Instrumentation and safety at site

• The contractor must provide adequate boring tools at the site. Lack of
enough tools may lead to unnecessary delay, collapse of the borehole,
misuse of manpower etc. A boring equipment essentially consists of a steel
tripod long enough to accommodate drill rods, pulley, steel rope, pumping
device for circulation of mud water, driving hammer assembly, cutting shoe
or drill bit ….
• The foreman and the labourers must use PPE during work. Visitors will use the
PPE to approach to the working location. The working area must be clean

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Geotechnical Investigation
from any foreign substance spreaded over the area. Additional safety should
be provided with the boring conducted at offshore areas.

1.6 Program of work

The contractor will provide a schedule of work before onset of the work. The
schedule will include the laboratory work, expected date completion of field work,
lab work, submission date of field log and final report.
A supervising engineer adheres to investigation work and works out causes of any
delay and reminds contractor for such delay. The engineer checks shifting of soils to
storage at the laboratory and pursues the laboratory work and checks the boring log
submitted by the drilling company.

1.7 How is wash boring work done in the field?

A wash boring equipment generally consists of a steel tripod, a pumping device for
circulation of mud, mechanical driving assembly, drill rods, cutting shoe and some
other small tools. The tripod is first placed.

1.8 Common types of boring in Bangladesh

Two types of drilling are common in Bangladesh.
a) Wash boring
b) Rotary drilling
Wash boring is very popular and cost effective. However, it has some disadvantages
as well. It is preferred method and widely used for its simplicity.
Rotary drilling is superior to wash boring and costlier. It is more reliable and
preferred by engineers when more accuracy is demanded for sampling and field

1.9 Selection of the appropriate type of boring

The selection of type of boring depends on:
a) Cost of the structure to be built
b) Allocated time for exploration

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c) Desired precision of sampling and testing
d) Provision of more field tests such as vane shear, seismicity, electrical
resistivity, pressuremeter tests, etc.
e) Ground condition
f) Field condition, accessibility etc.

1.10 Importance and function of a qualified supervisor

A supervising engineering must be familiar with the program of working at site so

that he/she can guide the field team to avoid unwanted situations. The engineer will
be checking the field borelog time to time and checking the field identification of
soils in the strata. The engineer shall oversee the laboratory work and advice
wherever necessary. A borelog shall include all information about the site and
events during the work. All reports, the field and the laboratory, shall be checked by
the engineer.

1.11 SPT
It is the most versatile and most preferred test recommended by engineers. The
reason of its versatility is that it is correlated with other engineering parameters
required for design. Moreover, a huge number of publications are now a days
available for estimating potential earthquake induced parameters with correlated
SPT N-values.
A stainless steel split spoon sampler having dimensions of OD= mm, ID= mm, L=
mm, of sharp is employed for the test. It is driven vertically at known depth with a
steel hammer of 140 lb (63.5±0.5kg) in weight with a free falling height of 30 in
(760±10 mm) by repeated drops. The number of hammer drops for each 6in
(150mm) is recorded and the number of blows required for the last 12in(300mm)
i.e. the number of blows per feet is called the SPT- N value or the standard
penetration resistance.
The SPT N-values are corrected for:
a) Energy delivered to the drive rods
b) Energy losses due to length of rods
c) Effect of overburden pressure in sands
to obtain corrected N values. Normalised N values are used for correlation purpose
by research workers.

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1.12 Sample disturbance and its remedy
Causes of sample disturbance:
a) Impact load on the sampler during sampling
b) Hard or dense stratum cannot be easily penetrated by the sampler
c) Inappropriate sampler
d) Change in moisture content at the time of test
e) Disturbance caused during shifting of sample to the laboratory
f) Extrusion of sample by compressing at the laboratory
It is not possible to avoid all the reasons mentioned above. However, it can be
minimised by taking proper care and by choosing correct sampler. Often it would
cost extraordinarily to offset the allocated budget.

1.13 Sample collection, preservation and transportation

Disturbed samples are immediately identified, labelled and placed in a box before
shifting to the laboratory.
Sampling tubes containing undisturbed soil samples are cleaned, waxed at both
ends to prevent any loss of moisture, marked and placed under cushion in a cool
place before shifting to the laboratory.
Samples should be shifted to the laboratory as quickly as possible and care is taken
during transportation to prevent any shock.

1.14 Soil identification in the field

Only a qualified personnel is allowed to identify the soil. This identification is
reported in the borelog. Supervising engineer is responsible to check for correct
field identification before borelog is prepared.
The identification shall include:
a) Colour
b) Odour if noticed
c) Consistency(stiffness or hardness)
d) Secondary constituents as qualifying term for the main composition
e) Main composition of the soil preferably in capital letters
f) Bedding plane (optional)
g) Gradation of coarse grained part of the main composition (optional)

1.15 Procedure of soil identification in the field

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The upper part of the soil in the spoon is disregarded. Only the lower part is
considered to be representative and examined and tested.
A) Recognize the colour of the soil.
B) Observe the structure of the soil; it can be mottled or homogeneous.
C) Recognize the principal constituent. If it is sand, check for grittiness and
recognize the size of sand whether it is fine, medium or coarse.
D) If the principal constituent is fines then proceed to ascertain whether it is clay
or silt. Clay is identified by stickiness at plum of hand when it is wet. Silt is
characterized by non-stickiness at plum when wet and exudes between
E) Secondary constituents should be identified and described as a qualifying
F) Follow the project specification for describing the soils e.g. USCS, BS, ISO, etc.
If nothing is specified then follow the suitable one preferred by the
geotechnical engineer.

1.16 Borehole logging; requirement and its presentation

Borehole logging is immediately made after completion of boring. Field logging is
expected by the engineer within two days after completion of boring. The engineer
carefully checks all information provided by the drilling company. He will check field
identification for all soil samples. Necessary corrections and modifications are made
after checking.
The engineer has to follow the standard procedure set out in the specification. No
discrepancy is allowed and no confusion arises by users of the log.
A borehole log should include all field activities include but not limited to the
1) Name of client
2) Name of organization who performed boring
3) Date of boring
4) Rig operator
5) Discontinuation period and the reason of discontinuity
6) Location
7) XY coordinates of the borehole
8) Ground RL
9) Location of WT
10) SPT-N values and plotting in horizontal scale
11) SPT locations and field identification of the soil
12) Diagram of soil strata
13) Symbolic representation of soil types in strata
14) Some test results on physical properties in each stratum in H-scale

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1.17 Shallow boring
Sometimes it is necessary to know the type of soil lying within few metres below the
ground surface. In this case shallow boring is recommended. Assigned laboratory
tests are due to use of the material.

1.18 Trial pit

Trial pits are investigated to determine suitability of the material for use as
construction material. Soil excavators are used for collection of bulk samples.
Manual effort for sampling is also common. Logging is sometimes made to know
history of formation of the deposit. The geotechnical engineer specifies the testing
scheme for the trial pit samples.

1.19 Recommended tests for shallow boring and pit samples

Atterberg limits, partical size distribution, compaction and CBR are common test
usually carried out with the trial pit samples. Modification of soil by addition with
other type of soil or additives can be made and studied.

Detailed tests on undisturbed soils are made on shallow borehole samples.

1.20 Assigned laboratory tests

Normally tests to be performed are specified in the specification. Usually the
following tests are performed:
For disturbed soils-
a) NMC
b) PSD
c) ALs
d) SG
For undisturbed soils-
a) NMC, bulk density and specific gravity
b) PSD, ALs
c) Unconfined compression
d) Triaxial compression
e) Consolidation

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f) Direct Shear

In some cases mica analysis and chemical tests are performed on soil and
groundwater at borehole locations.

1.21 Requirement of standard procedures in lab testing

A soil testing laboratory should be capable of performing necessary tests by
following standard test procedures. The laboratory should be equipped with
acceptable equipment and is operated by qualified technicians guided by a
geotechnical engineer.
The equipment and manpower should be considered separately for selection of
laboratory undertaking the tests.

1.22 Some aspects of lab work

A laboratory should be clean and tidy. It should contain sufficient storage for
accommodating field samples. The storage should not be hot and maintained
proper ventilation.
Sufficient facilities for testing should be available. Working desks should be
available to accommodate testing instruments.
For chemical testing, a small room with extracting fan and adequate desk and
cupboard is required for testing. Only trained workers should allowed to work.
All measuring devices should regularly checked for their reliability.
A display board showing samples and testing be maintained at correct location and
should always be updated.

1.23 Cone penetration tests (CPT)

Cone penetration test is very common in Europe. It is sometimes used in our
country when the importance of the structure, existing location and available fund
justify its usage.
It has certain advantages and limitations.

1.24 Types of CPT

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Types of CPT vary according to dimensions and use. Sizes of cones and sleeves vary
according to Manufaturers.
Some modification is done to the device to widen test facilities e.g.
Cone pressuremeter test (CPMT), seizmic cone penetration test (SCPT), etc.

1.25 What is obtained in CPT

Normally available parameters are cone resistance (q c in MN/m2) and frictional
resistance of the sleeve(fs in kN/m2). These two results are simultaneously obtained
during punching the penetration rods followed by cone and sleeve. From the relative
values of these two sets of results, soil profiling is made along with other

1.26 Interpretations of CPT

A lot variety of correlation systems for identification of soil stratum and strength
conditions from values of qc and fs are available. Many software programs have been
developed in this connection. However, the engineers are to apply their own
judgement to accept the correlated values.

1.27 Correlations of SPT and CPT results

1. Correlation by Robertson and Campanela:
The value is used for soil profiling.
2. Jefferies and Davies:
Ic = f(qc,fs)
Ic = f((Qc/Pa)/N60 )
This Ic is used for soil profiling

1.28 Advantages and limitations of CPT


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1) Less time is required
2) No expense and risk to transfer field samples to laboratory
3) CPT uses data-logger that ensures that root data is saved and printed in
specified format.
4) Engineers can gather data much faster and can take spot decision for testing
intermediate locations.
5) Pore pressure is measured and hence it tends to produce more accurate
presentation of actual conditions underground.
6) Not laboratory testing is required.
1) There is no way to view the solids existing in the strata.
2) There is no way but to redo when there is conflict in data.

2.0 Short descriptions of common lab testing

Lab tests performed on soil from borehole:
1) Natural Moisture.
It can be performed both on partly disturbed soil and undisturbed soil. Test
result is more reliable when performed on undisturbed soil.

2) Particle size Distribution

The test is done to assess the coarse fraction contained in the specimen. It is
done by using a 75mm test sieve. Silt and clay size particles are assessed
with the help of pipette or hydrometer. The test is reliable for both disturbed
and undisturbed soils.

3) Atterberg Limits
It is reliable irrespective of the sample disturbance. Its value is slightly
changed when tested on an air dried sample.

4) Unconfined Compression
It is reliable when the sample is fine and saturated undisturbed soil. Because
of its simplicity, it is preferred by many organisations.

5) Triaxial Compression
The test is performed for granular and undisturbed fine soils and at different
loading and drainage conditions. It is costlier than unconfined compression
test. It is preferred test by geotechnical engineers.

6) Direct shear Test:

This is also a recommended test on account of its simplicity. Geotechnical
engineers recommends the test for direct use of test results or comparison
with other observed results.

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7) Consolidation
The test is performed on soft fine soil to determine consolidation parameters.
It is a lengthy test to perform but valuable parameters are obtained. The test
is time consuming.

8) Chemical tests
Tests for sulphates and chlorides on soil (or groundwater) are performed
when deemed necessary. These are uncommon tests.

9) Mica Analysis
Sometimes analysis of mica is necessary to carry out. It is performed either
by physical separation or by flotation method. This is a rare test.

2.1 Tests for soil classification

The particle size distribution along with the Atterberg limits are commonly called
“soil classification tests.” These are the most fundamental tests by which one can
describe the soil with confidence.

2.2 Tests for compaction

Density of soil in situ is determined in a number of ways. It is compared with some
“standard” which corresponds to a laboratory compaction test result. In laboratory,
a known energy in dynamic form is applied to soil in a steel mould at varying water
contents at different determinations. Dry density is computed at each determination
and is plotted against the moisture content. A curve is obtained showing the dry
density corresponding to the moisture content. The shape of the curve(concave
downward) is such that there is a maximum density within the test range. This is
the laboratory standard density result. The moisture content corresponding to the
maximum density is known as “optimum moisture content”.

Instead of specifying density values, relative compaction in degrees are specified in

all project specifications. In such cases laboratory compaction tests are performed
on representative soils and the insitu density results are expressed as relative
compaction in percentage.

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2.3 Lab CBR test and its use
It is a strength test performed on disturbed soil. Soil at optimum water content is
prepared in the laboratory and compacted in CBR moulds, normally 3 Nos, at three
energy levels. The compacted soils in the moulds are soaked under water for 4
days. After soaking those soaked soils are tested for penetration at a specified
penetration rate for about 10mm. A load penetration curve is obtained. The load at
2.5mm and 5.0mm penetrations are noted for each compacted specimen. CBR
value is the percentage of the load corresponding to the standard loads. Suppose P 1
and P2 are the loads obtained at 2.5 and 5mm penetrations for a particular
specimen. Then the CBR values are:
i) P1*100/13.24
ii) P2*100/19.96
when the loads are expressed in kN. The higher value of CBR is chosen as accepted
In AASHTO design “resilient modulus” test is recommended. Its value is correlated
with CBR. As soon as CBR value is known, resilient modulus value is estimated and
used in the design of pavement.

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