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# CHAPTER 17

## Lateral Earth Pressures

QUESTIONS AND PRACTICE PROBLEMS

## Section 17.1 Lateral Earth Pressures and Wall Movement

17.1 A massive gravity wall is to be built on a hard bedrock, then backfilled with a very loose
uncompacted cohesionless soil. Which should be used for the design earth pressure
acting on the back of this wall, the at-rest pressure, the active pressure, or the passive
pressure? Why?

Solution
Because the backfill soils are loose, the wall would need to move about 0.04H to develop
the active condition. However, the bedrock below the wall may not yield enough to
permit this. Therefore, the wall probably should be designed using the at-rest pressure

Alternative Solution
Some engineers might design this wall using the active earth, especially if the foundation
could slide laterally along the rock a sufficient distance or if the wall could tilt (lean
forward) sufficiently to develop the active pressure.

17.2 Explain the difference between the active, at-rest, and the passive earth pressure
conditions.

Solution
The at-rest pressure is that which acts on a wall that has not experienced any lateral
displacement or rotation. In other words, it reflects the horizontal stresses that were
present in the undisturbed ground. The active pressure is that which acts on a wall that
has moved a sufficient distance away from the backfill to fully mobilize the shear
strength of the soil. The passive pressure is that which acts on a wall that has moved a
sufficient distance into the backfill to fully mobilize the shear strength of the soil.

17.3 Which of the three earth pressure conditions should be used to design a rigid basement
wall? Why?

Solution
A rigid basement wall should be designed using at-rest pressure because it has not moved
enough to develop the active condition.

17-1

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17-2 Lateral Earth Pressures Chap. 17

17.4 A basement is to be built using 2.5-m tall masonry walls. These walls will be backfilled
with a silty sand that has c′ = 0, φ′ = 35°, and γ = 19.7 kN/m3. Assuming the at-rest
condition will exist and using an overconsolidation ratio of 2, compute the normal force
per meter acting on the back of this wall. Also, draw a pressure diagram and indicate the
lateral earth pressure acting at the bottom of the wall.

Solution

## K 0 = (1 − sin φ ')OCR sin φ '

= (1 − sin 35°)2 sin 35°
= 0.635

γ H 2K0
P0 / b =
2

=
( )
19.7 kN/m 3 (2.5 m ) (0.635)
2

2
= 39.1 kN/m

## σ = σ ′z K 0 = (49.2 kPa )(0.635 ) = 31 kPa

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Chap. 17 Lateral Earth Pressures 17-3

17.5 A 4-m-tall cantilever wall is to be backfilled with a dense silty sand. How far must this
wall move to attain the active condition in the soil behind it? Is it appropriate to use the
active pressure for design? Explain.

Solution
According to Table 17.1, a movement of about 0.001H is required to attain the active
condition in this soil. This corresponds to (0.001)(4 m)(1000 mm/m) = 4 mm.
This is a very small movement, and cantilever walls are not retrained from
rotating. Therefore, it would be reasonable to design this wall based on the active earth
pressure.

## Section 17.2 Classical Lateral Earth Pressure Theories

17.6 State the assumptions in the Rankine’s method of calculating lateral earth pressures.

Solution
• The soil is homogeneous and isotropic.
• The most critical shear surface is a plane.
• The backfill surface is planar.
• The plane strain condition applies.
• The wall moves sufficiently to develop the active or passive condition.
• The resultant of the normal and shear forces that act on the back of the wall is
inclined at an angle parallel to the ground surface.

17.7 State the assumptions in the Coulomb’s method of calculating lateral earth pressures.

Solution
• The soil is homogeneous and isotropic.
• The most critical shear surface is a plane.
• The plane strain condition applies.
• The wall moves sufficiently to develop the active or passive condition.
• The resultant of the normal and shear forces that act on the back of the wall is
inclined at an angle φw with the normal to the wall.

17.8 A 10-ft-tall concrete wall with a vertical back is to be backfilled with a silty sand that has
a unit weight of 122 lb/ft3, an effective cohesion of 0, and an effective friction angle of
32°. The ground behind the wall will be level. Using Rankine's method, compute the
normal force per foot acting on the back of the wall. Assume the wall moves sufficiently
to develop the active condition in the soil. Also, draw a pressure diagram and indicate
the lateral earth pressure acting at the bottom of the wall.

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17-4 Lateral Earth Pressures Chap. 17

Solution

## K a = tan 2 (45° − φ / 2 ) = tan 2 (45° − 32° / 2 ) = 0.307

γH 2 K a cos β
Na / b =
2

=
( )
122 lb/ft 3 (10 ft ) (0.307 )cos0°
2

2
= 1874 lb/ft

10 ft

## Na/b =1874 lb/ft

3.33 ft

375 lb/ft2

17.9 The wall described in Problem 17.8 has a foundation that extends from the ground
surface to a depth of 2 ft. As the wall moves slightly away from the backfill soils to
create the active condition, the footing moves into the soils below the wall, creating the
passive condition as shown in Figure 17.4. Using Rankine’s method, compute the normal
force per foot acting on the front of the foundation. Draw the distribution of passive
pressure on the front of the foundation. Determine the magnitude of the resultant passive
force and its theoretical point of application.

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Chap. 17 Lateral Earth Pressures 17-5

Solution

## K p = tan 2 (45° + φ / 2 ) = tan 2 (45° + 32° / 2 ) = 3.26

γH 2 K p cos β
Np /b =
2

=
( )
122 lb/ft 3 (2 ft ) (3.26)cos0°
2

2
= 795 lb/ft

1.34ft

## Np/b =795 lb/ft

17.10 A 12-ft-tall concrete wall with a vertical back is to be backfilled with a clean sand that
has a unit weight of 126 lb/ft3, an effective cohesion of 0, and an effective friction angle
of 36°. The ground behind the wall will be inclined at a slope of 2 horizontal to 1 vertical.
Using Rankine's method, compute the normal and shear forces per foot acting on the back
of the wall. Assume the wall moves sufficiently to develop the active condition in the
soil.

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17-6 Lateral Earth Pressures Chap. 17

Solution

β = tan −1 (1 / 2) = 27°

## cos β (cos β − cos 2 β − cos 2 φ ' )

Ka =
cos β + cos 2 β − cos 2 φ '
cos 27°(cos 27° − cos 2 27° − cos 2 36° )
=
cos 27° + cos 2 27° − cos 2 36°
= 0.365

γH 2 K a cos β
Na / b =
2

=
(126 lb/ft 3 )(12 ft )2 (0.365)cos27°
2
= 2950 lb/ft

γH 2 K a sin β
Va / b =
2

=
(126 lb/ft 3 )(12 ft ) (0.365)sin27°
2

2
= 1503 lb/ft

Solution

## φw = 0.67φ ' = 0.67(32°) = 21°

cos 2 (φ '−α )
Ka =
sin (φ '+φ w )sin (φ '− β ) ⎤
2

cos α cos(φ w + α )⎢1 +
2

⎢⎣ cos(φ w + α ) cos(α − β ) ⎥⎦
cos 2 (32° − 0°)
=
sin (32° + 21°)sin (32° − 0°) ⎤
2

cos 0° cos(21° + 0°)⎢1 +
2

⎣ cos(21° + 0 ) cos(0° − 0°) ⎦
= 0.275

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Chap. 17 Lateral Earth Pressures 17-7

γH 2 K a cos φ w
Na / b =
2

Na / b =
(122 lb/ft 3 )(10 ft )2 (0.275)cos21°
2
N a / b = 1566 lb/ft

10 ft

3.33 ft

313.2 lb/ft2

## φw = 0.67φ ' = 0.67(32°) = 21°

cos 2 (φ '+α )
Kp =
sin (φ '+φ w )sin (φ '+ β ) ⎤
2

cos 2 α cos(α − φ w )⎢1 − ⎥
⎣⎢ cos(α − φ w ) cos(α − β ) ⎦⎥
cos 2 (32° + 0°)
=
sin (32° + 21°)sin (32° + 0°) ⎤
2

cos 0° cos(0 − 21°)⎢1 −
2

⎣ cos(0 − 21°) cos(0° − 0°) ⎦
= 7.22

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17-8 Lateral Earth Pressures Chap. 17

γH 2 K p cos φ w
Np /b =
2

=
( )
122 lb/ft 3 (2 ft ) (7.22 )cos21°
2

2
= 1,645 lb/ft

1.34 ft

Solution

## φw = 0.67φ ' = 0.67(36°) = 24°

cos 2 (φ '−α )
Ka =
sin (φ '+φ w )sin (φ '− β ) ⎤
2

cos α cos(φ w + α )⎢1 +
2

⎣⎢ cos(φ w + α ) cos(α − β ) ⎦⎥
cos 2 (36° − 0°)
=
sin (36° + 24°)sin (36° − 27°) ⎤
2

cos 0° cos(24° + 0°)⎢1 +
2

⎣ cos(24° + 0 ) cos(0° − 27°) ⎦
= 0.361

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Chap. 17 Lateral Earth Pressures 17-9

γH 2 K a cos φ w
Na / b =
2

=
(126 lb/ft 3 )(12 ft )2 (0.361)cos24°
2
= 2992 lb/ft

γH 2 K a sin φ w
Va / b =
2

=
(126 lb/ft 3 )(12 ft ) (0.361)sin24°
2

2
= 1332 lb/ft

17.14 A proposed concrete retaining wall is to be built as shown in Figure 17.17. Using
Rankine’s method, compute the horizontal component of the active earth pressure acting
on the 14.3-ft-tall dashed line and the passive earth pressure acting on the front of the
footing. Present your results as pressure diagrams. Then compute the resultant of the
active earth pressure and the resultant of the passive earth pressure and show them as

Note: Another important force has not been considered in this analysis: The
sliding friction force along the bottom of the footing. In a properly designed wall, the
combination of this force and the resultant of the passive pressure is greater than the
resultant active pressure with an appropriate factor of safety.

Solution
Let z = depth below ground surface

## cos β (cos β − cos 2 β − cos 2 φ ' )

Ka =
cos β + cos 2 β − cos 2 φ '
cos 30°(cos 30° − cos 2 30° − cos 2 37° )
=
cos 30° + cos 2 30° − cos 2 37°
= 0.383

σ = σ ′z K a cos β
= (γH − u )K a cos β
( )
= 121 lb/ft 3 z (0.383) cos 30°
= 40.1z lb/ft 2 /ft

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17-10 Lateral Earth Pressures Chap. 17

γH 2 K a cos β
Na / b =
2

=
( )
121 lb/ft 3 (14.3 ft ) (0.383)cos30°
2

2
= 4104 lb/ft

## K p = tan 2 (45° + φ / 2 ) = tan 2 (45° + 37° / 2 ) = 4.02

σ = σ ′z K p cos β
= (γH − u )K p cos β
( )
= 121 lb/ft 3 z (4.02 ) cos 0°
= 486 z lb/ft 2 /ft

γH 2 K p cos β
Np /b =
2

=
( )
121 lb/ft 3 (1.5 ft ) (4.02 )cos0°
2

2
= 547 lb/ft

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Chap. 17 Lateral Earth Pressures 17-11

17.15 Repeat Problem 17.14 using Coulomb’s method. Compare your answers with the ones
obtained in Problem 17.14.

Solution

## φw = 0.67φ ' = 0.67(37°) = 25°

cos 2 (φ '−α )
Ka =
sin (φ '+φ w )sin (φ '− β ) ⎤
2

cos α cos(φ w + α )⎢1 +
2

⎢⎣ cos(φ w + α ) cos(α − β ) ⎥⎦
cos 2 (37° − 0°)
=
sin (37° + 25°)sin (37° − 30°) ⎤
2

cos 0° cos(25° + 0°)⎢1 +
2

⎣ cos(25° + 0 ) cos(0° − 30°) ⎦
= 0.375

γH 2 K a cos φ w
Na / b =
2

=
( )
121 lb/ft 3 (14.3 ft ) (0.375)cos25°
2

2
= 4205 lb/ft

The Coulomb Na value is 2.5 percent larger than the Rankine value.

cos 2 (φ '+α )
Kp =
sin (φ '+φ w )sin (φ '+ β ) ⎤
2

cos α cos(α − φ w )⎢1 −
2

⎢⎣ cos(α − φ w ) cos(α − β ) ⎥⎦
cos 2 (37° + 0°)
=
sin (37° + 25°)sin (37° + 0°) ⎤
2

cos 0° cos(0 − 25°)⎢1 −
2

⎣ cos(0 − 25°) cos(0° − 0°) ⎦
= 12.8

γH 2 K p cos φ w
Np /b =
2

=
( )
121 lb/ft 3 (1.5 ft ) (12.8)cos25°
2

2
= 1,579 lb/ft

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17-12 Lateral Earth Pressures Chap. 17

## Section 17.3 Equivalent Fluid Pressure

17.16 A 3-m-tall cantilever retaining wall with a vertical back is to be backfilled with a soil that
has an equivalent fluid density of 6.0 kN/m3. Compute the lateral force per meter acting
on the back of this wall.

Solution

Gh H 2
N /b =
2

=
( )
6.0 kN/m 3 (3 m )
2

2
= 27 kN/m

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Chap. 17 Lateral Earth Pressures 17-13

## Section 17.4 Groundwater Effects

17.17 Using a groundwater table at Level A and Rankine’s method, compute the lateral earth
pressure acting on the back of the concrete wall in Figure 17.18. Present your results in
the form of a pressure diagram, and then compute the total force acting on the wall and
the bending moment at the bottom of the stem.

Solution

## K a= tan 2 (45° − φ ' / 2 ) = tan 2 (45° − 36° / 2 ) = 0.260

σ = σ ′z K a cos β
= γzK a cos β
( )
= 122 lb/ft 3 z (0.260) cos 0°
= 31.7 z

## At z = 12 ft, σ = 31.7 (12) = 380 lb/ft2

0
z (ft)

12 380
2
σ (lb/ft )

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17-14 Lateral Earth Pressures Chap. 17

F=
1
2
( )
380 lb/ft 2 (12 ft ) = 2880 lb/ft

⎛ 12 ft ⎞
M = (2280 lb/ft )⎜ ⎟ = 9120 ft − lb/ft
⎝ 3 ⎠

17.18 Using the information from Problem 17.17 and a groundwater table at Level B,
recompute the lateral earth pressures and compute the hydrostatic pressures acting on the
back of the wall. Present your results in the form of a pressure diagram, and then
compute the total force acting on the wall and the bending moment at the bottom of the
stem. Compare the results with those obtained in Problem 17.17.

Solution
For z ≥ 4ft,

σ = σ ′z K a cos β
= (∑ γH − u )K cos β a

3 3

## = 33.0 z − 0.260u − 5.20

u = 62.4lb / ft 3 ( z − 4.0 ft ) ≥ 0

## Total horizontal pressure on the wall = σ + u

Groundwater at b
u σ Total Pressure
z (ft) (lb/ft2) (lb/ft2) (lb/ft2)
0 0 0 0
4 0 127 127
12 499 261 760

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Chap. 17 Lateral Earth Pressures 17-15

z (ft)
12 127 760
σ (lb/ft2)

F=
(4 ft )(127 lb/ft 2 ) + (8 ft )⎛⎜ 760 lb/ft 2 + 127 lb/ft 2 ⎞⎟ = 3802 lb/ft
2 ⎜ 2 ⎟
⎝ ⎠

M = ⎜⎜
(
⎛ (4 ft ) 127 lb/ft 2 ⎞⎛ )
4⎞
⎟⎟⎜ 8 + ⎟
⎝ 2 ⎠⎝ 3⎠
( )
+ (8 ft ) 127 lb/ft 2 (4 ft )
⎛ (8 ft (760 lb/ft − 127 lb/ft )) ⎞⎛ 8 ft ⎞
2 2
+⎜
⎜ ⎟⎜ ⎟ ⎟ 3
⎝ 2 ⎠⎝ ⎠
= 13,190 ft − lb/ft

Solution

## φw = 0.67φ ' = 0.67(36°) = 24°

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17-16 Lateral Earth Pressures Chap. 17

cos 2 (φ '−α )
Ka =
sin (φ '+φ w )sin (φ '− β ) ⎤
2

cos α cos(α + φ w )⎢1 +
2

⎢⎣ cos(α + φ w ) cos(α − β ) ⎥⎦
cos 2 (36° − 0°)
=
sin (36° + 24°)sin (36° − 0°) ⎤
2

cos 0° cos(0 + 24°)⎢1 +
2

⎣ cos(0 + 24°) cos(0° − 0°) ⎦
= 0.235

σ = σ ′z K a cos φ w
= γzK a cos φ w
( )
= 122 lb/ft 3 z (0.235)cos24°
= 26.2z lb/ft 2

## At z = 12 ft, σ = 26.2 (12) = 314.4 lb/ft2

0
z (ft)

12 314.4
σ (lb/ft2)

γH 2 K a
Pa / b =
2

=
( )
122 lb/ft 3 (12 ft ) (0.235)
2

2
= 2064 lb/ft

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Chap. 17 Lateral Earth Pressures 17-17

## Va / b = (Pa / b) sin φw = (2064 lb/ft)sin24° = 840 lb/ft

⎛ 12 ft ⎞
M = (1886 lb/ft )⎜ ⎟ = 7544 ft − lb/ft
⎝ 3 ⎠

17.20 Repeat Problem 17.18 using Coulomb's method. Compare the results with those obtained
in Problems 17.17, 17.18 and 17.19.

Solution

σ = σ ′z K a cos φ w
= (∑ γH − u )K cos φ a w

3 3

## Total horizontal pressure on the wall = σ + u

Groundwater at b
u σ Total Pressure
z (ft) (lb/ft2) (lb/ft2) (lb/ft2)
0 0 0 0
4 0 105 105
12 499 215 714

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17-18 Lateral Earth Pressures Chap. 17

4
z (ft)

12 105 714
σ (lb/ft2)

F=
(4 ft )(105 lb/ft 2 ) + (8 ft )⎛⎜ 714 lb/ft 2 + 105 lb/ft 2 ⎞⎟ = 3486 lb/ft
2 ⎜ 2 ⎟
⎝ ⎠

M = ⎜⎜
(
⎛ (4 ft ) 105 lb/ft 2 ⎞⎛ ) 4⎞
⎟⎟⎜ 8 + ⎟
⎝ 2 ⎠⎝ 3⎠
( )
+ (8 ft ) 105 lb/ft 2 (4 ft )
⎛ (8 ft (714 lb/ft − 105 lb/ft )) ⎞⎛ 8 ft ⎞
2 2
+⎜
⎜ ⎟⎜ ⎟
⎟ 3
⎝ 2 ⎠⎝ ⎠
= 11,816 ft − lb/ft

Comparing these cases, it can be seen that a higher groundwater table gives a higher total
lateral force and a higher bending moment at the base of the wall. In each of the two
cases with different groundwater tables, the Coulomb method gives a lower total lateral
force and a lower bending moment than the Rankine method.