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Earth Retaining Structures

• Earth retaining structures are common in a man-

made environment.
• These structures were amongst the first to be
analyzed using the concepts of mechanics.
Lateral Earth Pressure – Theories of
• One of the most popular earth retaining structure is
Rankine and Coulomb a retaining wall.
• In this lecture, we’ll learn the theory of earth
Lecture No. 15 pressure that is used to analyze the stability of
November 12, 2002 retaining walls.
• It will help you a great deal if you revised the
following important concepts:
– Static equilibrium, Effective Stress, Mohr’s Stress Circle
and Shear Strength of Soils

Definition of Key Terms Lateral Earth Pressure – Basic Concepts

• Active earth pressure coefficient (Ka): It is the • We will consider the lateral pressure on a vertical
ratio of horizontal and vertical principal effective wall that retains soil on one side.
stresses when a retaining wall moves away (by a • First, we will consider a drained case, i.e. the
small amount) from the retained soil. shear strength of the soil is governed by its angle
• Passive earth pressure coefficient (Kp): It is of friction φ.
the ratio of horizontal and vertical principal • In addition, we will make the following
effective stresses when a retaining wall is forced assumptions:
against a soil mass. – The interface between the wall and the soil is frictionless.
• Coefficient of earth pressure at rest (K0): It is – The soil surface is horizontal and there are no shear
stresses on horizontal and vertical planes, i.e. the
the ratio of horizontal and vertical principal
horizontal and vertical stresses are principal stresses.
effective stresses when the retaining wall does not
– The wall is rigid and extends to an infinite depth in a
move at all, i.e. it is “at rest”. dry, homogenous, isotropic soil mass.
– The soil is loose and initially in an at-rest state.
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Basic Concepts (Continued..) Active Failure
• Consider the wall shown in the
• If the wall is moved away
figure on the top right. If no
movement of the wall takes from element A and
place, the soil is at rest and the towards element B, the
vertical and horizontal effective effective horizontal stress in
stresses acting on elements A
and B are:
τ element A will reduce but τ
the effective vertical stress
σ ′z = σ 1′ = γ′z will remain constant.
φ φ
σ ′x = σ ′3 = K 0σ 1′ = K 0 γ′z • Therefore, the Mohr’s circle
will expand as shown in the
K0 – Coefficient of Earth
figure at the bottom right.
Pressure at rest σ’x σ’z σ’z
• Mohr’s circle for the at-rest σ’ • When the Mohr’s circle σ’
stress state is shown in the touches the failure surface, σ’xf
figure on the bottom right. element A will undergo
• Since the soil is not at failure, the Mohr’s circle stays within active failure.
the failure surface boundaries. 5 6

Active Earth Pressure Coefficient (Ka) Passive Failure

• Considering triangle OFC in
the figure on the right:
τ •Since the
wall is
Mohr’s circle at Passive Failure
(σ ′zf − σ ′xf ) 2
sinφ = (σ ′zf − σ ′xf ) (σ ′zf + σ ′xf ) φ towards B,
• Rearranging the above its effective
equation, we can obtain an horizontal
expression for the active σ’zf stress will
earth pressure coefficient σ’ increase but σ’x σ’xf
(Ka) as: the effective σ’zf σ’
(σ ′zf + σ ′xf ) 2 stress will
σ ′xf  1 - sinφ 
=  = Ka remain
σ ′zf  1 + sinφ  constant.
•Hence, the Mohr’s circle will first contract and then
expand as shown in the figure. 8
Passive Earth Pressure Coefficient (Kp) Slip Planes for Active and Passive Failure
τ τ Element B φ
• Considering triangle OFC in the φ Element A φ θp = 45 −
figure on the right: 2
sinφ = (σ ′xf − σ ′zf ) (σ ′zf + σ ′xf ) [w.r.t. horizontal]

• The above
(σ ′xf − σ ′zf ) 2 (90 + φ)
(90 – φ)
can be θp
rearranged O C σ’xf
to obtain an
σ’x σ’zf σ’ σ’zf σ’
for the Pole for
θa Pole for
(σ ′zf + σ ′xf ) 2 active passive
failure failure
coefficient σ ′xf  1 + sinφ  1 φ
(Kp) as:
=   = Kp = θa = 45 + [w.r.t. horizontal]
σ′ zf  1 - sinφ  Ka 9 2 10

Slip Planes (Continued..) Required Horizontal Movement

• Much larger
rotation is
required to
produce slip
planes for
failure as
to the
failure as
• There are always two sets of slip planes – one for shown in
positive shear stress and the other for negative • The soil mass at the back of the wall is
the figure
shear stress. assisting in failure while the soil mass
on the left.
in the front of the wall is resisting
11 failure. 12
Variation of Lateral Earth Pressure with Depth Lateral Stresses due to Groundwater
• If groundwater is present,
the pore water pressure
must be added to the lateral
earth pressure. z
Pw zw
• DO NOT multiply the pore
water pressure with a zw/3
coefficient of earth pressure.
• If the groundwater table is γwzw
located at a height zw from • The lateral force P
the bottom of the wall, the due to groundwater
• Since the vertical effective stress varies linearly with depth, the
active, the lateral earth pressure also vary linearly with depth.
hydrostatic pore water is given by:
• Only in case of a surcharge (figure(d)), the lateral earth pressure is given by:
pressure is constant with depth. Pw = 12 γwz w
• A vertical wall retaining saturated soil on one side must resist u = γw (z − z w )
both lateral earth pressure and hydrostatic pressure. 13 14

Lateral Stresses due to Surcharge Lateral Earth Pressure – An Example

• Surface stresses, such as a
qs • Determine the active lateral qs = 50 kPa
uniform surcharge qs as
earth pressures on the
shown in the figure on the frictionless wall shown in the
right, also impose lateral
Pq figure. The retained soil γsat = 20 kN/m3
earth pressures on retaining z
carries a uniform surcharge of φ’ = 30°
walls. 50 kPa at the surface. 5m
• Depending on whether the Calculate the resultant lateral
retained soil is under active, force per meter length on the
at-rest or passive condition, Kqs wall and its location from the
a uniform surcharge qs will • The lateral force Pq base of the wall. The
impose a uniform lateral due to the surcharge groundwater within the
earth pressure of Kqs where is given by: retained soil is at hydrostatic
K is the earth pressure condition. [This example will be solved during the class.]
coefficient. Pq = K ⋅ qs ⋅ z
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Lateral Earth Pressure – Key Points Coulomb’s Earth Pressure Theory
• The lateral earth pressures on retaining walls are
related directly to the vertical effective stress • Coulomb (1776) proposed that a condition of limit
through the active (Ka) , at-rest (K0) and equilibrium exists in the soil mass retained behind
passive (Kp) earth pressure coefficients. a vertical wall and that the retained soil mass will
• Ka < K0 < Kp and Ka = 1/Kp. slip along a plane inclined at an angle θ to the
• Only a small movement of the wall away from the horizontal.
soil is required to mobilize full active earth • The critical slip plane is the one which gives the
pressure in the soil mass. maximum lateral pressure on the wall.
• Substantial movement of the wall towards the • Limit equilibrium describes the state of a soil
soil is required to mobilize full passive earth mass that is on the verge of failure, i.e. the
pressure in the soil mass.
applied stresses are equal to the available
• Rankine’s earth pressure coefficients are only strength along the slip plane.
applicable to a frictionless, vertical, rigid wall
retaining a homogenous soil with a horizontal
ground surface.
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Coulomb’s Theory (Continued..) Coulomb’s Theory (Continued..)

• Let us consider a vertical, • Consider the force

frictionless wall of height equilibrium of the soil
H, supporting a dry, wedge in the x- and z-
homogenous soil mass directions:
with an angle of internal ∑F x = Pa + Tcosθ − Nsinθ = 0
friction φ, as shown in the
figure on the top right. ∑F z = W − Tsinθ − Ncosθ = 0

• The forces acting on the where T = N.tanφ and W = ½γ

N.tanφ cotθ
soil wedge above the slip • Solving for Pa, we get: Pa = 12 γH20cotθ ⋅ tan(θ − φ )
plane are shown in the • Differentiating the above expression w.r.t. θ and
figure on the bottom equating the derivative to zero, we can obtain
right. critical value of θ that gives maximum Pa:
• For a dry soil, γ’ = γ.
φ  φ
θ = θcr = 45o + Pa = 12 γH20tan2  45o -  = 12 K a γH20
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Coulomb’s Theory (Continued..) Coulomb’s Theory (Continued..)

• The expression for lateral force due to active earth • On the other hand, an analysis from the
pressure is the same as that obtained earlier using consideration of static equilibrium of stresses
stress equilibrium considerations (Mohr’s circle). usually results in a failure load smaller than the
• The solution obtained using a limit equilibrium true failure load. Such a solution is called a
analysis always results in a failure load that is lower bound or safe solution.
greater than the true failure load. This solution • For the fortuitous case when both these analyses
is called an upper bound or an unsafe solution. give the same solution, we have a true solution.
• The main reason for this is that the soil will always • In general, Coulomb’s earth pressure theory gives
be able to choose a failure mechanism that is more an upper bound estimate and Rankine’s theory
efficient than the assumed failure mechanism gives a lower bound estimate of lateral earth
(shape and location of slip plane). pressure.
• The accuracy of a limit equilibrium analysis • For a vertical, frictionless, rigid wall retaining a
depends on how realistic the chosen mechanism is. horizontal homogenous soil mass, both these
theories give the same solution.
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Rough Wall and Sloping Backfill Rough Wall and Sloping Backfill (Continued..)

• Poncelet (1840) used • Following expressions for active and passive earth
Coulomb’s limit equilibrium pressure coefficients were obtained by Poncelet:
approach to obtain the
active and passive earth cos2 (φ − η)
K aC =
pressure coefficients for 2
 sin(φ + δ )sin(φ − β ) 
cases where cos2ηcos(η + δ )1 + 
– wall friction δ is present  cos(η + δ )cos(η − β ) 
– wall face inclined at an angle
η to the vertical, and cos2 (φ + η)
KpC =
– the backfill is sloping at an 2
 sin(φ + δ )sin(φ + β ) 
angle β to the horizontal cos ηcos(η − δ )1 +

 cos(η − δ )cos(η − β ) 
• Following Coulomb’s approach, Poncelet also used a
linear slip plane inclined at an angle θ with respect • Unlike the Rankine earth pressure coefficients, KaC
to the horizontal. is not equal to 1/KpC.

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Rough Wall and Sloping Backfill (Continued..) Error due to Curvature of Slip Plane
• The critical inclination of the slip plane w.r.t. the • The curvature of the slip
horizontal is given by: surface for the active state is
small in comparison with that Pa
 1 sinφ ⋅ cosδ 
θ = tan 
± tanφ  for the passive state as shown
 cosφ sin(φ + δ )  δ
in the figure.
• In the above expression, positive sign refers to the • For the active condition, the
active condition (θa) and the negative sign refers to error is negligibly small. Active Condition
the passive condition (θp). • However, the value of the
• Please note that the presence of wall friction passive earth pressure
results in a curved slip plane for both the active coefficient is overestimated.
and the passive condition and therefore, Poncelet’s δ Pp
• For the passive condition, the
coefficients are not 100% accurate. error is small only if δ<φ/3. In
practice, however, δ is
Passive Condition
generally greater than φ/3.
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