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CEG-4011 Geotechnical Engineering I

Lecture #01

Introduction and Historical Background


Professor Luis A. Prieto-Portar Ph.D., P.E., S.E. Florida International University

© Geotechnical Engineering, by L. Prieto-Portar, August 2005

The geotechnical engineering course at FIU is divided into two parts: (1) Analysis. This first part, also known as soil and rock mechanics, begins by (a) studying the origins of soils and rocks, which are then, (b) classified and named according to their formation to establish a common language among engineers worldwide. (c) We then establish their engineering properties (strength and deformation) when subjected to loads from structures, water, earthquakes, etc. Our laboratory sessions will permit each student to experience first-hand these properties, and to develop a deeper insight of soils and rocks as new structural and environmental materials. (2) Design. The second part uses the above acquired theoretical base of soil and rock mechanics, and complements it with structural theory, construction methods and hydraulics to develop a field of knowledge known as foundation engineering. Foundations include all structures supported by the earth: pavements, runways, railroads, bridges, canals, levees, dams, aqueducts, building foundations, ports, drydocks, marine oil platforms, TV towers, rocket launch platforms, mines, tunnels, etc.

A few preliminary definitions: A rock is an indurated material that requires drilling and blasting in order to excavate. If a quantitative value is required for construction purposes, for example, a rock may be defined as the material that requires excavation stresses greater than 1500 kN/m2 (200 psi). A soil is an aggregate geological material composed of discrete solid particles mixed with liquids (usually water) and gases (typically air). In this course, soils are studied as engineering materials, much like steel, concrete, wood, plastics, etc. However, the material properties of soils are very complex. For example, they are: a) Heterogeneous (highly variable in all 3 coordinate axis); b) Non-linear (have decreasing strength with increased loading); c) Non-conservative (have a memory of past loadings) and d) Anisotropic (behave differently in all 3-axis). Soils are in addition highly variable with respect to position in space: A test pit or vertical boring in one spot may show very different engineering parameters from a test performed just a few meters away horizontally. Conceptually, 99% of a soil body may remain hidden from the investigating engineer. There is currently no unified theory of analysis, and all three engineering field equations apply (Laplace’s, wave and diffusion equations), albeit by greatly simplifying the real problem, which leads to suspect answers.

Although modern mathematical methods and computers have greatly aided engineers in calculating the behavior of complex soil bodies, during the past few centuries practicing engineers have relied on a concept called a heuristic (from Greek “to discover”). A heuristic is like a “rule of thumb”: one or two variables are usually enough to predict the behavior of a complex problem, although hundreds of other variables remain unknown. The field practice of geotechnical engineering relies on a mixture of mathematics, modified by empirical data plus experience, simply expressed as a heuristic. Before we use geotechnical heuristics, lets us examine a few heuristics from everyday life. I apologize if the student finds these silly; they are intended to show how clever people use heuristics in daily life. Heuristic example 1: Students taking calculus (and other engineering course requirements) may find that for each 1 hour of class time per week they will need to study 1 hour per week to earn a “D” in their final grade; or study 2 hours per week for a “C”, 3 hours per week for a “B” and 4 hours per week for an “A” grade. Heuristic example 2: For simpler courses, such as economics, it takes 8 hours to study for a final exam worth 40% of the total grade; it takes 1 hour to study for a quiz worth 5% of the total grade. Therefore, each 12 minutes of studying represents 1% of the final grade.

Heuristic example 3:
A full time student takes 12 credit hours per term versus a full time employee that works 40 hours a week. Since each class meets 2.5 hours a week, all four courses only involve 10 hours of class time per week. Hence, each course should be studied at home for 7.5 hours per week to be equivalent to a full time employee. Anything less would be slouthful.

Heuristic example 4:
A McDonald’s lunch may cost $ 5 and be eaten in 15 minutes. Lunch at a French restaurant in Coral Gables may cost $ 40, but will probably be eaten at leisure in 2 hours. Either way, both will cost the same $ 0.33 per minute.

Heuristic example 5:
The ideal weight/height ratio is found as follows: for example, to find the ideal weight of a person that is 1.77 m tall, begin by subtracting 1.0 (leaves 0.77); then multiply the (0.77) by 100 to give the ideal weight of 77 kgs.

Heuristic example 6:
When preparing for a hurricane, how many Q sheets of plywood (4’x 8’) should a homeowner buy? Count the number of openings (doors and windows) and call that N. Multiply N by 1.5 to provide the number of plywood sheets. For example, a house that has 10 windows and 4 doors has an N = 14. Therefore Q= 1.5N = 1.5(14) = 21 sheets.

Heuristic example 7:
A pair of cheap shoes that cost $ 30 will last 3 months. An expensive pair may cost $ 120 but will last over 1 year. Either way, both cost $ 10/month, but the expensive ones look a lot nicer.

Heuristic example 8:
A bizarre estimate of a tall building’s cost is to multiply its weight in pounds by the cost of hamburger in the local supermarket, also in pounds; the error is within 25%.

Heuristic example 9:
When preparing a concrete mix, a common heuristic used by the materials engineer is as follows: for each 1 gallon of water (3.8 lts) added to a cubic yard of concrete (0.8 m3) the slump will be decreased by 1 inch (25 mm) and its compressive strength by 150 psi (1 MPa).

In summary, heuristics are mental models that simplify complex truths. They are “little lies”. Engineering however, uses thousands of these models to provide useful approximations for all fields of practice.

Geotechnical engineering has been practiced since antiquity. The first known building code was the Sumerian Code of Lipit-Ishtar, found in Nippur in present day Irak, and written between 1868 to 1857 BC. It was soon followed by the code written by emperor Hammurabi (1792-1750 BC), the founder of the Babylonian Empire. In the Code, there were detailed punishments prescribed for poorly built foundations and buildings (see the next slide). In India, some earth dams currently in use for irrigation were o riginally built 40,000 years ago. Chinese engineers developed stone mat foundations 5,000 years ago for buildings placed upon marshy soils of the Yangtse River by linking the stones with lead keys. Egyptian thinking was deeply rooted to their soil. In fact, the word “egypt” meant “dark soil” in the ancient Coptic language, derived from the black fertile mud that covered the land after the annual flooding of the Nile each early June. Everything revolved around the Nile (named “Hapi” by Ramses III), including the development of canals, levees and driven wooden piles 4,500 years ago. Wood piles have recently been unearthed in Lucerne, Switzerland, that are 4,000 years old. In Persia, aqueducts (“kanats”) were dug into mountains 10,000 years ago that are still in daily use today. They supply endless water without pumps. In Peru, steep slopes were stabilized with terraces for cultivation 8,500 years ago (slides of the more recent terraces at Machu Picchu are shown next). The Inca’s developed their famous road system (the Qhapaq Ñan) extending from Columbia to present day Argentina. Roman engineers developed concrete 2,000 years ago, and used it for aqueducts, roads and large domes such as Hadrian’s Pantheon. Concrete was re-discovered in Britain barely a century ago.

Some examples of the 280 case laws promulgated by the Babylonian Emperor Hammurabi (1792 – 1750 BC).

Overview of the Inca city of Machu Picchu, Peru.

The cultivation terraces at Machu Picchu showed knowledge of lateral earth pressures.

The surface runoff collector is shown at the photo’s center bottom.

Machu Picchu’s central main drain is shown here, dividing the urban and rural sectors of the city.

Machu Picchu’s water supply system was built by Inca emperor Pachacuti.

The Yaxchilan Suspension Bridge. In March 1989, a civil engineer, James O’Kon P.E., visited the Mayan ceremonial center Yaxchilan, and immediately realized the significance of the mound of rocks in the middle of the Usumacinta River. For over a hundred years, archaeologists had studied the site and dismissed the rocks as simple “rubble”. O’Kon knew this was the pier of a large bridge. Using aerial photos and field data, O’Kon reconstructed a 3-D model of the site. It yielded a three-span hemp-rope suspension bridge with a total length of 600 feet. The bridge was built during the classical period of the Mayas, between 500 and 700 AD. The deck consisted of 10 foot wide hard wood planks. The planks were supported by vertical hemp suspenders, which were in turn tied to the main cables: bundles of six 1-inch ropes. The main cable bundles were supported by two piers and two abutments. The piers were 35 feet across, built with a facing of 4-foot square stones set upon bedrock, and in-filled with masonry rocks. The bridge served the population by reaching the the agricultural fields in what is now Guatemala, whereas the city was in Mexico. The bridge lasted over 500 years. Heavy rains of 200 inches made the river impassable.

The modern use of soils and rocks commences with Roman military roads, bridges and aqueducts. After the collapse of the Roman Empire, most of the technical knowledge was lost, and slowly rediscovered. For example, Filippo Brunelleschi spent ten years studying Roman ruins before building the world’s largest masonry dome (149 ft in diameter) in Florence in 1417 AD. Concrete, on the other hand was not rediscovered until the 1850’s. The mathematical understanding of geotechnical engineering commences with a number of brilliant engineers, appropriately starting with Leonardo da Vinci. Here is a brief list of major contributors: -Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) wrote about soil behavior and typical foundations of his time. He made interesting observations; for example he observed that dry sand laying on a surface had a base twice its height, or in essence and angle of internal friction N = 45°. - Marquis Sebastien le Pretre de Vauban (1633-1707) was a French military engineer who was the first to provide a theory for the stability of earth retaining walls. - Henri Gautier (1660-1737) was also a French military engineer, who formulated the first equations for the stability of soil and rock slopes. - Bernard Forest de Belidor (1671-1761) was a French professor of mathematics who modified Gautier’s work, and introduced the concept of active earth pressures and the use of coefficients. - Charles Augustin Coulomb (1735-1806) was a French military engineer famous for his work in electricity and magnetism. He also contributed greatly to the modern analysis of lateral earth pressures on retaining walls.

-Henri Philibert Gaspard D’Arcy (1803-1858) was also a French military engineer who developed the concept of the permeability of soils to flow of water. -William Rankine (1820-1872) was a Scottish engineer and physicist, well known for his work in molecular physics, thermodynamics and stress analysis. He modified Coulomb’s work on lateral earth pressures. -Otto Mohr (1835-1918) was a German engineer who developed useful graphical solutions to stress analysis problems, still in use today, because they enhance the visual understanding of the problems. -Joseph Boussinesq (1842-1929) was a French mathematician who developed a series of useful formulas to describe the stresses in soil or rock masses from loads imposed on the surface. -A. Atterberg was a Swedish engineer who developed useful definitions for clays in 1948, that are used world-wide today.

-Karl Terzaghi was an Austrian engineer, who brought together all the separate pieces of knowledge in geo-technics, and wrote the first book on soil mechanics in 1925 (“Erdbaumechanik auf Bodenphysikalischer”). Because of this book, and subsequent work, he is considered as the founder of the field of soil mechanics. -Arthur Casagrande was an American engineer, who taught soil mechanics at Harvard. He developed one of the first methods of soil classification, still in use today. He also developed studies in soil shear stre ngth.

-D. W. Taylor was an American engineer who developed in 1939 the first theory of consolidation of clays. -Gregory Tschebotarioff was a Russian-American engineer who taught at Princeton, and developed the first theories on steel sheet-piling walls. - Hans Winterkorn was a German-American engineer who also taught at Princeton, and developed the field of chemical grouting of soils to improve their load capacities and reduce settlement. -A. W. Skempton was a British engineer who developed in 1948 the concept of effective stress, and pore water pressure.

-Ralph Peck is an American engineer who taught at Harvard. He worked with Karl Terzaghi and published numerous papers on field observations. He is still lecturing around the World, although he is in his nineties. -Laurits Bjerrum was a Danish engineer who developed in 1954 a theory of the shear strength of sensitive clays and advanced the knowledge of the behavior of slopes.

- Deere was an American engineer that published the first papers on the mechanics of rock masses in 1963. -Werner Schmid was a German-American engineer who taught at Princeton. He was a highly experienced engineer who developed many heuristics for construction (for example, compare foundation costs not on absolute prices, but in $/kip). He was also a wise humanist, who regaled his lectures with humorous social heuristics (for example the cautionary, “the human capacity for self-delusion is infinite”).