Geotechnical investigation

Geotechnical investigations are performed by geotechnical engineers or engineering geologists to obtain information on the physical properties of soil earthworks and foundations for proposed structures and for repair of distress to earthworks and structures caused by subsurface conditions. This type of investigation is called a site investigation. Additionally, geotechnical investigations are also used to measure the thermal resistivity of soils or backfill materials required for underground transmission lines, oil and gas pipelines, radioactive waste disposal, and solar thermal storage facilities. A geotechnical investigation will include surface exploration and subsurface exploration of a site. Sometimes, geophysical methods are used to obtain data about sites. Subsurface exploration usually involves soil sampling and laboratory tests of the soil samples retrieved.

Surface exploration can include geologic mapping, geophysical methods, and photogrammetry, or it can be as simple as a geotechnical professional walking around on the site to observe the physical conditions at the site.

To obtain information about the soil conditions below the surface, some form of subsurface exploration is required. Methods of observing the soils below the surface, obtaining samples, and determining physical properties of the soils and rocks include test pits, trenching (particularly for locating faults and slide planes), boring, and in situ tests.

A USBR soil scientist advances a Giddings Probe direct push soil sampler.

Soil sampling

Borings come in two main varieties, large-diameter and small-diameter. Large-diameter borings are rarely used due to safety concerns and expense but are sometimes used to allow a geologist or an engineer to visually and manually examine the soil and rock stratigraphy in-situ. Small-diameter borings are frequently used to allow a geologist or engineer to examine soil or rock cuttings or to retrieve samples at depth using soil samplers, and to perform in-place soil tests.

Soil samples are often categorized as being either disturbed or undisturbed; however, "undisturbed" samples are not truly undisturbed. A disturbed sample is one in which the structure of the soil has been changed sufficiently that tests of structural properties of the soil will not be representative of in-situ conditions, and only properties of the soil grains (e.g., grain size distribution, Atterberg limits, compaction characteristic of soil , to determine the general lithology of soil deposits and possibly the water content) can be accurately determined. An undisturbed sample is one where the condition of the soil in the sample is close enough to the conditions of the soil in-situ to allow tests of structural properties of the soil to be used to approximate the properties of the soil in-situ. Specimen obtained by undisturbed method are used to determine the soil stratification, permeability, density , consolidation and other engineering characteristics.

Offshore soil collection introduces many difficult variables. In shallow water, work can be done off a barge. In deeper water a ship will be required. Deepwater soil samplers are normally variants of Kullenberg-type samplers, a modification on a basic gravity corer using a piston (Lunne and Long, 2006). Seabed samplers are also available, which push the collection tube slowly into the soil.

Soil samplers

Soil samples are taken using a variety of samplers; some provide only disturbed samples, while others can provide relatively undisturbed samples.

  • Shovel. Samples can be obtained by digging out soil from the site. Samples taken this way are disturbed samples.
  • Trial Pits are relatively small hand or machine excavated tranches used to determine groundwater levels and take disturbed samples from.
  • Hand/Machine Driven Auger. This sampler typically consists of a short cylinder with a cutting edge attached to a rod and handle. The sampler is advanced by a combination of rotation and downward force. Samples taken this way are disturbed samples.
  • Continuous Flight Auger. A method of sampling using an auger as a corkscrew. The auger is screwed into the ground then lifted out. Soil is retained on the blades of the auger and kept for testing. The soil sampled this way is considered disturbed.
  • Split-spoon / SPT Sampler. Utilized in the 'Standard Test Method for Standard Penetration Test (SPT) and Split-Barrel Sampling of Soils' (ASTM D 1586[1]). This sampler is typically an 18"-30" long, 2.0" outside diameter (OD) hollow tube split in half lengthwise. A hardened metal drive shoe with a 1.375" opening is attached to the bottom end, and a one-way valve and drill rod adapter at the sampler head. It is driven into the ground with a 140-pound (64 kg) hammer falling 30". The blow counts (hammer strikes) required to advance the sampler a total of 18" are counted and reported. Generally used for non-cohesive soils, samples taken this way are considered disturbed.
  • Modified California Sampler. in the 'Standard Practice for Thick Wall, Ring-Lined, Split Barrel, Drive Sampling ofSoils1' (ASTM D 3550). Similar in concept to the SPT sampler, the sampler barrel has a larger diameter and is usually lined with metal tubes to contain samples. Samples from the Modified California Sampler are considered disturbed due to the large area ratio of the sampler (sampler wall area/sample cross sectional area).
  • Shelby Tube Sampler. Utilized in the 'Standard Practice for Thin-Walled Tube Sampling of Soils for Geotechnical Purposes' (ASTM D 1587[2]). This sampler consists of a thin-walled tube with a cutting edge at the toe. A sampler head attaches the tube to the drill rod, and contains a check valve and pressure vents. Generally used in cohesive soils, this sampler is advanced into the soil layer, generally 6" less than the length of the tube. The vacuum created by the check valve and cohesion of the sample in the tube cause the sample to be retained when the tube is withdrawn. Standard ASTM dimensions are; 2" OD, 36" long, 18 gauge thickness; 3" OD, 36" long, 16 gauge thickness; and 5" OD, 54" long, 11 gauge thickness. It should be noted that ASTM allows other diameters as long as they are proportional to the standardized tube designs, and tube length is to be suited for field conditions. Soil sampled in this manner is considered undisturbed.
  • Piston samplers. These samplers are thin-walled metal tubes which contain a piston at the tip. The samplers are pushed into the bottom of a borehole, with the piston remaining at the surface of the soil while the tube slides past it. These samplers will return undisturbed samples in soft soils, but are difficult to advance in sands and stiff clays, and can be damaged (compromising the sample) if gravel is encountered. The Livingstone corer, developed by D. A. Livingstone, is a commonly used piston sampler. A modification of the Livingstone corer with a serrated coring head allows it to be rotated to cut through subsurface vegetable matter such as small roots or buried twigs.
  • Pitcher Barrel sampler. This sampler is similar to piston samplers, except that there is no piston. There are pressure-relief holes near the top of the sampler to prevent pressure buildup of water or air above the soil sample. Appropriate soil sample for this sampler are clay, silt, sand, partially weathered rocks.

In-situ tests

  • A standard penetration test is an in-situ dynamic penetration test designed to provide information on the properties of soil, while also collecting a disturbed soil sample for grain-size analysis and soil classification.
  • A dynamic cone penetrometer test is an insitu test in which a weight is manually lifted and dropped on a cone which penetrates the ground. the number of mm per hit are recorded and this is used to estimate certain soil properties. This is a simple test method and usually needs backing up with lab data to get a good correlation.
  • A cone penetration test is performed using an instrumented probe with a conical tip, pushed into the soil hydraulically at a constant rate. A basic CPT instrument reports tip resistance and shear resistance along the cylindrical barrel. CPT data has been correlated to soil properties. Sometimes instruments other than the basic CPT probe are used, including:
  • A piezocone penetrometer probe is advanced using the same equipment as a regular CPT probe, but the probe has an additional instrument which measures the groundwater pressure as the probe is advanced.
  • A seismic piezocone penetrometer probe is advanced using the same equipment as a CPT or CPTu probe, but the probe is also equipped with either geophones or accelerometers to detect shear waves and/or pressure waves produced by a source at the surface.
  • Full flow penetrometers (T-bar, ball, and plate) probes are used in extremely soft clay soils (such as sea-floor deposits) and are advanced in the same manner as the CPT. As their names imply, the T-bar is a cylindrical bar attached at right angles to the drill string forming what look likes a T, the ball is a large sphere, and the plate is flat circular plate. In soft clays, soil flows around the probe similar to a viscous fluid. The pressure due to overburden stress and pore water pressure is equal on all sides of the probes (unlike with CPT's), so no correction is necessary, reducing a source of error and increasing accuracy. Especially desired in soft soils due to the very low loads on the measuring sensors. Full flow probes can also be cycled up and down to measure remolded soil resistance. Ultimately the geotechnical professional can use the measured penetration resistance to estimate undrained and remolded shear strengths.
  • Helical probe test soil exploration and compaction testing by the helical probe test (HPT) has become popular for providing a quick and accurate method of determining soil properties at relatively shallow depths. The HPT test is attractive for in-situ footing inspections because it is lightweight and can be conducted quickly by one person. During testing, the probe is driven to the desired depth and the torque required to turn the probe is used as a measure to determine the soil's characteristics. Preliminary ASTM testing has determined that the HPT method correlates well to standard penetration testing (SPT) and cone penetration testing (CPT) with empirical calibration.

A flat plate dilatometer test (DMT) is a flat plate probe often advanced using CPT rigs, but can also be advanced from conventional drill rigs. A diaphragm on the plate applies a lateral force to the soil materials and measures the strain induced for various levels of applied stress at the desired depth interval.

In-situ gas tests can be carried out in the boreholes on completion and in probe holes made in the sides of the trial pits as part of the site investigation. Testing is normally with a portable meter, which measures the methane content as its percentage volume in air. The corresponding oxygen and carbon dioxide concentrations are also measured. A more accurate method used to monitor over the longer term, consists of gas monitoring standpipes should be installed in boreholes. These typically comprise slotted uPVC pipework surrounded by single sized gravel. The top 0.5 m to 1.0 m of pipework is usually not slotted and is surrounded by bentonite pellets to seal the borehole. Valves are fitted and the installations protected by lockable stopcock covers normally fitted flush with the ground. Monitoring is again with a portable meter and is usually done on a fortnightly or monthly basis.

Laboratory tests

A wide variety of laboratory tests can be performed on soils to measure a wide variety of soil properties. Some soil properties are intrinsic to the composition of the soil matrix and are not affected by sample disturbance, while other properties depend on the structure of the soil as well as its composition, and can only be effectively tested on relatively undisturbed samples. Some soil tests measure direct properties of the soil, while others measure "index properties" which provide useful information about the soil without directly measuring the property desired.

Atterberg limits 
The Atterberg limits define the boundaries of several states of consistency for plastic soils. The boundaries are defined by the amount of water a soil needs to be at one of those boundaries. The boundaries are called the plastic limit and the liquid limit, and the difference between them is called the plasticity index. The shrinkage limit is also a part of the Atterberg limits. The results of this test can be used to help predict other engineering properties.[3]
California bearing ratio 
ASTM D 1883. A test to determine the aptitude of a soil or aggregate sample as a road subgrade. A plunger is pushed into a compacted sample, and its resistance is measured. This test was developed by Caltrans, but it is no longer used in the Caltrans pavement design method. It is still used as a cheap method to estimate the resilient modulus.[4][5]
Direct shear test 
ASTM D3080. The direct shear test determines the consolidated, drained strength properties of a sample. A constant strain rate is applied to a single shear plane under a normal load, and the load response is measured. If this test is performed with different normal loads, the common shear strength parameters can be determined.[6]
Expansion Index test 
This test uses a remolded soil sample to determine the Expansion Index (EI), an empirical value required by building design codes, at a water content of 50% for expansive soils, like expansive clays.[7]
Hydraulic conductivity tests 
There are several tests available to determine a soil's hydraulic conductivity. They include the constant head, falling head, and constant flow methods. The soil samples tested can be any type include remolded, undisturbed, and compacted samples.[8]
Oedometer test 
This can be used to determine consolidation (ASTM D2435) and swelling (ASTM D4546) parameters.
Particle-size analysis 
This is done to determine the soil gradation. Coarser particles are separated in the sieve analysis portion, and the finer particles are analyzed with a hydrometer. The distinction between coarse and fine particles is usually made at 75 μm. The sieve analysis shakes the sample through progressively smaller meshes to determine its gradation. The hydrometer analysis uses the rate of sedimentation to determine particle gradation.[9]
R-Value test 
California Test 301 This test measures the lateral response of a compacted sample of soil or aggregate to a vertically applied pressure under specific conditions. This test is used by Caltrans for pavement design, replacing the California bearing ratio test.
Soil compaction tests 
Standard Proctor (ASTM D698), Modified Proctor (ASTM D1557), and California Test 216. These tests are used to determine the maximum unit weight and optimal water content a soil can achieve for a given compaction effort.
Soil suction tests 
ASTM D5298.
Triaxial shear tests 
This is a type of test that is used to determine the shear strength properties of a soil. It can simulate the confining pressure a soil would see deep into the ground. It can also simulate drained and undrained conditions.
Unconfined compression test 
ASTM D2166. This test compresses a soil sample to measure its strength. The modifier "unconfined" contrasts this test to the triaxial shear test.
Water content 
This test provides the water content of the soil, normally expressed as a percentage of the weight of water to the dry weight of the soil.

Geophysical exploration

Geophysical methods are used in geotechnical investigations to evaluate a site's behavior in a seismic event. By measuring a soil's shear wave velocity, the dynamic response of that soil can be estimated.[10] There are a number of methods used to determine a site's shear wave velocity:

  • Crosshole method
  • Downhole method (with a seismic CPT or a substitute device)
  • Surface wave reflection or refraction
  • Suspension logging (also known as P-S logging or Oyo logging)
  • Spectral analysis of surface waves (SASW)
  • Multichannel analysis of surface waves (MASW)
  • Refraction microtremor (ReMi)

Other methods:

  • Electromagnetic (radar, resistivity)
  • Optical/acoustic televiewer survey

See also


  1. ^ ASTM D1586-08a Standard Test Method for Standard Penetration Test (SPT) and Split-Barrel
  2. ^ D1587 -08 Standard Practice for Thin-Walled Tube Sampling of Soils for Geotechnical
  3. ^ "D4318-10 Standard Test Methods for Liquid Limit, Plastic Limit, and Plasticity Index of Soils". ASTM International. Retrieved 2011-01-16.
  4. ^ "D1883-07e2 Standard Test Method for CBR (California Bearing Ratio) of Laboratory-Compacted Soils". ASTM International. Retrieved 2011-01-16.
  5. ^ "CALIFORNIA BEARING RATIO (CBR) AND ROAD PAVEMENT DESIGN". The Idiots' Guide to Highways Maintenance. Archived from the original on 2007-02-08. Retrieved 2007-02-07.
  6. ^ "D3080-04 Standard Test Method for Direct Shear Test of Soils Under Consolidated Drained Conditions". ASTM International. Retrieved 2007-02-07.
  7. ^ "D4829-08a Standard Test Method for Expansion Index of Soils". ASTM International. Retrieved 2011-01-16.
  8. ^ "D5084-10 Standard Test Methods for Measurement of Hydraulic Conductivity of Saturated Porous Materials Using a Flexible Wall Permeameter". ASTM International. Retrieved 2011-01-16.
  9. ^ "D422-63(2007) Standard Test Method for Particle-Size Analysis of Soils". ASTM International. Retrieved 2007-02-07.
  10. ^ Kavand, A (2006-06-06). "Determination of Shear Wave Velocity Profile of Sedimentary Deposits in Bam City (Southeast of Iran) using Microtremor Measurements". Site and Geomaterial Characterization. Shanghai, China: ASCE. doi:10.1061/40861(193)25.

External links

  • UC Davis Video on typical drilling and sampling methods in geotechnical engineering.
Barry Clarke (engineer)

Professor Barry Clarke is a British civil engineer. He specialises in geotechnical engineering and is Associate Director of the Institute of Resilient Infrastructure at Leeds University. Clarke has also worked at Cambridge University and at Newcastle University, where he obtained his first degree. He is a prolific writer with more than a hundred research papers and reports to his name and has written a textbook on pressuremeters in engineering applications. Clarke has sat on many construction industry committees and bodies, particularly those associated with engineering education.


A borehole is a narrow shaft bored in the ground, either vertically or horizontally. A borehole may be constructed for many different purposes, including the extraction of water, other liquids (such as petroleum) or gases (such as natural gas), as part of a geotechnical investigation, environmental site assessment, mineral exploration, temperature measurement, as a pilot hole for installing piers or underground utilities, for geothermal installations, or for underground storage of unwanted substances, e.g. in carbon capture and storage.

Direct shear test

A direct shear test is a laboratory or field test used by geotechnical engineers to measure the shear strength properties of soil or rock material, or of discontinuities in soil or rock masses.

The U.S. and U.K. standards defining how the test should be performed are ASTM D 3080, AASHTO T236 and BS 1377-7:1990, respectively. For rock the test is generally restricted to rock with (very) low shear strength. The test is, however, standard practice to establish the shear strength properties of discontinuities in rock.

The test is performed on three or four specimens from a relatively undisturbed soil sample. A specimen is placed in a shear box which has two stacked rings to hold the sample; the contact between the two rings is at approximately the mid-height of the sample. A confining stress is applied vertically to the specimen, and the upper ring is pulled laterally until the sample fails, or through a specified strain. The load applied and the strain induced is recorded at frequent intervals to determine a stress–strain curve for each confining stress. Several specimens are tested at varying confining stresses to determine the shear strength parameters, the soil cohesion (c) and the angle of internal friction, commonly known as friction angle (). The results of the tests on each specimen are plotted on a graph with the peak (or residual) stress on the y-axis and the confining stress on the x-axis. The y-intercept of the curve which fits the test results is the cohesion, and the slope of the line or curve is the friction angle.

Direct shear tests can be performed under several conditions. The sample is normally saturated before the test is run, but can be run at the in-situ moisture content. The rate of strain can be varied to create a test of undrained or drained conditions, depending whether the strain is applied slowly enough for water in the sample to prevent pore-water pressure buildup. Direct shear test machine is required to perform the test. The test using the direct shear machine determinates the consolidated drained shear strength of a soil material in direct shear.

The advantages of the direct shear test over other shear tests are the simplicity of setup and equipment used, and the ability to test under differing saturation, drainage, and consolidation conditions. These advantages have to be weighed against the difficulty of measuring pore-water pressure when testing in undrained conditions, and possible spuriously high results from forcing the failure plane to occur in a specific location.

The test equipment and procedures are slightly different for test on discontinuities.

Discontinuity (geotechnical engineering)

A discontinuity in geotechnical engineering (in geotechnical literature often denoted by joint) is a plane or surface that marks a change in physical or chemical characteristics in a soil or rock mass. A discontinuity can be, for example, a bedding, schistosity, foliation, joint, cleavage, fracture, fissure, crack, or fault plane. A division is made between mechanical and integral discontinuities. Discontinuities may occur multiple times with broadly the same mechanical characteristics in a discontinuity set, or may be a single discontinuity. A discontinuity makes a soil or rock mass anisotropic.

Ellen Louise Mertz

Ellen Louise Mertz (20 July 1896 — 29 December 1987) was one of Denmark's first female geologists and the country's first engineering geologist.

She undertook pioneering investigative work for the Danish State Railways in the late 1920s in connection with the construction of the Little Belt Bridge (completed in 1929) and was the first to propose what later became the Danish Geotechnical Institute.


Fugro N.V. is a Dutch multinational public company headquartered in Leidschendam, the Netherlands, that provides geotechnical, survey, subsea, and geoscience services for clients, typically oil and gas, telecommunications cable, and infrastructure companies.

Fugro’s 2014 revenues amounted to €2.6 billion; it is listed on NYSE, Euronext Amsterdam, and is included in the AMX index. It has approximately 13,500 employees in over 70 countries. Mark Heine is CEO and Chairman of the Board of Management and Harrie L.J. Noy is Chairman of the Supervisory Board.

Geotechnical engineering

Geotechnical engineering is the branch of civil engineering concerned with the engineering behavior of earth materials. Geotechnical engineering is important in civil engineering, but also has applications in military, mining, petroleum and other engineering disciplines that are concerned with construction occurring on the surface or within the ground. Geotechnical engineering uses principles of soil mechanics and rock mechanics to investigate subsurface conditions and materials; determine the relevant physical/mechanical and chemical properties of these materials; evaluate stability of natural slopes and man-made soil deposits; assess risks posed by site conditions; design earthworks and structure foundations; and monitor site conditions, earthwork and foundation construction.A typical geotechnical engineering project begins with a review of project needs to define the required material properties. Then follows a site investigation of soil, rock, fault distribution and bedrock properties on and below an area of interest to determine their engineering properties including how they will interact with, on or in a proposed construction. Site investigations are needed to gain an understanding of the area in or on which the engineering will take place. Investigations can include the assessment of the risk to humans, property and the environment from natural hazards such as earthquakes, landslides, sinkholes, soil liquefaction, debris flows and rockfalls.

A geotechnical engineer then determines and designs the type of foundations, earthworks, and/or pavement subgrades required for the intended man-made structures to be built. Foundations are designed and constructed for structures of various sizes such as high-rise buildings, bridges, medium to large commercial buildings, and smaller structures where the soil conditions do not allow code-based design.

Foundations built for above-ground structures include shallow and deep foundations. Retaining structures include earth-filled dams and retaining walls. Earthworks include embankments, tunnels, dikes and levees, channels, reservoirs, deposition of hazardous waste and sanitary landfills. Geotechnical engineers are extensively involved in earthen and concrete dam projects, evaluating the subsurface conditions at the dam site and the side slopes of the reservoir, the seepage conditions under and around the dam and the stability of the dam under a range of normal and extreme loading conditions.

Geotechnical engineering is also related to coastal and ocean engineering. Coastal engineering can involve the design and construction of wharves, marinas, and jetties. Ocean engineering can involve foundation and anchor systems for offshore structures such as oil platforms.

The fields of geotechnical engineering and engineering geology are closely related, and have large areas of overlap. However, the field of geotechnical engineering is a specialty of engineering, where the field of engineering geology is a specialty of geology. Coming from the fields of engineering and science, respectively, the two may approach the same subject, such as soil classification, with different methods.

Grain size

Grain size (or particle size) is the diameter of individual grains of sediment, or the lithified particles in clastic rocks. The term may also be applied to other granular materials. This is different from the crystallite size, which refers to the size of a single crystal inside a particle or grain. A single grain can be composed of several crystals. Granular material can range from very small colloidal particles, through clay, silt, sand, gravel, and cobbles, to boulders.

Index of soil-related articles

This is an index of articles relating to soil.

Marine architecture

Marine architecture is the design of architectural and engineering structures which support coastal design, near-shore and off-shore or deep-water planning for many projects such as shipyards, ship transport, coastal management or other marine and/or hydroscape activities. These structures include harbors, lighthouses, marinas, oil platforms, offshore drillings, accommodation platforms and offshore wind farms, floating engineering structures and building architectures or civil seascape developments. Floating structures in deep water may use suction caisson for anchoring.

Near-surface geophysics

Near-surface geophysics is the use of geophysical methods to investigate small-scale features in the shallow (tens of meters) subsurface. It is closely related to applied geophysics or exploration geophysics. Methods used include seismic refraction and reflection, gravity, magnetic, electric, and electromagnetic methods. Many of these methods were developed for oil and mineral exploration but are now used for a great variety of applications, including archaeology, environmental science, forensic science, military intelligence, geotechnical investigation, treasure hunting, and hydrogeology. In addition to the practical applications, near-surface geophysics includes the study of biogeochemical cycles.

Oedometer test

An oedometer test is a kind of geotechnical investigation performed in geotechnical engineering that measures a soil's consolidation properties. Oedometer tests are performed by applying different loads to a soil sample and measuring the deformation response. The results from these tests are used to predict how a soil in the field will deform in response to a change in effective stress.

Rock mass classification

Rock mass classification systems are used for various engineering design and stability analysis. These are based on empirical relations between rock mass parameters and engineering applications, such as tunnels, slopes, foundations, and excavatability. The first rock mass classification system in geotechnical engineering was proposed in 1946 for tunnels with steel set support.

Soil test

Soil test may refer to one or more of a wide variety of soil analysis conducted for one of several possible reasons. Possibly the most widely conducted soil tests are those done to estimate the plant-available concentrations of plant nutrients, in order to determine fertilizer recommendations in agriculture. Other soil tests may be done for engineering (geotechnical), geochemical or ecological investigations.

Standard penetration test

The standard penetration test (SPT) is an in-situ dynamic penetration test designed to provide information on the geotechnical engineering properties of soil. This test is the most frequently used subsurface exploration drilling test performed worldwide. The test procedure is described in ISO 22476-3, ASTM D1586 and Australian Standards AS 1289.6.3.1.

The test provides samples for identification purposes and provides a measure of penetration resistance which can be used for geotechnical design purposes. Many local and widely published international correlations which relate blow count, or N-value, to the engineering properties of soils are available for geotechnical engineering purposes.

Static load testing

Static load testing is an in situ type of load testing used in geotechnical investigation to determine the bearing capacity of deep foundations prior to the construction of a building. It differs from the statnamic load test and dynamic load testing in that the pressure applied to the pile is slower.

Triaxial shear test

A triaxial shear test is a common method to measure the mechanical properties of many deformable solids, especially soil (e.g., sand, clay) and rock, and other granular materials or powders. There are several variations on the test.In a triaxial shear test, stress is applied to a sample of the material being tested in a way which results in stresses along one axis being different from the stresses in perpendicular directions. This is typically achieved by placing the sample between two parallel platens which apply stress in one (usually vertical) direction, and applying fluid pressure to the specimen to apply stress in the perpendicular directions. (Testing apparatus which allows application of different levels of stress in each of three orthogonal directions are discussed below, under "True Triaxial test".)

The application of different compressive stresses in the test apparatus causes shear stress to develop in the sample; the loads can be increased and deflections monitored until failure of the sample. During the test, the surrounding fluid is pressurized, and the stress on the platens is increased until the material in the cylinder fails and forms sliding regions within itself, known as shear bands. The geometry of the shearing in a triaxial test typically causes the sample to become shorter while bulging out along the sides. The stress on the platen is then reduced and the water pressure pushes the sides back in, causing the sample to grow taller again. This cycle is usually repeated several times while collecting stress and strain data about the sample. During the test the pore pressures of fluids (e.g., water, oil) or gasses in the sample may be measured using Bishop's pore pressure apparatus.

From the triaxial test data, it is possible to extract fundamental material parameters about the sample, including its angle of shearing resistance, apparent cohesion, and dilatancy angle. These parameters are then used in computer models to predict how the material will behave in a larger-scale engineering application. An example would be to predict the stability of the soil on a slope, whether the slope will collapse or whether the soil will support the shear stresses of the slope and remain in place. Triaxial tests are used along with other tests to make such engineering predictions.

During the shearing, a granular material will typically have a net gain or loss of volume. If it had originally been in a dense state, then it typically gains volume, a characteristic known as Reynolds' dilatancy. If it had originally been in a very loose state, then contraction may occur before the shearing begins or in conjunction with the shearing.

Sometimes, testing of cohesive samples is done with no confining pressure, in an unconfined compression test. This requires much simpler and less expensive apparatus and sample preparation, though the applicability is limited to samples that the sides won't crumble when exposed, and the confining stress being lower than the in-situ stress gives results which may be overly conservative. The compression test performed for concrete strength testing is essentially the same test, on apparatus designed for the larger samples and higher loads typical of concrete testing.


A tunnel is an underground passageway, dug through the surrounding soil/earth/rock and enclosed except for entrance and exit, commonly at each end. A pipeline is not a tunnel, though some recent tunnels have used immersed tube construction techniques rather than traditional tunnel boring methods.

A tunnel may be for foot or vehicular road traffic, for rail traffic, or for a canal. The central portions of a rapid transit network are usually in tunnel. Some tunnels are aqueducts to supply water for consumption or for hydroelectric stations or are sewers. Utility tunnels are used for routing steam, chilled water, electrical power or telecommunication cables, as well as connecting buildings for convenient passage of people and equipment.

Secret tunnels are built for military purposes, or by civilians for smuggling of weapons, contraband, or people. Special tunnels, such as wildlife crossings, are built to allow wildlife to cross human-made barriers safely. Tunnels can be connected together in tunnel networks.

Tuve landslide

The Tuve landslide was a large landslide in Tuve, Gothenburg, Sweden on November 30, 1977. Some 67 houses were destroyed, killing 9, injuring about 60 and making around 600 people homeless. The slide began at 16.05 and lasted 5–6 minutes. The slide affected 270 000 square meters (27 hectares). About 600 people lived in the area; of these, approximately 200 were in the area at the time of the slide. About 100 needed help by rescue workers. It was the most severe landslide in the modern history of Sweden.Close to one kilometer of the nearby road was destroyed. It is estimated that three to four million cubic meters of soil were involved in the slide and further would not have fertility to grow crops. The total economic cost of the slide has been estimated to 140 million SEK (15 million EUR, 22 million USD).

Retaining walls
Numerical analysis

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