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Geotechnical Engineering

Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers

Deformation and strength of embankments


on soft Dutch soil
Den Haan and Feddema

http://dx.doi.org/10.1680/geng.9.00086
Paper 900086
Received 12/11/2009
Accepted 09/02/2011
Keywords: computational mechanics/embankments/failures

ICE Publishing: All rights reserved

Deformation and strength of


embankments on soft Dutch soil
1
j
Evert den Haan PhD

2
j
Antoine Feddema BEng

Geotechnical Researcher, Deltares, Delft, The Netherlands

1
j

Senior Consultant/Manager, Deltares, Delft, The Netherlands

2
j

Embankment and dyke stability in the Netherlands has always been evaluated by effective stress analysis. The
subsoil of most of these structures is organic, weak and soft, but the internal friction angle of these soils is
surprisingly high. Empirical methods are used to obtain acceptable, reduced values of friction angle from triaxial tests
for use in stability analyses. It appears possible, however, to do full justice to the peculiar combination of low
strength and stiffness and high friction angle by means of the finite-element method using a viscous version of the
Cam-clay model. All parameters of the model are found from a single test in a constant-rate-of-strain K0 oedometer.
The approach is illustrated by two case histories, after first providing insight into the peculiar properties of the Dutch
soils, and the manner in which they are dealt with.

Notation
C
c9
e
h
h0
K0
K0,nc
k
M
p9
p9c0
p9eq
p90
q
su
su = p9
t
tage
tcreep
nat
vol
k*
*
*

 a9x
 p9
 r9ad

creep factor
cohesion
voids ratio
height
initial height
lateral earth pressure at rest
virgin compression value of K0
permeability
critical-state strength parameter
isotropic effective stress
initial equivalent yield stress
equivalent isotropic effective stress
initial value of equivalent stress
deviatoric stress
undrained strength
undrained strength ratio
time
age of deposit
creep duration
natural strain
volumetric strain
cam-clay swelling factor
cam-clay compressibility factor
creep factor
Poisson ratio
axial effective stress
vertical yield stress
radial effective stress

 v90
9

1.

initial vertical effective stress


internal friction angle

Introduction

Dutch organic soils and peat, although weak and soft, have
surprisingly high values of the effective strength parameters and
undrained strength ratios. Their internal friction angles, 9, can
far exceed the 30358 range that is common in sands, and
generally become higher as the organic content increases. For
example, peat has 9 values of up to 908, and in organic clays
values of 40608 are common. 9 is an important parameter in
the Netherlands, as the effective stress approach is used almost
exclusively in stability analyses. To obtain reasonable factors of
safety, 9 is determined at strains far below failure, and the true
strength of the material is not accounted for. For a realistic
assessment it is necessary to combine (low) stiffness and (high)
strength parameters in one analysis, and the finite-element
method is the obvious means to achieve this.
Good results have recently been obtained with finite-element
calculations of the deformation of embankments constructed on
soft Dutch soils. This will be illustrated by two case histories.
The constitutive model used was a viscous version of the
modified Cam-clay model. The necessary soil stiffness and
strength parameters were determined from oedometer tests in
which a constant rate of strain was applied, and lateral stress was
measured.
The paper starts off by giving the background to the high strength
1

Deformation and strength of


embankments on soft Dutch soil
Den Haan and Feddema

n.c.
o.c.

Geotechnical Engineering

parameters of Dutch organic soils and peat, and the way in which
Dutch engineers have dealt with this in the past. Then the
constitutive model and the parameter determination are described.
Finally the two case histories are presented.

2.

Peat
High-organic clay
Low-organic clay
Dense and loose sand

200

Strength of Dutch soft soils

Dutch organic soils and peat, although weak and soft, have
surprisingly high values of the effective strength parameters and
undrained strength ratios. Figure 1 shows stress paths from
undrained triaxial compression tests on samples covering a wide
range of organic contents. For comparison, test results are also
shown for a loose and a dense sand. The organic soils were
sampled below the crest and the toe of the Lek river dyke, and
were reconsolidated to the in situ stresses. The heavily compressed crest samples are normally consolidated, and Table 1
provides the characteristics of these tests. The internal friction
angles 9 far exceed the 30358 that is common in sands, and are
higher as the soil becomes softer and more organic. Peat, for
example, has values up to 908, and organic clay from 408 to 608.
The application of such values in Bishop slip circle analysis
would yield unrealistically high factors of safety, but the methods
of parameter determination developed by Dutch engineers for
their effective stress slip analyses yield much lower values. The
high triaxial strengths and the positive effect of organic content
remained largely unnoticed up to the 1990s.

150

q: kPa

Lateral tension
boundary

100

50

The undrained strength ratios su = p9 are also high: 0.44 and 0.40
for the organic clays in Figure 1, and rather than failing, the peat
dilates and continues to increase its shear resistance. The lightly
stressed toe material also dilates during shear and is clearly
overconsolidated.

0
0

Data for Queenborough organic clay from Jardine et al. (2003)


are included in Table 1. The values of 9 and su = p9 are
somewhat smaller than for the Dutch organic soils, but the 9
value is also quite high.
Figure 2 plots 9 of normally consolidated organic Dutch soils
against their bulk density. Each bar in the figure is based on
numerous tests. A consistent trend exists. Bulk density correlates

Peat
High-organic clay
Low-organic clay
Queenborough clay
a

100

Figure 1. Effective stress paths of Dutch soft soils in undrained


triaxial compression illustrating the high angle of internal friction.
(Reconsolidation to field stresses. n.c., normally consolidated
material under dyke crest; o.c., overconsolidated material adjacent
to dyke)

Bulk density: kN/m3

Water content: %

9: degrees

su = v90

su = p9

10.4
12.8
14.7
14.6

309
170
76
85

83
54
44
3538

0.74
0.53
0.49
0.53

0.62a
0.44a
0.40a
.
0 300.33

Assuming OCR 1.2.

Table 1. Characteristics of triaxial tests on Dutch (Figure 1) and


Queenborough organic soils

50
p: kPa

Geotechnical Engineering

Deformation and strength of


embankments on soft Dutch soil
Den Haan and Feddema

to some extent with organic content, and indications of the latter


are shown. The very high 9 value of peats with organic contents
above 20% is due to the effects of fibre tensioning. The fibres in
peat are orientated predominantly in the horizontal plane, and
during triaxial compression the fibres extend and reinforce the
matrix of granular and humified organic material in which the
fibres are embedded. Landva and La Rochelle (1983) describe
this mechanism at length, and the 9 908 condition in peat has
often been reported. It occurs when the pore pressures during
shear increase to equal the cell pressure.

3.

Coutinho and Lacerda (1989) show similar relationships as in


Figure 2 for Brazilian (Juturnaiba) organic soil. However, the
organic contentbulk density relationship of those soils differs
from the average Dutch relationship, and points to more precompression of the former.
Bulk density and water content are the mainstays of correlations
with compressibility and strength parameters in Dutch organic
soil practice. These usually suffice, and only rarely are the
organic content, degree of humification or Atterberg limits
determined. Most of the relatively uncompressed peats are fibrous
and pseudo-fibrous, whereas deep, buried peat can be amorphous.
A puzzling feature of Figure 2 is that, despite the very different
structures of peat and organic clay, the trend is quite uniform
across such a large range of organic contents. Jardine et al.
(2003) in their study of the Queenborough clay explain the
increase of the shear strength parameters by colloidal organic
material affecting the surface behaviour of clay particles.
Colloidal activity is also expected in amorphous, humified peat,
but less so in fibrous peat, and so the uniform trend in the figure
is surprising.

Dutch methods

Keverling Buisman (1934) developed the Dutch cell apparatus


(Figure 3) from earlier somewhat similar devices in use by
Ehrenberg, and by Terzaghi (see also De Boer, 2005, from which
it appears that the first triaxial tests ever, by von Karman in 1910
on marble and sandstone (Vasarhelyi, 2010), went unnoticed by
the soil mechanics pioneers). The Dutch cell differs from the
triaxial apparatus mainly by the cross-section of the piston being
equal to that of the sample. Samples were 15 cm high and 6.6 cm
in diameter, and free drainage occurred through porous platens.
Radial drainage also occurred through folds in the loose-fitting
rubber membrane. The membranes were tailor-made, and included rubber flanges that were clamped into the upper and lower
plates; corrections were made for the uplift on the sample from
the annular gap around the piston. Pore pressures were not
measured, and back-pressure was not used.
The test was performed in multiple stages, in each of which the
vertical load was increased, and the cell pressure was first allowed
to equilibrate and was then lowered by draining off droplets of
water from the cell. This increased the deviator stress and
induced shear straining, the lateral component of which caused
the cell pressure to increase gradually and to arrest the shear
strains. In older procedures the cell pressure was lowered to near
failure, but later, when large numbers of tests had to be
performed, a standard of 3 kPa was adopted. A stage was
considered complete when the rate of vertical strain had subsided
to 10 m per hour. The horizontal strains in the sample were
quite limited, and in essence a near-K0 condition was imposed.
The c9 and 9 values that were deduced from four consecutive
stages were low, but were satisfactory in the sense that factors of
safety near 1 were obtained for dykes considered to be on the
verge of failure. Effective stress analysis was nearly always used

The current Dutch test and design methods and the evaluation of
stability are briefly discussed below, before turning to the
alternative method using finite-element calculations with parameters from a constant rate of strain (CRS) K0 -oedometer.

From Figure 1
Betuwe railway, Alblasserwaard
High-speed railway, Rijpwetering

: degrees

80
60
40
20
35%
60%
20%

0
10

12

10%

Organic contents

14
16
Bulk density: kN/m3

18

Figure 2. Internal friction angle 9 of Dutch organic soils as


function of bulk density

20

Figure 3. The Dutch cell apparatus

Geotechnical Engineering

Deformation and strength of


embankments on soft Dutch soil
Den Haan and Feddema

in embankment analysis, although a quick cell test procedure


existed in which consolidation was not allowed, and which
basically yielded undrained strength.

nature of organic soils has been modelled by specialised creep


models, for example in Plaxis by the soft soil creep model
(Vermeer and Neher, 1999), and in a similar model that is
included in the Imperial College finite-element program (Bodas
Freitas, 2008). The former has led to poor matches with field
measurements of embankment deformations when using the
reduced friction angles. An alternative method of parameter
determination has been developed that seems to give much
better matches. Before discussing this, it is necessary first to
describe briefly the creep model used in the finite-element
calculations.

The cell test has now been replaced by multi-stage triaxial


testing, using isotropic consolidation and undrained shear. To
avoid the high 9 values, the stages are terminated at axial strains
between 2% and 5%, and the stress envelopes at these strains are
taken to represent failure. The exact strain value to use has
become a matter of debate, and even confusion, and Den Haan
and Kruse (2006) explain how the disturbance during preceding
stages produces increased values of c9 and reduced values of 9.
The undrained approach to strength is now being investigated as
an alternative for limit equilibrium methods. The possible merits
of the simple shear test are also under investigation, as this test
closely mimics failures in peat, which tend to follow horizontal
shear planes.

4.

The creep model for soft viscous soil

The creep model combines modified Cam-clay (Roscoe and


Burland, 1968) with the isotache description of soil compressibility (e.g. Den Haan, 1996). Figure 4 illustrates the model for
triaxial conditions, and makes use of the parameters in Table 2
for Sliedrecht peat. Figure 4(a) shows the well-known modified
Cam-clay ellipse drawn through the present (p9, q) stress state in
A, p9 being the isotropic effective stress ( a9x =3 2 r9ad =3) and q

The effective stress approach and the reduced friction angles are
also used in finite-element calculations. The soft and viscous

p eq: kPa (log 10 scale)


1
0
14

p c0

10

100

02

v
A

Volume strain

10

1000

Stress decreases

12

q: kPa

p 0

8
6

B
04

1/2x

1/2x

ln(10)*

Creep rate
decreases

06

1/2(*/*)x

1/2(*/*)x
ln(10)*

4
08
2
0

p eq
0

6
8
p: kPa
(a)

10

12

14

Reference isotache
Creep rate */(day)

10

(b)

Figure 4. Illustration of the finite-element creep model: (a) p9q


plot with modified Cam-clay ellipse as plastic potential surface
through state point (A, present stress state; h, rate of volumetric
creep strain; , rate of shear creep strain); (b) isotaches in p9vol
space with p9eq and vol determining rate of volumetric creep

Depth: m-G.L.

2.9

Bulk density:
kN/m3
10.5

Water content:
%
500

k*

*

9: degrees

K0,nc

OCR

0.05

0.29

0.027

0.2

2.39

58.6

0.29

2.8

Table 2. Characteristics of Sliedrecht peat, Betuwe railway,


km 16.7

Geotechnical Engineering

Deformation and strength of


embankments on soft Dutch soil
Den Haan and Feddema

the deviatoric stress ( a9x   r9ad ). However, the ellipse is now


used as a plastic potential surface rather than as yield surface.
The outward normal at any point on the ellipse defines the
direction of the rate of change of the viscoplastic or creep strain
vector, with the horizontal component forming the volumetric
part and the vertical component forming the distortional part.
The height of the ellipse is determined by the Cam-clay Mparameter, and the cut-off on the p9 axis is the equivalent stress
p9eq : The latter is used in the isotache graph (Figure 4(b)) to
determine the magnitude of the volumetric creep strain rate.
Isotaches are simply a collection of lines in stressstrain space
on which the rate of strain is constant. The slope of the lines,
* vol /ln(p9), is similar to the Cam-clay parameter
e/ln(p9). The volumetric creep rate @vol,vp /@t is constant on each line. The viscoplastic nature of soil compression is
such that, at constant p9, volume decreases with time, but at an
ever-decreasing rate. This is reflected in Figure 4(b) by lower
lines having a lower rate of strain. The vertical spacing of these
lines is determined by the creep parameter * vol /
ln(@vol,vp /@t ). This parameter is similar to the well-known
C vol /log(t ) creep parameter. The creep strain rate is read
off at the present values of p9eq and volumetric strain. Elastic
strains are given by the Cam-clay swelling factor k* and Poisson
ratio . Elastic strain rates are calculated and added to the creep
strain rates, and by integration in time and space the strains and
deformations are obtained.

5.

A reference isotache is defined on which the rate of volumetric creep strain is equal to */(1 day). The initial yield
equivalent stress p9c0 is on this line as shown, and an OCR
value is given by the ratio of p9c0 and the initial value of the
equivalent stress p90 :
A loading increment during a multi-stage test on a laboratory
sample is shown schematically in the isotache graph. The initial
position A is on the reference isotache, and because consolidation
is rapid, strains are at first essentially elastic, which brings the
state to point B on an isotache where rates of strain are high.
Creep then occurs along BC, rapidly at first but quickly diminishing with time. At any point on BC the rate of creep is by
approximation equal to */tcreep where tcreep is the creep duration.
So the rate at B would be infinite (or, rather, very high), and after
one day C is reached, where the rate is */(1 day). This is why
the reference isotache corresponds to the common one-day
laboratory compression curve, and its cut-off equals the usual
preconsolidation pressure. For the same reason, the use of
OCR 1 in calculations produces unrealistically high rates of
strain, equal to those after 1 day of loading on laboratory-sized
samples. In situ stressstrain develops along lower isotaches than
can be measured in the laboratory, owing to the larger timescale
and larger drainage distances, and therefore OCR values should
be well above 1, even for normally consolidated soil. In the latter
case, OCR can be derived from the isotache on which creep rate
equals */tage , where tage is the age of the deposit under the in
situ value of p9.

Parameter determination

All parameters of this creep model can be determined from the


constant rate of strain (CRS) K0 oedometer test (Den Haan and
Kamao, 2003). This concerns not only the compressibility parameters k*, *, * and , but also the critical-state strength
parameter M. Figure 5 is a schematic diagram of the CRS K0
oedometer, which is placed in a triaxial cell to make use of piston
control, logging and back-pressure facilities. Horizontal stress is
measured by strain gauges placed on the back of a section of the
oedometer ring, which has been turned down to membrane thickness. Pore pressure is measured underneath the sample, and drainage is to the triaxial cell space. Sample diameter is 63 mm, and
sample height is 2035 mm. Correction for wall friction is possible
by measuring the vertical load at both the top and the bottom.
Figure 6 shows the result of such a test on peat from Sliedrecht,
the first of the cases to be presented further on. By measuring not
only vertical stress and strain but also the horizontal stress, the
complete stressstrainstrain-rate relationship is known, so that
the creep model can be fitted to the results. The test procedure

Load
cell

Triaxial
cell
space

Sample

Horizontal
stress
Load
cell

Pore pressure

Figure 5. Schematic diagram of constant rate of strain K0


oedometer

Geotechnical Engineering

Deformation and strength of


embankments on soft Dutch soil
Den Haan and Feddema

04

Relaxation

200

100

0
0

50

100
Time: h
(a)

150

Vertical strain

300
v

200

100
0
0

50

01
0

Measured
Calculated

400

100

200

p: kPa
(b)

500

v, h : kPa

Calculated

Unloading

02

Measured

300

q: kPa

Vertical strain

06

100
Time: h
(c)

02

v: kPa
10

100

1000

Measured
Calculated

04

06

150

(d)

10
08
06
K0
04
Measured
Calculated

02
0

50

100

150

Time: h
(e)

Figure 6. Test result and fit, CRS K0 oedometer test on Sliedrecht


peat

includes an unloadreload loop to assist in determining k* and ,


and a relaxation phase to assist in determining *.

so that M can also be obtained using reasonable estimates of


K0,nc , */k* and .

The interaction of the various model parameters is such that, for


normally consolidated states and constant rate of strain,

Table 2 provides the characteristics and parameters of the test on


Sliedrecht peat. The strains are quite high, up to 65%, and in this

1:

s

1  K 0,nc 2
1  K 0,nc 1  2( =k  1)
M 3


2
1 2K 0,nc
1 2K 0,nc 1  2 =k  1  K 0,nc 1 

Geotechnical Engineering

Deformation and strength of


embankments on soft Dutch soil
Den Haan and Feddema

case natural strains were used in the fitting exercise. Natural


strain is defined by the integration of infinitesimal increments of
compression relative to the present height,

limited to triaxial tests on material taken from under the crest of


the dyke, and which was reconsolidated at approximately the in
situ stresses. It therefore concerns normally to slightly overconsolidated behaviour. It includes the relevant data of Figure 1.

nat

 dh=h

The results are plotted against bulk density, and cover a wide
range of soft Dutch organic soils. Plotted are M and 9 obtained
from the triaxial test, and by fitting the CRS K0 oedometer test.
Measured K0,nc values from the CRS K0 oedometer test are also
shown.

h0

ln h=h0
2:

ln 1  

At small strains, the natural strain is very similar in magnitude to


the normal (linear) strain . However, at larger strain levels,
natural strain is numerically increasingly larger than linear strain,
and this has the effect of straightening the concave stressstrain
curve, which often develops at higher stresses well in excess of
the yield stress (as in Figure 6(d)). The friction angle found from
the fit is quite high, and the question is whether this value
coincides with the triaxial compression value. The answer to this
question is obtained from a project where numerous CRS K0
oedometer tests and triaxial tests were performed. In this project,
Ground-breaking methods of dyke safety evaluation (Van
Duinen, 2008), which was performed for Rijkswaterstaat (the
national public works authority), three dyke cross-sections were
thoroughly investigated. Samples were obtained using the Begemann continuous stocking sampler (Begemann, 1971). The
triaxial and CRS K0 oedometer tests performed for this project
have been used to compare M values: see Figure 7. The figure is

The high values of M and 9 are again conspicuous, just as in


Figure 1 (sin 9 3M/(6 + M); by approximation 9  25M for
0.5 , M , 2.5). The agreement between triaxial M and M from
the CRS K0 oedometer test is reasonable. The very high strength
of the peat and the highly organic Gorcum light clay (GL), where
triaxial compression values tend to M 3 and 9 908, is
underestimated, however, and this could be an indication of the
influence of organic fibres on strength, which would not be fully
developed in oedometric conditions. The measured K0,nc values
are also given in the figure. Their low values in the peats will be
noted; these indicate that partial fibre tension develops in the
horizontal plane.
The agreement in Figure 7 is considered sufficient to apply the
CRS K0 oedometer parameters, including M, in the creep model.
CRS K0 oedometer parameter sets have been determined for two
embankment construction projects, and applied in finite-element
calculations. The values of M and 9 from the tests are used

30

900
GL
GL

25

K0,nc

GL

619

20

486

15

369

10

254

05
Organic clay

Peat

0
10

12

14

16

18

20

Bulk density: kN/m3


M, triaxial tests

M, fitted to oedometer tests

K0,nc measured

Figure 7. Comparison of M from triaxial compression tests and


M obtained from fitting CRS K0 oedometer tests by the creep
model, both as function of sample bulk density. Measured K0,nc is
also shown (GL: Gorcum light clay)

Geotechnical Engineering

Deformation and strength of


embankments on soft Dutch soil
Den Haan and Feddema

without any reduction, and are much higher than is usual in soft
soil. On the other hand c9 0 is taken. The Cam-clay model
expects zero cohesion in normally consolidated conditions, and in
triaxial tests very little cohesion is measured.

1000

Settlement: m

Calc.
1

2
(a)
Horizontal displacement: m
0

01

02

03

04

2
4
6
8
10

Meas. Calc.
Stage 1 (71 days)
Stage 5 (372 days)
602 days

12
14
16

(b)

Figure 9. Deformations, measured and calculated, Betuwelijn


railway embankment, km 16.7: (a) centreline settlements;
(b) lateral deformations at inclinometer location

Elevation: m NAP

Inclinometer
g.w.l.

Soft layers
(fibrous and pseudo-fibrous
peat and high-organic clay)

6
8
10

Dense sand

12
14

15

10

20

Distance from centreline: m

Figure 8. Cross-section, Betuwelijn railway embankment, km


16.7 near Sliedrecht

05

6
Settlement plate
5
2
4
3
0
2
1
2

10 000

Meas.

Betuwelijn embankment

The measured deformations of the Betuwelijn railway embankment at km 16.7 near Sliedrecht have been analysed by means of
finite-element calculations in the project Lateral ground stresses
on piles, which was performed for CUR, the Dutch equivalent of
the UKs Construction Industry Research and Information Association (CIRIA). The cross-section used in the finite-element
calculation was as shown in Figure 8. The finite-element mesh
consisted of 997 15-noded elements. An updated mesh analysis
was used (updated Lagrange) to account for the large deformations. Seven CRS K0 oedometer tests were performed on samples
distributed over the 8.5 m depth of the soft layers. Figure 6 and
Table 2 provide data on one of these tests. In accordance with the
updated mesh technique, the compressibility parameters k* and
* are taken with respect to natural strains. The bulk density of
the samples varied from 10.3 to 15 kN/m3 , the water content
from 670% to 75%, and the M values found from the soft soil
model varied from 2.4 to 1.7. The correlation of M and bulk
density agreed with Figure 7, but no triaxial tests were performed
in this project. The finite-element calculation with these parameters gave good agreement with the measured horizontal and
vertical deformations, as shown in Figure 9. Only the initial
deformations after the first lift are heavily overpredicted, which
may be due to some uncertainty regarding the initial loading
sequence.

Time: days
100

10

Elevation: m NAP

6.

25

30

06

Geotechnical Engineering

Deformation and strength of


embankments on soft Dutch soil
Den Haan and Feddema

7.

(phase I), then deepening and widening the ditch (phase II), and
finally by pumping water into the sand core of the dyke (phase
III). For this purpose infiltration tubes were installed as shown in
Figure 11, and connected to a pumping system.

IJkdijk

The project Macro Stability Experiment of the IJkdijk Foundation was instigated to test innovative dyke stability monitoring
techniques (Van et al., 2009). A dyke, 6 m high and 100 m long,
was built at Booneschans and brought to failure: see Figure 10. A
cross-section of the dyke is given in Figure 11. It consists of a
sand core (1) covered by clay (2), and the subsoil consists of a
thin crust of clay (3), followed by 12 m of peat (4), a thin
Allerd sandlayer (5), (sand with a slight organic content) and a
base of stiff Pleistocene sand (6). The dyke was brought to failure
by filling the basin behind the dyke and digging a toe ditch

Figure 10. IJkdijk macro stability experiment dyke at Booneschans


directly after failure

The dyke failed a few hours into the pumping phase. Extra steps
were in place to ensure failure (emptying the ditch, and waterfilling of a row of containers on the crest), but proved unnecessary. The sand core and clay shell structure of the dyke is typical
of river dykes in the Netherlands, and water-filling of the core
mimics the effect of high river levels. A full description of the
project, including a limit equilibrium analysis of the failure, will
be given in Zwanenburg et al. (2012). Here a finite-element
analysis will be presented of the deformations occurring during
construction and up to the point of failure.
The peat layer was the dominant source of deformations. It was
modelled by the creep model described earlier. Average parameters were taken from six CRS K0 oedometer tests performed on
this peat. Bulk density varied between 9.9 and 11.4 kN/m3 , and
water content between 285% and 625%. Table 3 gives the
parameters used. The M value is 2.6, and is therefore very high.
Small-strain compressibility parameters were used in this case.
The OCR in the peat was found by calibrating the calculation to
the oedometer tests: the first construction lift was applied drained,
and OCR was adapted by trial and error to obtain the same strain
in the peat as the average value in the tests at the calculated
vertical effective stress (vert  18% at  v9 42 kPa). This
approach circumvents the rather large variation in yield stresses
found in the tests. The permeability of the peat (k) was
determined in the CRS K0 oedometer tests from the hydraulic

Settlement plate
Infiltration tubes
Pore pressure gauges

4
2

Elevation: m NAP

0
2
4

Inclinometer

III

I
II

g.w.l.

6
8

10
12
30

25

20

15

10

10

15

Distance from toe: m

Figure 11. Dyke cross-section, IJkdijk macro stability experiment,


2008

Geotechnical Engineering

Bulk density:
kN/m3
10.5

Deformation and strength of


embankments on soft Dutch soil
Den Haan and Feddema

k*

*

9:
degrees

K0,nc

OCR

k0 : m/s

Ck

0.02

0.22

0.02

0.21

2.6

65.1

0.25

3.3

1.15 3 108

0.35

Table 3. Characteristics of IJkdijk peat, Booneschans

gradient set up from the undrained base to the draining upper


boundary. It was found that k decreases as strain increases, and
this was formulated as

3:

k k 0 10

vol =C k

The parameters k0 and C k were again taken as averages from the


six tests performed on the peat.
A finite-element calculation was performed using a fine mesh of
2054 15-noded elements. A small-strain analysis was applied, and
the construction phase deformations were incorporated in the
mesh. Figure 12 compares the results of the calculation with
measurements of
(a) construction-phase settlements below the crest
(b) pore pressures measured in the soft soils under the crest and
adjacent to the ditch, during construction and the failure
phases
(c) the horizontal deformations near the toe during the failure
phases.
The construction phase was modelled in eight lifts of undrained
load application and subsequent consolidation. The inclinometer
was placed after construction, and horizontal deformations are
taken from the null measurement of the inclinometer.
The construction phase settlements are reasonably well predicted,
as seen in Figure 12(a). Settlements were not measured during
the failure phases.
Figure 12(b) shows that the construction phase pore pressures in
the peat under the crest are predicted quite well. Had it not been
possible to let permeability decrease with increasing compression
as described above, the fit would not have been as good. The pore
pressures during the first lift are overpredicted, because the
thickness of this lift was taken as larger than in reality. This was
necessary to enable the infiltration wells to be included in the
finite-element mesh.
The pore pressures in the top clay under the crest are poorly
predicted, simply because the gauge is located close to the
assumed phreatic line. During the consolidation phases the
calculated pore pressures take on the phreatic value. The pore
pressures in the peat near the ditch are predicted reasonably well.
10

The horizontal deformations at the inclinometer location in


Figure 12(c) depart from the null measurement 37.35 days after
the start of construction, at which point the finite-element
calculation predicted a maximum of 0.185 m. Phase 0 in Figure
12(c) shows the horizontal deformation that accumulated during
the 5.8 days between the null measurement and the beginning of
phase I.
Reasonable agreement is obtained between the measured and
predicted horizontal deformations during phases 0, I and II. The
calculation failed in phase II after applying 33% of the phase
(deepening the ditch), earlier than in reality, where failure occurred
in phase III. This is a satisfactory outcome, as the finite-element
plane-strain simulation does not account for the additional resistance provided by the side planes at both ends of the failure
surface. With the thickness of the peat layer decreasing to 1 m at
the northern end of the failure zone, the end effects are expected to
be especially strong. Zwanenburg et al. (in review) calculate an
extra 15% of lateral shear resistance from the side planes.
It was envisaged that the vertical load on the subsoil in phase III
would be increased by gradually saturating the sand core. The
infiltration process in phase III is shown in Figure 13. A lower
infiltration tube placed in the top clay was operated separately from
the six infiltration tubes in the first sandfill layer. The figure shows
the infiltration pressures measured near the pumps at the southern
end of the embankment and the pore pressures measured in the
failed section of the sand core approximately at the level of the
infiltration tubes, and approximately 1 m higher. The infiltration
sequence was rather complicated, and pressure build-up was higher
than expected. Various pumping pauses further complicate affairs.
The discharged amount of water totalled about 200 m3 , which is
expected to saturate the lower approximately 1.5 m of the sand
core, and to increase the vertical load by approximately 1 kPa.
In Figure 13 the development of the maximum horizontal
deformation of the toe-line inclinometer is also shown. There is a
clear correlation between the infiltration pressures in the final
phase before failure and the rate of increase of the horizontal
deformations. The additional weight of the water is very small,
and is not expected to contribute significantly to the failure. A
post-mortem trial pit constructed through the failure surface
revealed that core sand had penetrated the soft layers below the
crest. It is now postulated that failure was accelerated by both the
high infiltration pressures and the penetrating sand. The horizontal thrust would be increased by both, especially if the infiltration
pressures could propagate into the penetrated sand.

Geotechnical Engineering

Deformation and strength of


embankments on soft Dutch soil
Den Haan and Feddema

Settlement under crest: m

Days after start of construction (13 August 2008 06:00)


15
45
10
20
25
30
35
40

50

Settlement plate
Calculated

01
02
03
04
05
06

Meas.
Calc.

(a)

In peat under crest


In top clay under crest
In peat near ditch

Total head: m NAP

5
4
3
2
1
0

Inc.

2
5

15
10
20
25
30
35
40
Days after start of construction (13 August 2008 06:00)
(b)
Horizontal displacement, inclinometer no. 53: m
005
010
015

0
0

II

IIIA

Depth: m NAP

50

020

IIIB

Top clay

Peat

45

Clay
shell

I II III

Full line: measurement


Symbols: calculation

Allerd
0: Start of phase I
I: End of phase I: filling basin, digging ditch
II: End of phase II: ditch deeper
PleistoIII: Phase III: infiltration in sand core
cene
IIIA: During pause in infiltration
sand
IIIB: Infiltration ends; failure imminent

10

(c)

Figure 12. Results of finite-element calculation, IJkdijk macrostability experiment, 2008: (a) construction phase settlements;
(b) pore pressures; (c) horizontal deformations during failure phase

11

Geotechnical Engineering

Deformation and strength of


embankments on soft Dutch soil
Den Haan and Feddema

Lower infiltration tube (A)

70

Pore pressure at base of sandfill (C)

140

60

Pore pressure 1 m above base of


sandfill (D)

120

50

(Pore) pressure: kPa

160

Infiltration tubes in sandfill (B)

Horizontal deformation
100

A
40

80
30
60

20

C
D

10

20

0
10
09:00:00

40

Max. horizontal deformation: mm

80

11:00:00

13:00:00

15:00:00

0
27 Sept. 2008

Figure 13. Development of infiltration pressures and pore


pressures in sand core and of maximum lateral inclinometer
deformation, phase III failure stage, IJkdijk macro-stability
experiment, 2008

The finite-element calculation failed before these rather complicated processes occurred, after 0.33 of the ditch-deepening phase
had been applied. A finite-element calculation with a coarser
mesh of some 800 six-noded elements, however, did not fail even
in phase III, as detailed in an earlier paper (in Dutch) by Den
Haan and Feddema (2009). There, infiltration pressures were
applied by means of wells, and the sand penetration into the peat
was also modelled. A factor of safety (FS) was determined at the
end of phase III by undrained reduction of the Cam-clay Mparameter, and FS 1.17 was found, whereas FS 0.85 would
be expected if the 15% side plane resistance was accounted for.
The coarse mesh has considerably fewer degrees of freedom than
the finer mesh, and this appears to offer additional resistance to
failure. To be sure mesh fineness was sufficient, a very fine mesh
of 4297 15-noded elements was also used. It produced essentially
the same results as reported in this paper.

8.

Discussion

The two finite-element calculations presented in this paper have


applied a creep model that is a viscous version of modified Camclay, to embankments on soft organic clays and peat, with
parameters determined from constant rate of strain K0 oedometer
tests. The latter include the strength parameter M, which is quite
high in these soils, while cohesion is zero, and strain-dependent
permeability. The finite-element calculations with this model
appear to produce very satisfactory fits to the measured deformations and pore pressures, and the failure of the IJkdijk case is also
covered satisfactorily.
12

The determination of the strength parameters of soft organic clay


and peat has long troubled the geotechnical profession in the
Netherlands. The very high 9 value of these soils poses
problems both in laboratory strength testing and in stability
calculations. The procedure used in this paper interpreting
constant rate of strain K0 oedometer tests within the framework
of a viscous version of modified Cam-clay to produce both
strength and compressibility parameters is possibly a viable
alternative for Dutch practice.
The ability to predict vertical and horizontal embankment
deformations has a bearing on fill material consumption, on track
or road maintenance, and on deformations of foundations, piles
and utilities buried near the toe of the embankment. The ability
to faithfully predict pore pressures set up during construction can
further reduce the occurrence of failures during construction if
adequate surveillance and feedback are performed. The most
important function of calculations, however, is to predict failure,
and in this respect the adequate indication of failure of the IJkdijk
embankment is encouraging.
Predicting failure of dykes has become an important aspect of
geotechnical engineering in the Netherlands. Dyke authorities are
required to evaluate dyke safety every 5 years, and there are some
17 000 km of such dykes in the Netherlands! Evaluation is in
terms of the factor of safety and probability indices determined
from limit equilibrium analyses. Using the finite-element approach described in this paper, a dyke can first be built up, from

Geotechnical Engineering

Deformation and strength of


embankments on soft Dutch soil
Den Haan and Feddema

history as it were, to the present state, taking advantage of the


prolonged creep compression under the dyke and the accompanying increase in shear resistance. Then a factor of safety can be
determined by one of various methods in which failure is
simulated. The most usual approach is the stepwise, undrained
reduction of the Cam-clay strength parameter M until failure
occurs, giving the factor of safety as the ratio of the available and
the reduced value of M.

et al., 2010). This may provide an avenue for further improvement of the approach presented here.

However, the applied creep model has several limitations that


need to be considered. These are
(a) volume changes and pore pressures set up by rotation of the
stress tensor during construction and loading
(b) anisotropy of creep rates
(c) overconsolidation effects.
More general limitations lie in such matters as not modelling
localising deformations along shear surfaces during failure,
inadequate knowledge of the shape of the shear stress envelope in
principal stress space, the non-uniqueness of solutions when nonassociativity is assumed on the shear stress envelope (e.g. by
assuming zero viscoplastic volume change), and the inability to
model side plane resistance.
Stress tensor rotation occurs during embankment construction as
a result of load spreading. At the toe, for example, the initial
geostatic state with vertical major principal stress rotates over 908
to the passive state, and locations between crest and toe undergo
intermediate amounts of rotation.
In soft soils such rotations usually induce volume decrease and
pore pressure increase. These effects are not dealt with by the
creep model used here. Jardine et al. (1997) describe how, once
consolidation has occurred under the rotated stresses, undrained
loading without further rotation yields high undrained strength,
close to that which is obtained without any rotation. This is due
to the soils fabric gradually adapting to the rotated state of
stresses and strains. In dyke safety evaluation the failure loads
stem mostly from rising water levels, and as these are essentially
horizontal, they will induce fresh rotations of the stress tensor,
and appear so quickly as to be essentially undrained. This effect
is probably small, however: the IJkdijk finite-element model was
run with extreme water loading (water level in the basin behind
the dyke raised quickly to crest level), and it was found that
rotations were less than 108 in the zones in which shear failure is
expected to occur.
Modified Cam-clay is an isotropic model in the sense that the
yield ellipse remains orientated along the isotropic stress axis.
Developments are under way in which the ellipse rotates depending on the relative amounts of isotropic and distortional plastic
strains. Such anisotropic models appear to improve fits to measured soil behaviour, and have recently been adapted to account
for soil viscosity, as well as the specific behaviour of peat (Leoni

The creep model does not deal adequately with the overconsolidated state. On unloading, rates of creep strain reduce strongly
and behaviour becomes essentially elastic, and only critical-state
strength is used. Embankments with a significant passive zone of
highly overconsolidated material may therefore be less amenable
to the approach described here.
The side plane and mesh size effects on the moment of failure in
the IJkdijk case have been noted, and in any calculation of failure
it will be necessary to take these effects into account.
Notwithstanding these limitations, and given that due care is
exercised, the procedure described in this paper should allow
successful application of the finite-element method to the calculation of deformations and strength of embankments on soft
organic soils.
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