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Hossain, M. S., Hu, Y., Randolph, M. F. & White, D. J. (2005). Géotechnique 55, No.

9, 679–690

Limiting cavity depth for spudcan foundations penetrating clay

M . S . H O S S A I N * , Y. H U † , M . F. R A N D O L P H * a n d D. J. W H I T E ‡

Centrifuge model tests and finite element (FE) analysis Des essais de modèle centrifuge et des analyses d’éléments
have been conducted to study the penetration of spudcan finis (FE) ont été effectués pour étudier la pénétration de
foundations in uniform clay with nominally constant fondations ‘spudcan’ dans une argile uniforme avec une
strength with depth. In particular, the transition between force nominale correspondant à la profondeur. En particu-
shallow penetration, with soil heaving to the ground sur- lier, nous avons étudié la transition entre pénétration peu
face, and deep penetration, with a localised flow-round profonde - avec soulèvement de sol à la surface -, et
mechanism, has been investigated. This transition governs pénétration profonde, avec un mécanisme flow-round loca-
the onset of back-flow and hence the depth of soil lying lisé. Cette transition gouverne le début du refoulement et
on the installed spudcan, which in turn influences the de là, la profondeur du sol sur les spudcan installés, ce
bearing capacity and also the potential for suction to qui, à terme, influence la capacité porteuse et le potentiel
develop and hence the uplift capacity and moment resis- de succion à se développer et donc la capacité de redresse-
tance of the foundation. The maximum cavity depth ment et la résistance de moment de la fondation. La
above the spudcan prior to any back-flow is therefore a profondeur de cavité maximum au-dessus des spudcan,
critical issue for spudcan assessment in clay. In the avant tout refoulement, est donc un point critique dans
centrifuge model tests, a half-spudcan model penetrating l’évaluation des spudcan dans l’argile. Dans les essais de
against a transparent window has been used to visualise modèle centrifuge, une moitié de spudcan pénétrant, de-
the soil flow mechanisms around the spudcan during vant une fenêtre transparente, a été utilisée pour visualiser
penetration. The formation of a cavity above the spudcan le mécanisme d’affaissement du sol autour des spudcan
is revealed by both centrifuge modelling and FE analysis. pendant la pénétration. La modélisation et les analyses FE
It is found that there are three distinct penetration font apparaı̂tre la formation d’une cavité au-dessus des
mechanisms during spudcan installation: during initial spudcan. Il y a trois mécanismes de pénétration distincts
penetration, an open cavity is formed with vertical walls; pendant l’installation des spudcan : pendant la pénétra-
with further penetration, soil flows partially around the tion initiale, une cavité ouverte se forme avec des murs
spudcan into the cavity; during deep penetration, the verticaux ; avec une pénétration plus poussée, le sol s’af-
spudcan is fully embedded and the soil flow mechanism faisse partiellement autour des spudcan dans la cavité ;
is entirely localised. Over the wide range of normalised pendant une pénétration profonde, les spudcan sont com-
soil strengths explored, the soil back-flow in the second plètement enfouis et le mécanisme d’affaissement du sol
stage was shown to be due to a flow failure that was est entièrement localisé. Dans la vaste gamme de résis-
triggered by the spudcan penetration and not by wall tances normalisées que nous avons étudiées, le refoulement
failure, that is, the collapse of the vertical sides of the soil du sol au second stade était dû à un défaut d’écoulement
cavity. This observation is supported by FE analysis. The qui a été déclenché par la pénétration du spudcan et non
cavity depth due to flow failure is much shallower than par la défaillance des murs, c’est-à-dire l’effondrement
the criterion for wall failure that is incorporated in des côtés verticaux de la cavité. Cette observation est
current design guidelines. Instead, a new design chart confirmée par les analyses FE. La profondeur de cavité
and expression is suggested with the normalised cavity due à la défaillance de l’écoulement est bien moindre que
depth expressed as a function of the soil shear strength, le critère de défaillance des murs qui est incorporé dans
normalised by the effective unit weight of the soil and the les directives de conception actuelles. Nous suggérons un
spudcan diameter. nouveau tableau de design et d’expression où la profon-
deur de cavité normalisée serait exprimée comme fonction
KEYWORDS: clays; footings/foundations; model tests; numer- de la résistance au cisaillement du sol, normalisée par le
ical modelling; offshore engineering; plasticity poids unitaire effectif du sol et le diamètre des spudcan.

INTRODUCTION known as a spudcan (Young et al., 1984). These are gen-

Jack-up rigs are widely used in offshore oil and gas explora- erally circular or polygonal in plan, with a shallow conical
tion and increasingly in temporary production and main- underside and a central spigot to give improved sliding
tenance work. A typical modern jack-up unit comprises a resistance, as illustrated schematically in Fig. 1. Spudcan
buoyant triangular platform supported by three independent diameters in excess of 20 m have become common in post-
k-lattice legs, each resting on a large inverted conical footing 1980 designs.
Before the commencement of the jack-up operation, the
spudcans are preloaded through the k-lattice legs by pump-
Manuscript received 10 August 2004; revised manuscript accepted ing seawater into compartments within the hull. The preload
4 August 2005. causes the spudcans to penetrate into the seabed until the
Discussion on this paper closes on 2 May 2006, for further details load on the spudcan is equilibrated by the resistance of the
see p. ii. underlying soil. In soft soil, a spudcan may penetrate up to
* Centre for Offshore Foundation Systems (COFS), School of Civil
and Resource Engineering, University of Western Australia.
2 or 3 diameters to reach equilibrium (Endley et al., 1981;
† Department of Civil Engineering, Curtin University of Technol- Craig & Higham, 1985). The purpose of preloading is to
ogy, Western Australia. penetrate the foundation sufficiently so that its resulting
‡ Schofield Centre, Department of Engineering, University of bearing capacity exceeds that required during extreme storm
Cambridge, UK. loading by an acceptable margin of safety. For a 50-year


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k-lattice leg than the embedded depth of the spudcan, denoted d. Soil
Spudcan back-flow into the cavity can occur due to:
(a) plastic flow around the spudcan edge
(b) collapse of the vertical cavity walls into the hole, or
z H (c) a combination of these.
Whatever the mechanism of infill above the penetrating
d spudcan, its effect will be to reduce the net vertical bearing
capacity (i.e. the vertical load that can be applied via the
Clay leg) or increase the penetration depth for a given vertical
load. Soil back-flow will allow transient suctions to develop
beneath the spudcan, giving rise to short-term capacity under
tensile vertical loading and increased moment capacity
(Martin & Houlsby, 2001). A further consequence of back-
flow is that significant passive resistance can be mobilised
by the embedded portion of a jack-up leg under combined
loading (Springman & Schofield, 1998). In addition, Kee &
Fig. 1. Schematic of embedded spudcan foundation showing Ims (1984) reported that, when the clay is firmer, ‘clean’
open cavity holes may form as the legs penetrate. Subsequent collapse of
soil over the spudcans would suddenly increase the load on
them, and could trigger rapid further penetration of the leg.
design storm, a common practice is to preload the founda- The degree of back-flow above a penetrating spudcan is
tion to twice the working vertical load. The ballast is then currently estimated by assessing the maximum (stable) depth
discharged and the hull is raised further to provide an of open cavity above the installed spudcan. The stability of
adequate air-gap for subsequent operation. a circular cavity has been investigated extensively by
The penetration resistance of the spudcan during preload- Meyerhof (1972) using Rankine’s pressure theory, and by
ing, and its ability to withstand combined vertical, horizontal Britto & Kusakabe (1982, 1983) using upper-bound plasti-
and moment loading during an extreme storm event, will be city analysis, and is expressed in terms of a stability number
affected by the extent to which an open cavity forms above (Ns ) defined as
the spudcan during penetration, or whether back-flow of soil ª9 H w
occurs over the top of the spudcan. Current design guide- Ns ¼ (1)
lines (SNAME, 1997) estimate the maximum depth of a su
cavity from solutions for the stability of an open hole, where ª9 is the soil effective unit weight, Hw is the cavity
recommending conservative solutions by Meyerhof (1972), depth at which wall failure is initiated, and su is the uniform
based on Rankine pressures, for soil with uniform shear undrained shear strength. The symbol ª9 is used throughout
strength, and upper-bound plasticity solutions of Britto & the paper, corresponding to the effective unit weight, imply-
Kusakabe (1982, 1983) for normally consolidated, or lightly ing submerged conditions, which represent all practical
overconsolidated, soil where the shear strength increases applications. However, in the analysis of centrifuge tests
markedly with depth. The guidelines also ignore any poten- where no free water was present, the total unit weight has
tial benefits of transient suctions beneath the spudcan during been used in place of the effective unit weight. This
uplift or moment loading, owing to uncertainty in estimating approach is used because, in a cavity stability analysis (or in
the onset and degree of back-flow. the embedment term of the bearing capacity equation), the
The purpose of this paper is, through a combination of self-weight term represents the difference in geostatic stress
experimental evidence from model tests and finite element at a given depth inside and outside the cavity (or above and
analyses, to demonstrate that the current design approach is to the side of the foundation). In submerged conditions, this
based on the wrong mechanism. Instead, the onset of back- difference in stress is ªz  ªw z ¼ ª9z. However, when no
flow, and the consequent stable cavity depth above the free water is present (i.e. the cavity is dry but the soil is
spudcan, is shown to occur at a transition in the failure saturated), this difference is simply ªz.
mechanism during penetration from one involving surface The limiting value of Ns is expressed as a function of the
heave to one involving rotational flow around the spudcan. spudcan penetration, normalised by its diameter. The above
relationship then gives the depth of cavity, Hw ¼ Ns su /ª9, at
which wall failure will occur, and hence an upper bound on
the depth of cavity that can stand open above a penetrating
Assessment of back-flow spudcan. SNAME (1997) suggests that for non-homogeneous
In soft normally consolidated clay, field inspection reports clay the average undrained shear strength over the depth of
by divers (Kee & Ims, 1984) and centrifuge observations the cavity should be used, although a more accurate estimate
(Hossain et al., 2004b) have indicated a progressive infilling could be made by evaluating the upper bound numerically
of soil over the spudcan immediately after penetration of the following Britto & Kusakabe (1983). However, all the
widest part of the spudcan below the mudline. Eventually, above-mentioned stability factors have been developed based
the spudcan becomes fully embedded, with soil covering the on wall failure during axisymmetric excavations in clay. The
entire top surface with no significant cavity. This complete effect of foundation penetration on back-flow of soil into the
back-flow negates the significant bearing capacity contribu- cavity was not considered.
tion from the overburden surcharge term, as this is balanced Soil failure mechanisms around a penetrating spudcan can
by the weight of soil resting on the spudcan. However, when be identified from numerical and analytical studies, although
a spudcan penetrates into overconsolidated clay with a sig- it is more difficult to confirm these mechanisms experimen-
nificant strength at the soil surface, model test observations tally, owing to the non-transparency of the soil material.
(Craig & Chua, 1990, 1991; Hossain et al., 2003, 2004a) Craig & Chua (1990, 1991) examined the penetration
indicate that a cavity forms, of depth denoted H, although mechanism from centrifuge model tests by inserting dry
with partial back-flow over the spudcan, such that H is lower spaghetti markers vertically in the soil across the centreline

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of the foundation. After completion of the test, the soil protruding spigot. The dimensions of the model are shown
sample was bisected along the centreline, permitting the soil in Fig. 3. The spudcan size was chosen sufficiently large to
movement to be observed through the deformed shapes of allow reasonably detailed images of the soil flow patterns,
the spaghetti. In soft clay with free water on top (su /ª9D  while avoiding boundary effects from the strongbox. Thus
0.25), when penetration was shallow (75% of spudcan the strongbox width of 80 mm allowed a clear 50 mm (80%
diameter), a cavity formed above the spudcan and is reported of the diameter) between the spudcan and the wall of the
to have remained open. The lateral extent of visible distor- box: this region encompasses the failure zone, as may be
tion due to soil flow was confined to within 1.5 spudcan seen from finite element analyses presented later and the
diameters of the centreline. In the same soil, Craig & Chua experimental results of Craig & Chua (1990). The half-
(1991) conducted a test with deeper penetration (more than spudcan was penetrated tight against the window of the
1.6 diameters). During deep penetration, the spaghetti defor- strongbox. In order to prevent soil ingress between the
mation showed that: spudcan and the window, an ‘O’ ring was fitted along
the periphery of the flat central face of the spudcan (Fig.
(a) a wedge of clay underneath the spudcan was pushed
3(a)), and was compressed against the window during pene-
down with the footing
tration. The black anodised colour of the spudcan helped to
(b) clay flowed plastically around the spudcan from below
distinguish it from the white kaolin clay.
to above
Tests were performed at 50g, 100g and 200g. Table 1 lists
(c) the clay near the surface was thought to have collapsed
the equivalent prototype sizes of the half-spudcan model
into the cavity.
under different acceleration levels, following the scaling
However, the post-test sectioning revealed only the final relationships of Schofield (1980) whereby linear dimensions
deformation pattern, so the balance between mechanisms (b) are factored by the g-level. All depths in the paper are
and (c) could not be established as the evolution of the soil presented as equivalent prototype depths, or normalised by
flow pattern could not be determined. the spudcan diameter unless otherwise stated. Initial tests
Recently, an optical method based on particle image were conducted without any free water on top of the soil so
velocimetry (PIV) and close-range photogrammetry has been that stability was governed by the saturated unit weight of
developed to obtain planar soil deformation measurements the clay. In order to broaden the range of ª9H/su , tests were
by analysing digital images captured at discrete time inter- also carried out with 30 mm of free water above the clay
vals (White et al., 2001a, 2001b, 2003; Hossain et al., surface, so that the effective unit weight of the soil gov-
2004a). PIV removes the need to insert spaghetti, draw lines erned, as would be the case in practice.
or add discrete target markers by tracking the soil texture A constant rate of penetration of 0.05 mm/s (at model
(i.e. spatial variation of brightness) through a series of scale) was adopted, which was sufficiently slow to allow
images. The use of this technique to observe the mechanism frequent photographs to be taken, but fast enough to ensure
of spudcan penetration is described in this paper. undrained conditions. The camera operated at 0.5 Hz, so that
This paper presents results showing the performance of images were obtained every 0.1 mm of (model) displace-
spudcan foundations during vertical penetration of uniform ment, providing excellent resolution of the failure mechan-
clay with (nominally) constant strength with depth. The isms. Undrained conditions were satisfied according to the
cavity formation during initial penetration and soil back-flow criterion of Finnie (1993), with the non-dimensional velocity
during further penetration have been investigated through index, vD/cv , exceeding 30, where v is the penetration rate,
both centrifuge model tests and FE analysis. In the centri- D is the spudcan diameter, and cv is the consolidation
fuge testing, a full-spudcan model was used to investigate coefficient.
the load–penetration response (not reported here), and a
half-spudcan model was used to reveal soil failure mechan-
isms. Both small-strain and large-deformation finite element Preparation of clay specimen
analyses were carried out to validate the experimental data, The spudcan tests were performed on soft, heavily over-
leading to suggested values of bearing capacity factor Nc consolidated specimens of kaolin clay (LL ¼ 61%; PI ¼
and a relationship for the limiting cavity depth. This paper 27%; Gs ¼ 2.6; cv ¼ 2 m2 /year; after Stewart, 1992). A
focuses specifically on the conditions for the limiting stable homogeneous and deaired slurry at a moisture content of
cavity, rather than on the spudcan penetration resistance, 120% was prepared in a ribbon-blade mixer equipped with a
which will be covered elsewhere. vacuum pump. One-dimensional consolidation was per-
formed in cylindrical containers of 394 mm inside diameter,
starting from a slurry height of about 600 mm. Geofabric
EXPERIMENTAL DETAILS mats with drainage to atmospheric pressure were provided at
The tests described here were performed in the drum both ends of the sample. The consolidation pressure was
centrifuge at the University of Western Australia. This increased in four stages: 25 kPa, 50 kPa, 100 kPa and finally
centrifuge, installed in 1997, has a diameter of 1.2 m and a 150 kPa. Each increase in pressure was applied when the
maximum acceleration level of 485g. Further technical de- rate of consolidation from the previous increment fell below
tails can be found in Stewart et al. (1998). The outer 1 mm/h. During the final pressure increment, primary con-
channel of the drum centrifuge has a vertical height of solidation was considered achieved when the rate dropped to
300 mm and a radial depth of 200 mm. In this study pre- 0.1 mm/h. The sample was then unloaded in stages to
consolidated soil specimens were placed into a strongbox 100 kPa, 50 kPa and finally to atmospheric pressure. The
fitted within the channel. A special strongbox (258 mm 3 total time required for consolidation was 212 weeks.
80 mm in plan and 160 mm deep) with a Plexiglas window The resulting clay sample was about 280 mm deep, with a
was built to allow the observation of soil flow. Images were moisture content of approximately 50%. Test specimens were
captured in-flight by a high-resolution (2272 3 1704 pixels) prepared by cutting the preconsolidated clay according to
digital still camera. The experimental arrangement is shown the size of the strongbox, with six specimens obtained from
in Fig. 2. each consolidated sample. Black ‘flock’ powder was
In this study, a half-spudcan made from duraluminium sprinkled on the soil specimen side facing the window. This
was used. It was 60 mm in diameter with a 138 shallow was to add texture to the white kaolin to allow the images
conical underside profile (included angle of 1548) and a 768 to be used for particle image velocimetry (PIV) analysis.

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Cradle White-painted region

Mini video camera Digital still camera Viewing window

Ring channel Lamp Strongbox

300 mm

Ring channel height

Inner face of window
aligned with centrifuge radius
Radial line: direction of g

Fig. 2. Drum centrifuge channel set-up

The ‘flock’ powder consists of coloured plastic flakes, and is at the University of Sydney. Both small-strain and large-
sold as a material for miniature landscape modelling. deformation analyses were performed. H-adaptive mesh re-
finement cycles (Hu & Randolph, 1998b) were implemented
to ensure that an optimal mesh was generated and that the
Soil strength determination discretisation errors were small. Large-deformation analyses
Soil strength tests were performed using a T-bar pene- were conducted using RITSS (remeshing and interpolation
trometer (Stewart & Randolph, 1991) of diameter 5 mm and technique with small strain; Hu & Randolph, 1998a) to
length 20 mm (model scale). These tests were conducted at simulate continuous penetration of the spudcan from the soil
a rate of 1 mm/s, which was sufficiently fast to ensure surface. This approach falls within what are known as
undrained behaviour in the kaolin (Randolph & Hope, arbitrary Lagrangian–Eulerian (ALE) finite element methods
2004). In-flight strength assessments were performed imme- (Ghosh & Kikuchi, 1991), with frequent remeshing of the
diately after each spudcan test. For the soil specimens with- entire domain, followed by interpolation of all field values
out free water on top, uniform strength profiles were (such as stresses, or material properties) from the old mesh
obtained, whereas some softening of the soil (down to z/D  to the new mesh. Six-noded triangular elements with three
0.7) occurred for the soil specimen with free water on top, internal Gauss points were used in all the FE analyses. To
owing to water being sucked into the clay. Typical clay ensure accuracy of the FE analyses, the minimum element
strength profiles (assuming NTbar ¼ 10.5) are presented in size (hmin ) within the region of interest immediately adjacent
Fig. 4. Representative uniform strengths were chosen from to the spudcan, and displacement increment (), were
the measured profiles as indicated, for use in subsequent selected using the following criteria (Hu & Randolph,
analysis. The recorded soil strengths are listed in Table 2 for 1998b)
three centrifuge tests corresponding to Cases I, III and V of hmin ¼ 0:005D (2)
the parallel FE analyses. The kaolin has a sensitivity of  
between 2 and 2.5, as judged from cyclic T-bar penetration  E
¼ 0:03 (3)
tests (Watson et al., 2000). D su

The geometry of the spudcan model is shown in Fig. 3(b).

NUMERICAL ANALYSIS In numerical simulations, all the dimensions were scaled
Finite element analyses were performed using the AFENA according to the prototype diameter in Table 1. The axisym-
finite element package (Carter & Balaam, 1990) developed metric soil domain was taken as 12D in diameter and 10D

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su: kPa
0 5 10 15 20
Rubber ‘O’ ring 16·5 kPa

z/D 12 kPa
2 0·33

4 0·67

z: m
Half-spudcan 6 1·00


8 1·33
14·6 mm Without top free water
With top free water

Fig. 4. Typical soil strength profiles from T-bar tests (100g)

5·4 mm
1·5 mm
5·4 mm
76° 8·6 mm

in depth to eliminate boundary effects. The soil was mod-

13·5 mm elled as an elasto-plastic material obeying a Tresca yield
criterion. All the analyses simulated undrained conditions
60 mm and adopted Poison’s ratio  ¼ 0.49 (sufficiently high to give
(b) minimal volumetric strains, while maintaining numerical
stability), friction and dilation angles  ¼ ł ¼ 0, and a
Fig. 3. Spudcan models: (a) centrifuge spudcan models; (b) half- uniform stiffness ratio E/su ¼ 500 (where E is the Young’s
spudcan dimensions modulus). The stiffness ratio is within the range commonly
adopted for soft clays, but the precise value has negligible
effect on the results presented. The soil–spudcan interface
was modelled as either fully smooth or fully rough, using
nodal joint elements (Herrmann, 1978).
Table 1. Equivalent prototype diameter of half-spudcan
Large-deformation analyses are computationally intensive,
typically taking several days to run on fast desktop compu-
G-level Prototype diameter, D ters. So, while such analyses were undertaken as a check,
simulating continuous spudcan penetration from the soil
1g 60 mm surface, the majority of the analyses were small-strain
50g 3m analyses with the spudcan ‘wished into place’ at a given
100g 6m depth d, with d/D varied in the range 0.025 to 3. A vertical-
200g 12 m walled cylindrical cavity was assumed to extend from the
soil surface down to a depth (H) above the spudcan (Fig. 1).

Table 2. Case studies in FE analysis

su : ª or ª9: D: Objectives
kPa kN/m3 m

Without water on top Case I 13 17 6 Modelling 100g centrifuge test data

Case II 16.5 17 6 Comparison with 100g centrifuge test data (higher
Case III 18 17 12 Modelling 200g centrifuge test data
Case IV 20 17 12 Comparison with 200g centrifuge test data (higher
With water on top Case V 12 7 6 Modelling 100g centrifuge test data (free-water case)
Case VI 18 7 12 For investigating the effect of soil shear strength, unit
Case VII 9 17 12 weight and spudcan size
Case VIII 18 17 6
Case IX 9 17 6

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FE analyses were performed for the nine cases listed in
Table 2. Cases I–IV were to compare with the centrifuge
test results without free water on top. Case V was to
compare with the test with free water on top. Cases VI –IX
were used to investigate the effect of soil unit weight, shear
strength and spudcan size.


Soil flow mechanism
Figure 5 illustrates the digital images captured during a
half-spudcan penetration in a 50g centrifuge test with no
free water on top of the soil specimen. The soil undrained
shear strength was uniform, with su ¼ 17.4 kPa. It can be
seen that during initial spudcan penetration (Fig. 5(a)), the
soil surface heaved, and a cavity formed above the spudcan.
With further penetration (Fig. 5(b)), soil began to flow back
gradually onto the top of the spudcan while the top part of
the initial cavity stayed open. When penetration became
deeper (Fig. 5(c)), soil back-flow continued to occur onto
the spudcan, while the initial cavity was unchanged. This
indicates that the soil back-flow was localised without affect-
ing the soil surface profile. The (average) depth of the stable
cavity, H, above the spudcan was measured from the image
at deep penetration, and the value of H was found to agree
closely with the depth at which back-flow was first observed
during the test.
Figure 6 shows the deep penetration of a half-spudcan
under 50g and 100g accelerations, but now with a free water
layer above the soil specimen. The measured soil strengths
increased gradually from a value of 3–5 kPa at the soil
surface, to a uniform strength below half the spudcan
diameter, with values of 15.6 kPa for the 50g test and
12 kPa for the 100g test (Fig. 4). By comparing Fig. 6(a)
with Fig. 5(c) it can be seen that, under the same accelera-
tion level (50g) and with similar soil strength, the stable
cavity depth has increased owing to the presence of the free (b)
water. The stability of the cavity is improved by being filled
with water, as the stability now depends on the soil effective
unit weight (ª9 ¼ 7 kN/m3 ) rather than its saturated unit
weight (ª ¼ 17 kN/m3 ). The footing size effect is illustrated
in Figs 6(a) and 6(b). The prototype spudcan size is doubled
in the 100g test compared with the 50g test. Therefore the
effective soil unit weight (ª9) and spudcan size (D) play
important roles in cavity formation and the stable cavity
The digital images with the coloured flock were then
analysed by PIV with subsequent photogrammetric correc-
tions (White et al., 2003). PIV operates by tracking the
texture (i.e. the spatial variation of brightness) of a mesh of
patches through a series of images. Fig. 7 shows the
corresponding displacement vectors using the images cap-
tured during the same test as presented in Fig. 5. Fig. 7(a)
displays the familiar bearing capacity failure mechanism for
a surface footing. For this surface footing, a significant
amount of soil underneath the spigot (0.8D) moves mainly
downwards with the spudcan, while the soil around the
spudcan edge shows a transitional movement from lateral to
vertically upwards: hence the soil surface adjacent to the
spudcan edge heaves. With further penetration (Fig. 7(b)), (c)
the region of downward moving soil beneath the spudcan
decreases to 0.5D, and more soil moves around the spudcan Fig. 5. Digital images of spudcan penetration in centrifuge test
edges. At this stage, the back-flow mechanism above the (50g, without top free water): (a) d/D 0.16; (b) d/D 0.77; (c)
d/D 1.15
spudcan extends to the soil surface. For deeper penetration
(Fig. 7(c)), flow around the spudcan is fully localised with-
out influencing the surface soil. The area where PIV analysis remoulded to such an extent as to obscure the coloured
proved possible has been identified by a line, indicating the flock, preventing PIV analysis. The region of downward
extent of the cavity, but also including (in Figs 7(b) and (c)) moving soil beneath the spudcan stays the same between
areas above the spudcan where the back-flow soil was Figs 5(b) and 5(c) (0.5D). The lateral extent of soil distor-

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250 240 230 220 210 0 10 20 30 40 50








250 240 230 220 210 0 10 20 30 40 50


Fig. 6. Digital images of deep spudcan foundations in centrifuge
tests with top free water: (a) d/D 1.43, 50g; (b) d/D 1.00,

tion decreases with spudcan penetration from 1.5D to 1.3D,

which agrees well with the width of 1.5D reported by Craig
& Chua (1990) at shallow penetration (d/D ¼ 0.75). The 80
depth of onset of back-flow was assessed from the PIV data
captured during continuous penetration. It was found that the
average cavity depth, H, remained similar to the depth where
back-flow was first initiated (Fig. 5(c)). 100
Similar flow mechanisms and cavity formation were also
found in the large-penetration finite element analysis. Fig. 8 250 240 230 220 210 0 10 20 30 40 50
shows the FE results for a smooth spudcan in a soil with su (c)
¼ 18 kPa, ª ¼ 17 kN/m3 and D ¼ 12 m (without free water
on top, Case III in Table 2). Comparison with the centrifuge Fig. 7. Soil flow vectors from image analysis of centrifuge test
results in Fig. 7 shows close agreement in the lateral and (50g, without top free water) (figure axes in mm: model): (a)
vertical extent of the soil distortion zone. Note that the surface heave mechanism, d/D 0.16; (b) onset of flow-round
duraluminium spudcan model used for centrifuge testing mechanism, d/D 0.77; (c) full flow-round mechanism, d/D
would have led to a relatively smooth interface, with typical 1.15

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ratios of interface shear stress to the local soil shear strength
of 0.2–0.4 (Chen & Randolph, 2004).

Cavity stability
From the above observations in the centrifuge tests and
FE results, it can be seen that the cavity formation and
5 stable cavity depth are influenced by the soil unit weight (ª
or ª9) and spudcan foundation size (D), when the soil
strengths are of a similar magnitude. Moreover, in Figs 7
z: m

and 8, it is clear that the soil back-flow onto the spudcan

arises from flow around the spudcan edge. In neither the
10 physical nor numerical modelling was there any observation
of cavity wall failure, as adopted in the current offshore
design guidelines (SNAME, 1997) in assessing potential for
back-flow. To clarify this matter further, small-strain FE
analyses with a fully open cavity above the spudcan were
15 conducted.
0 5 10 15 Figure 9 presents FE results with a fully open cavity
x: m above the spudcan at three different pre-embedments. Soil
(a) parameters are the same as for Case III in Table 2 without
free water above the soil specimen. With a shallow cavity
above the spudcan (Fig. 9(a), d/D ¼ 0.225), soil around the
spudcan edge flows upwards and heaves as the spudcan
penetrates. When the cavity is deeper (Fig. 9(b), d/D ¼
0.35), the soil around the spudcan edge flows back onto the
0 exposed top of the spudcan, with little or no soil movement
near the soil surface. This mechanism is referred to as flow
failure, because it is due to the soil flow induced by spudcan
penetration. No cavity wall failure is observed at this stage.
However, when the initial open cavity becomes much deeper
(Fig. 9(c), d/D ¼ 0.517), once soil weight is applied in the
FE analysis, cavity wall failure occurs prior to penetration
z: m

of the spudcan. The cavity wall failure occurred at a greater

cavity depth than the flow failure induced by spudcan
10 penetration. This finding was confirmed by all the FE
analyses conducted, covering a parameter range of 3.5 <
ª9D/su < 22.7, which is in agreement with the observations
in the centrifuge tests.
Note that in Figs 8 and 9 sliding between spudcan and
15 soil is indicated by the displacement vectors on the nodal
0 5 10 15 joints, with the node on the spudcan moving vertically
x: m
downwards, while the node on the soil moves at an angle
(downwards and laterally outward).
Figure 10 plots the normalised stable cavity depths, H/D,
from wall failure and flow failure mechanisms, as a function
of the conventional stability number Ns (equation (1)). Both
0 sets of FE results are from small-strain analyses, with the
wall failure limits being the critical depth at which the
cavity wall failed (prior to loading the spudcan). The flow
failure data represent the depths for onset of back-flow, and
large-deformation analyses confirmed that the onset of back-
10 flow was consistent with the final average cavity depth. For
the wall failure mechanism, the FE results are compared
with the solutions from the suggested mechanisms of
z: m

Meyerhof (1972) and Britto & Kusakabe (1983). It can be

seen the FE predictions are bracketed by the two analytical
20 solutions. For the flow failure, the FE results are in good
agreement with the centrifuge observations. In contrast, the
wall failure approach greatly overestimates the stable cavity
depth, H, by a factor of up to 4, although this is not obvious
from Fig. 10 as H features on both axes. These results of
30 Hw and Hf are also listed in Table 3, noting that no
0 10 20 30
corresponding centrifuge model tests were undertaken for
x: m Cases II, IV and VI. The overall conclusion is that design
(c) guidelines for back-flow over spudcans should be based on
the transition to a flow failure mechanism rather than the
Fig. 8. Soil flow of large-deformation FE analysis (Case III, onset of wall failure, as currently recommended by the
Table 2): (a) d/D 0.154; (b) d/D 0.37; (c) d/D 1.37 design guidelines (SNAME, 1997).

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0 8

5 FE (wall failure)
4 Meyerhof (wall failure)
z: m

Britto & Kusakabe (wall failure)

FE (flow failure)
2 Centrifuge results

0 0·5 1·0 1·5 2·0

Fig. 10. Conventional cavity stability chart of flow failure and

wall failure
0 5 10 15
x: m
New design approach
The results shown in Fig. 10 indicate that the critical
failure mechanism that limits H is flow failure rather than
wall failure. To investigate the stability number that corre-
0 sponds to the onset of flow failure (or stable cavity depth), a
series of parametric studies using AFENA were conducted.
Soil unit weights of ª9 ¼ 17 kN/m3 and 7 kN/m3 were
chosen to represent soil without free water and with free
water respectively. Spudcan diameters of 18 m, 12 m and
5 6 m were considered to investigate the influence of founda-
z: m

tion size, resulting in six values of ª9D. In each case, the

soil undrained shear strength, su , was varied from 1 kPa to
60 kPa to investigate the soil strength effect on cavity
stability. Since no significant variation in predicted cavity
10 depth was found between smooth and rough spudcans, only
the results for smooth spudcans are discussed here. Both
small-strain and large-deformation analyses were performed.
Figure 11 shows the results using the conventional stabi-
lity number Ns (equation (1)). The difference in cavity depth
prediction between the small-strain and large-deformation
0 5 10 15 analyses is minimal, thus they are not discussed separately.
x: m
(b) From Fig. 11 it can be seen that all six cases lie close
together, forming a unique curve. For the centrifuge results,
as the cavity base is uneven, the bound values and average
value of the cavity depth are plotted (where the average ones
were plotted in Fig. 10). These values show good agreement
0 with the FE results. The small discrepancy found in the area
H/D , 0.2 arises only for very soft soil (su , 10 kPa) and
thus very large stability number. From a practical perspec-
tive, for very soft soil the cavity depth is almost negligible
and the spread in the FE results is not critical.
5 A curve can be developed to represent all the results from
centrifuge tests and FE analyses, expressed with a dimen-
sionless stability number using H rather than D:
z: m

ª9 H H
Ns ¼ ¼ f1 (4)
su D
where the best-fit values of the empirical constants are f1 ¼
1.01 and f2 ¼ 0.81 with correlation coefficient R2 ¼ 0.99.
For design, the values of f1 and f2 can be rounded and the
15 stable depth expressed conveniently as
0 5 10 15  :
x: m H su 0 55
¼ (5)
(c) D ª9D
Fig. 9. Soil failure mechanisms of small-strain FE analyses with Previous researchers have also expressed their results in
a fully open cavity (Case III, Table 2): (a) surface failure, d/D terms of su /ª9D rather than ª9H/su (Herdy & Townsend,
0.225; (b) Flow failure, d/D 0.35; (c) Wall failure, d/D 0.517 1983; Higham, 1984; Craig & Chua, 1990). The relationship

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Table 3. Stability numbers for flow failure and wall failure

Flow failure Wall failure

Hf Hf /D Ns Hw Hw /D Ns

Case I FE 1.86 0.31 2.43 FE 4.51 0.75 5.90

Centrifuge 1.93 0.32 2.52 M 3.95 0.66 5.16
Case II FE 2.22 0.37 2.29 FE 6.07 1.01 6.25
Centrifuge * * * M 5.28 0.88 5.44
Case III FE 3.24 0.27 3.06 FE 5.70 0.47 5.38
Centrifuge 3.20 0.27 3.00 M 5.10 0.43 4.81
Case IV FE 3.40 0.28 2.89 FE 6.47 0.54 5.50
Centrifuge * * * M 5.77 0.48 4.90
Case V FE 2.85 0.48 1.66 FE 12.17 2.03 7.10
Centrifuge 2.90 0.49 1.69 M 10.65 1.78 6.21
Case VI FE 5.20 0.43 2.02 FE 17.23 1.44 6.70
Centrifuge * * * M 14.95 1.25 5.81

*No centrifuge test data.

M, analytical solution from Meyerhof.

㢠5 17 kN/m3, D 5 18 m
15 㢠5 7 kN/m3, D 5 18 m
㢠5 17 kN/m3, D 5 18 m Fitted line (equation (5))
㢠5 17 kN/m3, D 5 12 m
㢠5 7 kN/m3, D 5 18 m 㢠5 7 kN/m3, D 5 12 m
㢠5 17 kN/m3, D 5 12 m 㢠5 17 kN/m3, D 5 6 m
㢠5 7 kN/m3, D 5 12 m 1
㢠5 7 kN/m3, D 5 6 m
㢠5 17 kN/m3, D 5 6 m Centrifuge test (average)
Fitted line 㢠5 7 kN/m3, D 5 6 m Centrifuge test (bound)

(equation (4)) Centrifuge test (average)

Centrifuge test (bound)

5 Stable

0 0·001 0·01 0·1 1 10
0 0·2 0·4 0·6 0·8 1·0 1·2 su/ã¢D
Fig. 12. New design chart for cavity depth after spudcan
Fig. 11. Conventional cavity stability chart of flow failure installation in uniform clay

is shown in Fig. 12, and provides a straightforward and flow back gradually onto the exposed top of the spudcan.
rational basis for assessing the limiting cavity depth prior to Finally, the spudcan becomes fully embedded and a localised
back-flow. deep failure mechanism is reached, where further penetration
has no effect on the cavity formed initially or the soil
surface profile.
CONCLUSIONS When soil starts to flow back onto the top of the spudcan,
This paper has reported the soil failure mechanisms and the existing open cavity remains stable. No evidence of
cavity formation during penetration of spudcan foundations cavity collapse, as would be indicated by inward and down-
into uniform clay with nominally constant strength with ward soil movements extending up to the soil surface, was
depth. Drum centrifuge testing and finite element analysis observed in either the model tests or the numerical analysis.
were conducted. Model tests using a half-spudcan with sub- The onset of back-flow above the spudcan may also be taken
sequent PIV analyses were used to film the soil deformation as the (average) stable cavity depth after deep penetration of
during spudcan penetration. Finite element analyses were the spudcan, and is a function of soil unit weight (ª9 in
undertaken to verify and extend the model test observations, submerged conditions), soil strength (su ) and foundation size
with small-strain analyses of pre-embedded spudcans and (D).
large-deformation analyses of spudcans penetrating from the From a series of FE analyses with an initial open cavity
soil surface. The paper focuses specifically on the conditions above a pre-embedded spudcan, it was found that the soil
for the limiting stable cavity, rather than on the spudcan back-flow is caused by the spudcan penetration ( flow fail-
penetration resistance, which will be covered elsewhere. ure), rather than instability of the cavity wall (wall failure).
From both centrifuge and numerical investigations, it was This contrasts with recommendations for estimating the
found that an open cavity is formed during the initial point of back-flow onto spudcans in the current design
penetration of the foundation, where the soil adjacent to the guidelines (SNAME, 1997), which are based on collapse
spudcan edge flows upwards and outwards, resulting in conditions for an open cavity. The wall failure criterion can
heave at the soil surface. Subsequently, at a certain penetra- overestimate the stable cavity depth by up to four times
tion depth, the soil adjacent to the spudcan edge starts to compared with a criterion for flow failure.

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Conditions for back-flow, and the limiting cavity depth, H, Carter, J. P. & Balaam, N. P. (1990). AFENA Users’ Manual. Centre
may be expressed simply as for Geotechnical Research, University of Sydney.
 : Chen, W. & Randolph, M. F. (2004). Radial stress changes around
H su 0 55 caissons installed in clay by jacking and by suction. Proc. 14th
¼ (5)
D ª9D Int. Offshore and Polar Engng Conf., Toulon 2, 493–499.
Craig, W. H. & Chua, K. (1990). Deep penetration of spudcan
where ª9 is applicable for submerged conditions, but ª foundations on sand and clay. Géotechnique 40, No. 4,
should be used if the cavity is not filled by free water. This 541–556.
relationship appears extremely robust over the wide range of Craig, W. H. & Chua, K. (1991). Large displacement performance
soil strengths and foundation diameters explored. The im- of jack-up spudcans. Proc. Int. Conf. Centrifuge ’91, pp.
portance of the condition for back-flow expressed here 139–144. Rotterdam: Balkema.
extends beyond mere estimation of the penetration resis- Craig, W. H. & Higham, M. D. (1985). The application of centrifu-
gal modelling to the design of jack-up rig foundations. In
tance. Because back-flow provides a seal over the top of the Offshore Site Investigation, pp. 293–305. London: Graham &
spudcan, the above relationship also provides quantitative Trotman.
guidance on conditions where transient suctions may be Endley, S. N., Rapoport, V., Thompson, P. J. & Baglioni, V. P.
sustainable beneath the spudcan, with a consequential in- (1981). Prediction of jack-up rig footing penetration. Proc. 13th
crease in uplift resistance and moment capacity at low Offshore Technology Conf., Houston, OTC 4144 (CD-rom).
vertical loads. Finnie, I. M. S. (1993). Performance of shallow foundations in
The results presented in this paper are being extended to calcareous soil. PhD thesis, University of Western Australia.
consider more general strength profiles, in particular those Ghosh, S. & Kikuchi, N. (1991). An arbitrary Lagrangian-Eulerian
more typical of offshore conditions where the soil strength finite element method for large deformation analysis of elastic-
viscoplastic solid. Comp. Methods Appl. Mech. Engng 86,
increases markedly with depth. However, the criterion for
the stable cavity depth (equation (5)) should prove conserva- Herdy, A. C. & Townsend, F. C. (1983). Preliminary investigation
tive (i.e. will overestimate H) for cases where the strength of the bearing capacity of layered soils by centrifugal modelling.
increases with depth, provided the shear strength at the Internal report, University of Florida.
stable cavity depth (H) is used, as lower shear strengths at Herrmann, L. R. (1978). Finite element analysis of contact prob-
shallower depths will encourage back-flow rather than open lems. J. Engng Mech., ASCE 104, 1043–1057.
cavity failure. A further consideration is that natural soils Higham, M. D. (1984). Models of jack-up rig foundations. MSc
tend to show greater sensitivity than the reconstituted kaolin dissertation, Manchester University.
used for the model tests reported here. The effect of this on Hossain, M. S., Hu, Y. & Randolph, M. F. (2003). Spudcan
H appears to be low, given the good agreement between the foundation penetration into uniform clay. Proc. 13th Int. Off-
shore and Polar Engng Conf., Hawaii 2, 647–652.
FE analyses (where no strain-softening was incorporated) Hossain, M. S., Hu, Y. & Randolph, M. F. (2004a). Bearing behav-
and the model tests in kaolin with a sensitivity of 2 to 2.5. iour of spudcan foundation on uniform clay during deep pene-
Higher sensitivity will, if anything, give earlier back-flow, tration. Proc. 23rd Int. Conf. on Offshore Mechanics and Arctic
and thus a lower value of H. Engineering, Vancouver.
Hossain, M. S., Mehryar, Z., Hu, Y. & Randolph, M. F. (2004b).
Deep penetration of spudcan foundation into NC clay. Proc.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS 23rd Int. Conf. on Offshore Mechanics and Arctic Engineering,
The research presented here is supported by the Australian Vancouver (CD-rom).
Research Council through the Large ARC discovery scheme Hu, Y. & Randolph, M. F. (1998a). A practical numerical approach
(A00105806). This support is gratefully acknowledged. Ex- for large deformation problems in soil. Int. J. Numer. Anal.
periments could not have been performed without the sup- Methods Geomech. 22, 327–350.
port of the Centre for Offshore Foundation Systems (COFS), Hu, Y. & Randolph, M. F. (1998b). H-adaptive FE analysis of
established and supported under the Australian Research elasto-plastic non-homogeneous soil with large deformation.
Comput. Geotech. 23, 61–83.
Council’s Research Centres Program, and especially the Kee, R. & Ims, B. W. (1984). Geotechnical hazards associated with
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London: Graham & Trotman.
NOTATION Martin, C. M. & Houlsby, G. T. (2001). Combined loading of
d penetration depth of spudcan shoulder or edge (lower point) spudcan foundations on clay: numerical modelling. Géotechni-
D spudcan diameter at largest section que 51, No. 8, 687–699.
f empirical constant in cavity stability formula Meyerhof, G. G. (1972). Stability of slurry trench cuts in saturated
g acceleration due to earth’s gravity clay. Proc. Speciality Conf. on Performance of Earth and Earth
H open cavity depth after spudcan installation Supported Structures, 1, 1451–1466.
Hf cavity depth to initiate flow failure (taken as identical to H) Randolph, M. F. & Hope, S. (2004). Effect of cone velocity on
Hw cavity depth to initiate cavity wall failure cone resistance and excess pore pressures. Proc. Int. Symp. on
hmin minimum element size in FE mesh Engineering Practice and Performance of Soft Deposits, Osaka,
Ns cavity stability number ¼ ª9H/su 147–152.
su undrained shear strength of soil Schofield, A. N. (1980). Cambridge geotechnical centrifuge opera-
z depth below soil surface tions. Géotechnique 30, No. 3, 227–268.
ª total unit weight of soil SNAME (1997). Recommended practice for site specific assessment
ª9 effective unit weight of soil of mobile jack-up units, Rev. 1 Jersey City, NJ: Society of Naval
ªw unit weight of water Architects and Marine Engineers.
Springman, S. M. & Schofield, A. N. (1998). Monotonic lateral
load transfer from a jack-up platform lattice leg to a soft clay
deposit. Proc. Int. Conf. Centrifuge ’98, pp. 563–568. Rotter-
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