Vous êtes sur la page 1sur 9


Dissipated strain energy method for determining

preconsolidation pressure
L.B. Wang and J.D. Frost

Abstract: The dissipated strain energy method (DSEM), a new method for determining the preconsolidation pressure,
is presented in this paper. Compared with the energy method, the DSEM uses dissipated strain energy and the slope of
the unloading–reloading cycle (in the strain energy – effective consolidation stress space) for the plot to minimize the
sample disturbance effects and eliminate the effect of elastic deformation. Dissipated strain energy, in terms of micro-
mechanics, is directly related to the irreversible process of consolidation and can be supported by theories dealing with
consolidation and compaction. The use of the unloading–reloading slope to simulate the elastic reloading for the
recompression stage can minimize sample disturbance effects. Examples presented indicate that the proposed new
method is less operator dependent than most of the existing methods.
Key words: dissipated strain energy, preconsolidation pressure, consolidation, energy method, dissipated strain energy
Résumé : On présente dans cet article une nouvelle méthode pour déterminer la pression de consolidation, soit la
méthode d’énergie de déformation dissipée (DSEM). Comparée à la méthode d’énergie, la nouvelle méthode utilise
l’énergie de déformation dissipée, et la pente du cycle de déchargement-rechargement (dans l’espace énergie de
déformation-contrainte effective de consolidation) pour le graphique devant minimiser les effets de remaniement de
l’échantillon et éliminer l’effet dû à la déformation élastique. L’énergie de déformation dissipée en termes de micromé-
canique est directement reliée au processus irréversible de consolidation et peut s’appuyer sur des théories traitant de la
consolidation et du compactage. L’utilisation de la pente déchargement-rechargement pour simuler le rechargement élas-
tique pour le stade de recompression peut minimiser les effets de remaniement de l’échantillon. Les exemples présentés
indiquent que la nouvelle méthode proposée est moins dépendante de l’opérateur que la plupart des méthodes existan-
Mots clés : énergie de déformation dissipée, pression de préconsolidation, consolidation, méthode d’énergie, méthode
d’énergie de déformation dissipée.
[Traduit par la Rédaction] Wang and Frost 768

Introduction methods are usually based on the experimental void ratio

(e) – effective consolidation stress (p) relations and are em-
Preconsolidation pressure σc , according to Casagrande pirical by nature. Hereafter they are referred to as classical
(1936), is the “largest overburden in which soil had been methods. Among the classical methods, the most popular are
consolidated.” The significance of determining the precon- the e − log p method (Casagrande 1936) and the log(1 + e) −
solidation pressure lies in the fact that the compressibility, log p method proposed by Butterfield and supported by
deformation, and strength characteristics of soil on either Sridharan (1991).
side of σc are eminently different, which also serves as the
basis of the methods for determining σc . Although different authors use different characteristics of
The importance of determining σc has attracted many re- the e − log p or log(1 + e) − log p plots, the following conclu-
searchers. Different methods such as those by Casagrande sions, based on numerous experimental observations, are
(1936), Burmister (1951), Schmertmann (1955), Janbu fundamental for all the methods: (i) the disturbance by un-
(1967), and Butterfield (1979) have been developed. These loading during sampling, etc. does not obliterate or seriously
distort the impression created by the largest previous load;
(ii) the shape of the recompression curve before σc (section I
Received 2 April 2002. Accepted 22 December 2003. in Fig. 1) and the shape of the unloading–reloading curve
Published on the NRC Research Press Web site at are similar, and their relations to the virgin compression line
http://cgj@nrc.ca on 31 August 2004. are also similar; and (iii) the relation between end of pri-
L.B. Wang.1 Department of Civil and Environmental mary void ratio and effective stress is unique.
Engineering, Louisiana State University and Southern The first two conclusions were drawn by Casagrande
University, Baton Rouge, LA 70803, USA. (1936); the third conclusion was drawn by Mesri and Choi
J.D. Frost. School of Civil and Environmental Engineering,
(1985). Every one of the classical methods implicitly uses
Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, GA 30332, USA.
the first and third conclusions, and different methods distin-
Corresponding author (e-mail: lwang@lsu.edu). guish themselves in their interpretation of “similar” in the

Can. Geotech. J. 41: 760–768 (2004) doi: 10.1139/T04-013 © 2004 NRC Canada
Wang and Frost 761

Fig. 1. Illustration of Casagrande’s (1936) observations. The Fig. 2. Schmertmann’s (1955) reconstitution of the field consoli-
relationship between section I (recompression curve) and the vir- dation curve.
gin compression curve is closely similar to that between the
unloading–reloading curve and the virgin compression curve.

the logarithm of consolidation stress is linear (Nagaraj and

Srinivasa Murthy 1983; Houlsby and Sharma 1999).
Dissipated strain energy has been widely accepted as a
parameter for representing yielding criteria and hardening
rules. According to Janbu (1967), the yielding surface is
actually the contours of dissipated strain energy. It is a fun-
second conclusion. Because of the difficulties in obtaining damental concept related to irreversible process. In this pa-
the true preconsolidation pressure, however, it is hard to per, a new method, namely the dissipated strain energy
evaluate the relative merits of the different methods. method (DSEM), is proposed for the assessment of the pre-
The energy method proposed by Becker et al. (1987) is consolidation pressure of soil. The advantages of the pro-
relatively new. It is based on the total strain energy – p rela- posed new method are illustrated by analyzing experimental
tion rather than the e − log p relation. Theoretically, the en- data.
ergy method is equivalent to the e − log p method (Li 1989)
or the log(1 + e) − log p method (see the following sections), Common problems with existing methods
but its linear coordinate system enhances the accuracy and
decreases operator dependence for the determination of σc . As soil is a heterogeneous, anisotropic material, the linear
Because the total energy method is just a mapping of the relation such as e − log p is often violated. Common prob-
log(1 + e) − log p relationship into energy–p space, however, lems in applying existing methods can be categorized as fol-
this method fails to present a mechanical interpretation of lows: (i) quantities used in these methods, such as total void
the relation between the total energy and the irreversible ratio or total strain energy, do not have the implications that
process of consolidation. Therefore it is hard to establish the are associated with the fundamental phenomena in the con-
linear relation between the total energy and the effective solidation process; (ii) it is hard to account for sample
stress through analyzing the fundamental phenomena in the disturbance effects; and (iii) most methods are operator de-
consolidation process. pendent in constituting straight lines and reading the coordi-
In the view of soil plasticity, preconsolidation pressure nates in logarithmic scales.
is actually the largest yielding stress that a soil has ever Figure 2 is an illustration of the Schmertmann (1955)
reached. At stresses up to the preconsolidation pressure, method of reconstitution of the field recompression and vir-
loading and unloading could be theoretically modeled as gin consolidation curve. The reconstituted curve consists of
elastic or the irrecoverable deformation is negligible. Be- three different sections that have different mechanical impli-
yond the preconsolidation pressure, the irrecoverable defor- cations. The first section is a horizontal line up to the in situ
mation is much more significant. This phenomenon is stress (σ0), which implies that there is no irrecoverable de-
similar in metals and ceramics and can be explained by formation in this section. The second section is a line be-
micromechanics. In terms of micromechanics, consolidation tween the in situ stress and the preconsolidation stress (σc ).
is a process in which soil particles change configuration irre- This section is parallel to the unloading–reloading line,
versibly. The external work by the consolidation force is which implies an elastic deforming process (there are usu-
partly transformed into heat in overcoming the friction be- ally still some irrecoverable deformations in this section).
tween particle contacts and is partly stored as elastic strain The third section is a straight line connecting the σc point to
energy. Unlike elastic strain energy, the part dissipated into the 0.42e0 point (where e0 is the initial void ratio), beyond
heat, the dissipated strain energy, is not recoverable. There- which irrecoverable deformation dominates. This reconstitu-
fore it can be postulated that dissipated strain energy rather tion clearly illustrates the field irrecoverable deformation
than elastic strain energy is essentially associated with the characteristics. The sampling and consolidation testing pro-
irrecoverable volumetric strain. As a matter of fact, some cess is parallel to the field recompression and virgin consoli-
theories such as the double-layer theory and micromechanics dation process. As only total deformation is measured in the
theory have been successfully applied to predict that the re- conventional consolidation tests, however, classical methods
lation between the irreversible volumetric deformation and actually plot the total deformation – p (or e − log p) relation,

© 2004 NRC Canada

762 Can. Geotech. J. Vol. 41, 2004

which generally obscures the distinctness of the deformation Fig. 3. Sample disturbance effects on preconsolidation pressure
rate between pre-σc and post-σc sections. This phenomenon (adapted from Holtz et al. 1986).
also exists in the energy method proposed by Becker et al.
(1987), where total strain energy is used. Because the me-
chanical implication of σc lies in the fact that beyond σc the
irrecoverable deformation rate (against load increment) of
soil increases drastically, a separation of the irrecoverable
deformation from the total deformation will enhance the
contrast between the deformation characteristics of the pre-
and post-σc sections.
Figure 3 is adapted from Holtz et al. (1986), where the ef-
fects of different levels of disturbance on the assessment of
σc are illustrated. Figure 3 shows that the slope of the
recompression curve increases when the soil samples are
more severely disturbed (i.e., piston samples versus block
samples), which results in an underestimation of the precon-
solidation pressure. It can also be deduced from Fig. 3 that
the laboratory consolidation curve will be closer to the vir- Fig. 4. Uncertainty in defining the recompression line in the
gin consolidation curve if the soil is less severely disturbed work – effective stress plot.
or destructured. As most conventional tests do not study the
sample preparation and disturbance effects, for a given test
result, it is hard to evaluate how severe it is distorted by
sample disturbance.
Even if sample disturbance is minimized, it is still diffi-
cult to construct the straight lines in the cases of the log(1 +
e) − log p and work–p methods. Figure 4 illustrates this
effect using the work–p method to present data from a con-
solidation test performed on a silty clay (tube sample from
the field by Law Engineering and Environmental Service,
Inc., Atlanta, Ga.), showing the difficulties in selecting the
recompression line.
Due to the complexity of soil properties, the three prob- as the method of Butterfield (1979) in the mapped space:
lems described previously cannot be completely avoided. log(1 + e) − log p, mapped into E–p space. Unlike Casa-
Rational methods should minimize these effects, however. In grande’s method, which focuses more on the local properties
this regard, the following observed phenomena should be (the largest curvature) around the preconsolidation pressure,
mentioned: the Becker et al. energy method has adopted the average
(1) The disturbing effects due to stress release, etc. become slope of the recompression curve before the preconsolidation
smaller when the reloading stress exceeds the stress pressure.
where stress release starts. This suggests the use of un- The energy method is relatively new, more inclusive, and
loading–reloading slopes at a stress level higher than the conceptually very promising. Considering preconsolidation
in situ stress. as the maximum yielding stress to which a soil has ever
(2) Any quantities to be used should be physically or me- been subjected, work by Roscoe et al. (1958) and Tavenas et
chanically related to the process in the analysis. In the al. (1979) is supportive of this method. Apart from the more
case of the consolidation process, quantities causing the accurate determination of σc due to the advantages of the lin-
consolidation process should be more relevant. For ex- ear coordinates and the flexibility of the concept of strain
ample, the dissipated strain energy that causes the parti- energy in dealing with consolidation induced by other
cles to slide and rotate could be better quantitatively mechanical and nonmechanical effects such as evaporation
related to preconsolidation pressure. through energy equivalency, the theoretical equivalency of
the E–p linear relation to the e − log p and log(1 + e) − log p
Energy method linear relations is even more important in that no violations
are introduced against previous experimental observations.
The energy method (Becker et al. 1987) also uses Casa- The proof of the equivalency of the E–p linear relation to
grande’s (1936) first conclusion and the conclusion of Mesri the e − log p and log(1 + e) − log p linear relations is simple;
and Choi (1985) on the unique relation between end of pri- however, it is briefly described here for completeness and to
mary consolidation void ratio and effective stress. As for the provide an introduction to the linear relations between total
term “similar” in Casagrande’s second conclusion, Becker et strain energy, elastic strain energy, and dissipated strain en-
al. (1987) assume a linear relation between total strain en- ergy versus effective consolidation stress.
ergy E and the effective stress p (E–p) for the recompression There are basically two types of strain definitions, engi-
part directly from the laboratory recompression curve with- neering strain and true strain. When engineering strain is
out considering the unloading–reloading portion of the tests. adopted, the E–p linear relation is equivalent to the e − log p
In actuality, the Becker et al. energy method is the same linear relation:

© 2004 NRC Canada

Wang and Frost 763

[1] de = C c d log p log(1 + e) − log p linear relation, no special efforts towards

distinguishing the two cases are made in this paper.
p2 p2
p p C dp C ( p − p )
[2] ∇E = ∫ 1 + e0 de = ∫ 1 + e0 cp = c1 +2 e0 1 Comments
p p
1 1
As illustrated in the first two sections of the paper, the key
to determining σc is the understanding of the relation of the
When true strain is adopted, the E–p linear relation is
unloading–reloading curve to the virgin compression curve
equivalent to the log(1 + e) − log p linear relation:
(as according to Casagrande 1936, the close similarity…)
[3] d log(1 + e) = C d log p and the effects on the relation due to sample disturbance.
Therefore the following three observed phenomena are im-
de C dp portant in constituting any method for the assessment of
[4] = or de = CpC −1 dp
1+ e p preconsolidation pressure: (i) the more the disturbance, the
steeper the slope of the recompression curve before σc (sec-
p2 p2 tion I in Fig. 1, referred to as the recompression curve);
p p
[5] ∇E = ∫ 1 + e de = ∫ pC CpC −1 dp = C ( p2 − p1) (ii) the recompression curve becomes more rounded towards
p1 p 1 the stress where unloading starts and merges into the virgin
compression curve at a stress slightly larger than the stress
where ∇E is the total strain energy increment corresponding where unloading starts; and (iii) the unloading–reloading
to an effective consolidation stress increment; and Cc and C slope is highly nonlinear with effective consolidation pres-
are the slopes of the e − log p and log(1 + e) − log p plots, re- sure.
spectively. To obtain the absolute value of the total strain The first two phenomena have been widely recognized.
energy, a reference is needed. In the Becker et al. (1987) Leonards (1976) and Fang (1985) have noticed the first phe-
presentation, E is actually the total strain energy increment nomena, and Crawford (1985) commented that test results of
referred to the stress-free status completely released from consolidation in the recompression range are not reliable.
the preconsolidation stress. The dissipated strain energy cor- Leonards also found the value estimated from a rebound–
responding to the preconsolidation pressure in the virgin recompression cycle is more likely to approximate the field
consolidation is not included. This will be explained in the results. Schmertmann (1955) found that the unloading–
next section. reloading line is less affected by disturbance and adopted the
Li (1989) pointed out the equivalency but did not notice unloading–reloading slope in his reconstitution of the field
that Becker et al. (1987) actually used true strain. Li consid- compression curve.
ered the theoretical equivalency without taking into account In applying the Becker et al. (1987) energy method, it is
the actual differences between experimental data representa- also evident that the recompression slope is generally steeper
tion and the theoretical prediction (the superiority of data than the unloading–reloading slope; the E–p curve becomes
presentation in the energy method is illustrated later in the more rounded towards the virgin compression line and thus
paper). In reality, experimental data do not follow the exact it is difficult for the operator to select the recompression
linear relation; it is impossible to have an infinitesimal load line.
step. Therefore, the energy method does not yield the same The literature review suggests the adoption of the
value of σc as those from the e − log p and log(1 + e) − log p unloading–reloading slope as the recompression line instead
methods but will generally give better linear correlation than of the initial slope of the laboratory recompression curve.
that of the e − log p and log(1 + e) − log p methods. On the This is also based on the authors’ observations of the round-
whole, these equivalencies indicate the wide applicability of ness of the E–p curve towards the virgin compression line
the energy method. and the better linear relation of the unloading–reloading
According to Butterfield (1979), Sridharan (1991), and curve. To avoid the uncertainty associated with the selection
Den Haan (1992), log(1 + e) − log p correlation is better than of the recompression line, a line parallel to the unloading–
e − log p correlation for several reasons, such as a better reloading line was drawn and it was found that the value of
log(1 + e) − log p linear relation, the physical meaning of the σc thus obtained was closer to the expected value based on
reference volume of (1 + e) as the total volume, and the pos- results from a laboratory-consolidated specimen (see the
sibility of yielding a negative void ratio by the e − log p section titled Experimental justifications). It is this finding
method. Hashiguchi (1995) points out that e − log p correla- that initiated the present work on the DSEM.
tion violates some kinematics in elastoplastic theories. These Since the slope (e − log p space) of the unloading–reload-
discoveries could serve as guidelines for choosing a proper ing curve is stress dependent, the adoption of the unloading–
strain definition. In terms of strain energy, however, it seems reloading slope of only one unloading–reloading cycle is
there is no such violation if only the stress and strain are still an approximation. This approximation could be rational
conjugate to the stress power: ␴: D = ␴1 p: F, where ␴ is the for the typical stress range in a consolidation test, however.
Cauchy stress tensor, D is the stretch tensor, F is the defor- In reality, some simpler models are even more popular than
mation gradient, and ␴1 p is the first Piola Kirshhof stress complicated models if only they capture the major proper-
tensor. In the case of one-dimensional consolidation, both ties. For example, the Cam-Clay model assumes a constant
definitions are acceptable. Because of the conventional unloading–reloading slope for different stress levels and thus
adoption of Cauchy’s stress tensor, however, the true strain has some limitations in applications. With greater use of the
should be adopted. Since the e − log p relation is convenient model, however, this could be compensated by the experi-
in many cases and the e − log p linear relation will yield a ence gained. In this case, the accuracy could be technically

© 2004 NRC Canada

764 Can. Geotech. J. Vol. 41, 2004

improved by unloading at a reasonably estimated precon- Fig. 5. Idealized consolidation tests in strain energy (E) – p
solidation pressure, or the consolidation rate could be moni- space. OD, dissipated strain energy; OE, elastic strain energy;
tored so that unloading can take place at the stress where the OT, total strain energy.
consolidation rate has some significant variations. In this
regard, a reasonable approach to this problem is suggested
as follows: (i) perform unloading–reloading cycles at two
stresses; and (ii) obtain a correlation between effective stress
where unloading starts and the average slope of the
unloading–reloading cycle and then iterate to obtain σc . This
approach is derived from the following correlation equation
proposed by Schmertmann (1955):
C r1 er 2 + 1
[6] log = 2.5 log
Cr2 er1 + 1

where C r1 and C r2 are the recompression indices at two dif-

ferent stresses corresponding to two different void ratios er1
and er2. Equation [6] is based on 59 individual consolidation
tests with distinct recompression slopes. The tests were per- where εpv and εev are the plastic and elastic volumetric strains,
formed on clays from 16 sites in nine US states and five respectively.
sites in four foreign countries. The value of 2.5 is the aver- Since e = ep + ee, it is easy to verify that the e − log p or
age value of regression analysis and is related to the clay (ep + ee) – log p linear relation and the ee – log p linear rela-
structure. This coefficient may vary significantly for differ- tion (for example, in critical state soil mechanics; Roscoe et
ent clays. A more common result that might be used is the al. 1958) will result in the ep – log p linear relation. In fact,
stress-dependent soil resilient modulus. For simplicity, how- the ep – log p linear relation can be theoretically predicted
ever, this approach is not investigated in this paper. by using double-layer theory (Nagaraj and Srinivasa Murthy
In summary, the Becker et al. (1987) energy method uses 1983) or micromechanics theory (Houlsby and Sharma
total strain energy and the laboratory recompression curve to 1999). These three linear relations result in three lines in the
assess the preconsolidation pressure. The unreliability of the E–p space (see Fig. 5). In Fig. 5, OT represents total strain
laboratory recompression curve due to sample disturbance energy, OE elastic strain energy, and OD dissipated strain
effects is not accounted for. It is also difficult to select the energy. Line UR represents the stress release and recom-
recompression line when points on the recompression curve pression, where incremental dissipated strain energy is
do not obviously follow a straight line. Total strain energy is assumed to be negligible. Therefore, in E–p space, consoli-
theoretically not associated with the consolidation process dation tests start from R and follow the path R–U–T on the
but dissipated strain energy is. The unloading–reloading total strain energy line. OR = PM represents no dissipated
slope is less affected by sample disturbance and is more rep- strain energy change in the unloading–reloading cycle.
resentative of the field recompression characteristics. From Fig. 5, it can be deduced that idealized consolida-
tion tests will follow the path R–P–D in the dissipated strain
Dissipated strain energy method (DSEM) energy space shown in Fig. 6. The advantage of using dissi-
pated strain energy is that the recompression part is always a
To clearly illustrate the DSEM, the concepts of total volu- horizontal line.
metric strain, elastic volumetric strain, plastic volumetric There are two ways to separate irrecoverable deformation
strain, and their corresponding void ratios are first intro- from total deformation or to separate dissipated strain
duced. The linear relation between the dissipated strain en- energy from total energy: (i) directly subtract the elastic de-
ergy and effective stress is also investigated. formation obtained by using unloading–reloading character-
Following the conventional assumption that soil grains are istics from total deformation, or (ii) use the graphical
not deformable, the concept of using the elastic void ratio ee method presented in Fig. 7.
to represent the volume change due to elastic deformation is For an actual soil sample, the idealized straight lines in
introduced. This treatment is used to bring compliance with Fig. 6 may not be followed. More likely the curved line
the concepts of elastic and plastic volumetric strains. The illustrated in Fig. 7 will be followed. Due to sample distur-
elastic volumetric strain might actually result from the elas- bance, consolidation deformation also exists in the recom-
tic deformation between contacts, and the implication of pression process and results in an average slope of
plastic void ratio (ep) is that it is related to the material recompression larger than the unload slope. In the laboratory
structure at a stress-free status. From the concepts of ep and plot, the consolidation tests follow the path R–U–Y–X–Y–T.
ee , the total volume can be expressed as 1 + e = 1 + ep + ee The following steps are proposed for separating the dissi-
(where e is the total void ratio) and the following two equa- pated strain energy from the total strain energy and for
tions can be obtained: determining the preconsolidation pressure from Fig. 7:
(i) extend the straight-line portion TY to O on the E axis,
[7] ∆ep = εpv (ii) draw the OP′ axis, (iii) draw line OE that is parallel to
XY, (iv) draw vertical line TE that intersects the OP′ axis at
[8] ∆ee = εev N, (v) locate point D on TE so that TD = EN, (vi) draw line

© 2004 NRC Canada

Wang and Frost 765

Fig. 6. Idealized consolidation tests in dissipated strain energy of the work done during the process is dissipated in
(Ed) – p space. overcoming the friction between particles.
In plasticity theory, an irreversible process is usually de-
scribed by dissipated strain energy; most of the hardening
rules describing the conditions for evolution of irreversible
processes also adopt dissipated strain energy as an independ-
ent variable. Therefore, it is natural and easier to be adapted
to other theories by using dissipated strain energy to de-
scribe the consolidation process. In addition, as shown by
Janbu (1967), the yielding surface is actually contours of
dissipated strain energy. The computation of the dissipated
strain energy in a consolidation test also presents a method
for calculating the evolution of the yielding envelop.

Experimental justifications
Fig. 7. Actual consolidation tests in strain energy – p space. OD, Although a large database is very important in verifying a
dissipated strain energy; OE, elastic strain energy; OT, total method or a technique, the method’s theoretical rationality
strain energy. based on the fundamental phenomena of the process in the
analysis is also important. The authors realize the difficulties
for a widespread justification due to the lack of high-quality
data where preconsolidation pressure is known. Therefore,
instead of presenting as many experimental examples as pos-
sible, the authors present one example for each of the two
critical questions explored: the better linear relation of the
dissipated strain – effective consolidation stress, and the en-
hancement in the accuracy for assessing the preconsolidation
pressure. The authors encourage readers to analyze their
own database and establish their own judgment. Justification
by many people is better than justification by a few people;
in this respect, the authors appreciate the ideas of Becker et
al. (1989).
To investigate whether a better linear relation between the
dissipated strain energy and the effective stress could be ob-
tained using the proposed method, a typical consolidation
OD (i.e., dissipated strain energy line), and (vii) the p′ coor- test (see Fig. 8 for the e − log p plot from this test) carried
dinate of the intersection of line Rp and OD is the precon- out at the Mississauga, Ontario, laboratory of Golder Asso-
solidation pressure. ciates and provided by D.E. Becker was analyzed using dif-
ferent methods. The coefficients of determination from the
Characteristics of the DSEM different methods are presented in Table 1. The coefficient
The characteristics of the DSEM can be summarized as of determination is a criterion for the quality of linear corre-
follows: lation. A perfect linear correlation has a coefficient of deter-
(1) In strain energy – effective stress space, consolidation mination equal to 1. Natural strain was used in calculating
tests start at the point that corresponds to the dissipated the total strain energy, the elastic strain energy, and the dissi-
strain energy at the preconsolidation stress. This point is pated strain energy. In addition, total work, elastic work, and
the base point that serves as reference for other strain plastic work are calculated for the correlation analysis. The
energy calculations. The total strain energy method does analytical results indicate, in practice, the total work, elastic
not have such a characteristic. work, and plastic work can be directly used for the correla-
(2) The total strain energy method by Becker et al. (1987) tion analysis and the plots to obtain σc. This makes the
uses only the recompression curve, whereas the DSEM DSEM very convenient. The example also indicates that, al-
uses both the recompression curve and the unloading– though the energy method is theoretically equivalent to the
reloading curves from the same test and thus will de- e − log p and log(1 + e) − log p methods, in practice the meth-
crease the systematic errors. ods are not equivalent. The coefficients of linear correlation
(3) By knowing the value OR, σc can be obtained numeri- show the relative merits of these methods, but this is difficult
cally, which makes computer implementation simpler: to determine by looking at the graphs. In this example, it
σc = OR / tan(DOP′). is shown that both second loading and unloading follow a
(4) For each step, the operator has a more objective proce- better linear relation and there is no apparent enhancement
dure to follow. Therefore the method is less operator de- in the linear relation for the strain energy plots (dissipated or
pendent. total strain energy).
(5) The DESM has a strong theoretical basis, in that the Since no other information is available for judging the ra-
consolidation process is an irreversible process and most tionality of the preconsolidation pressures obtained, it is dif-

© 2004 NRC Canada

766 Can. Geotech. J. Vol. 41, 2004

Fig. 8. The e – log p plot for a typical consolidation test.

Table 1. Preconsolidation pressures (Pc) and coefficients of determination from the different methods.
Coefficient of determination
Method Pc Initial loading Second loading First unloading Second unloading
e − log p 380 0.800 0.820 0.750 0.963
Log (1 + e) − log p 367 0.799 0.818 0.750 0.965
Energy method (EM) 480 0.973 (0.973) 0.995 (0.995) 0.915 (0.929) 0.997 (0.997)
DSEM 435 0.973 (0.973) 0.995 (0.995) 0.915 (0.929) 0.997 (0.997)
Note: The values in parentheses are for the work–p (total work, elastic work, plastic work) correlation and indicate
that this correlation can be used without changing much of the linear relation, but the method is greatly simplified.

ficult to evaluate the relative merits of the different methods Table 2. Preconsolidation pressures deter-
through this example. To investigate how well the different mined by the different methods.
methods assess the preconsolidation pressure, the results
from a man-made sample consolidated in the laboratory at Preconsolidation
Georgia Tech to a maximum stress of 400 kPa have been an- Method pressure (kPa)
alyzed using the different methods. The results are presented Casagrande 469
in Table 2 and indicate that the DSEM gives the closest esti- Burmister 560
mate of the preconsolidation pressure. Becker 494
Although it cannot be concluded that the newly proposed Butterfield 467
method will always work better than other methods based on Intersecting tangent 492
these two examples, the authors invite readers to analyze DSEM 408
their own tests to establish their confidence in using the pro-
posed method. It is also the authors’ pleasure to analyze any
data that readers are willing to provide. can be analytically established through micromechanics. The
To give better illustrations of the calculations of the vari- newly developed method is less operator dependent and can
ous strain energies, a detailed example is presented in Ap- account for sample disturbance effects to a certain degree.
pendix A. The examples investigated herein show that the new method
has potential and should be investigated further.
A new method, called the dissipated strain energy method
or DSEM, has been developed and presented in this paper. Dr. Becker’s kind presentation of some of the test data for
Dissipated strain energy is mechanically the cause of consol- this study from an engineering project is sincerely appreci-
idation; its linear relation with effective consolidation stress ated.

© 2004 NRC Canada

Wang and Frost 767

References Sridharan, J.B.T. 1991. Improved technique for estimation of pre-

consolidation pressure Géotechnique, 41(2): 263–268.
Becker, D.E., Crooks, J.H.A., Been, K., and Jefferies, M.G. 1987. Tavenas, F., Des Rosiers, J.-P., Leroueil, S., Rochelle, P.L., and
Work as a criterion for determining in situ and yield stresses in Roy, M. 1979. The use of strain energy as a yield and creep cri-
clays. Canadian Geotechnical Journal, 24: 549–564. terion for lightly overconsolidated clays. Géotechnique, 29(3):
Becker, D.E., Crooks, J.H.A., Been, K., and Jefferies, M.G. 1989. 285–303.
Work as a criterion for determining in situ and yield stresses in
clays: Reply. Canadian Geotechnical Journal, 26: 327–328. Appendix A
Burmister, D.M. 1951. The applications of controlled test methods
in consolidation testing. In Symposium on Consolidation This appendix documents an example of how to use con-
Testing of Soils. American Society for Testing and Materials, ventional one-dimensional consolidation test results to cal-
Special Technical Publication STP 126, pp. 83–97. culate the specific accumulative total strain energy (strain
Butterfield, R. 1979. A natural compression law for soils (an ad- energy per unit volume), specific accumulative elastic strain
vance on e − ln p ′ ). Géotechnique, 29(4): 469–480. energy, and specific accumulative dissipated strain energy.
Casagrande, A. 1936. The determination of the preconsolidation In this example, e0 = 0.3551 (see Table A1). The soil is a
load and its practical significance. In Proceedings of the 1st In- brown sandy silty clay and was tested in the Central Labora-
ternational Conference on Soil Mechanics and Foundation Engi- tory of Law Engineering and Environmental Service, Inc.,
neering, Cambridge, Mass. A.A. Balkema, Rotterdam, The Atlanta, Georgia. The incremental volumetric strain (IVS) is
Netherlands. Vol. 3, pp. 60–64. given as
Crawford, C.B. 1985. State of the art: evaluation and interpretation
of soil consolidation tests. In Consolidation of soils: testing and ∆e
∆εv =
evaluation. Edited by R.N. Yong and F.C. Townsend. American 1 + e0
Society for Testing and Materials, Special Technical Publication
STP 892. under one-dimensional conditions and is equal to the incre-
Den Haan, E.J. 1992. The formulation of virgin compression of mental vertical strain ∆ε z; the incremental total strain energy
soils. Géotechnique, 42(3): 465–483. (ITSE) is given as
Fang, H.Y. (Editor). 1985. Foundation engineering handbook. 2nd
pi + pi −1
ed. Van Nostrand Reinhold, Inc., New York. ∆Eit = ∆εv
Hashiguchi, K. 1995. On the linear relations of v − ln p and ln v − 2
ln p for isotropic consolidation of soils. International Journal for
Numerical and Analytical Methods in Geomechanics, 19: 367–
for i = 1 K N and p0 = 0; the accumulative total strain energy
376. (ATSE) is given as
Holtz, R.D., Jamiolkowski, M.B., and Lancellotta, R. 1986. Les- i
sons from oedometer tests on high quality samples. Journal of Eit = ∑ Ekt
Geotechnical Engineering, ASCE, 112(8): 768–776. k =1
Houlsby, G.T., and Sharma, R.S. 1999. A conceptual model for the
yielding and consolidation of clays. Géotechnique, 49(4): 491– and the accumulative elastic strain energy (AESE) is given
501. as
Janbu, N. 1967. Settlement calculations based on the tangent C r pi
modulus concept. Institutt for Geoteknokk og Fundamen- Eie =
1 + e0
teringslaere, Meddelelse 2. Norge Tekniske Hogskole, Trond-
heim, Norway. where the recompression index
Leonards, G.A. 1976. Estimating consolidation settlements of shal-
low foundations on overconsolidated clays. Transportation ∆e
Research Board, National Research Council, Washington, D.C. Cr =
log ps − log pe
Special Report 163, pp. 13–16.
Li, K.S. 1989. Work as a criterion for determining in situ and yield
stresses in clays: Discussion. Canadian Geotechnical Journal,
in which ∆e is the void ratio change of the unload cycle, and
26: 324–326. ps and pe are the consolidation stresses when the unloading
Mesri, G., and Choi, Y.K. 1985. The uniqueness of the end-of-
starts and ends, respectively. In this example, ps = 2 ksf,
primary (EOP) void ratio – effective stress relationship. In pe = 0.5 ksf, and ∆e = 0.3225 – 0.3177 = 0.0048. Thus Cr =
Proceedings of the 11th International Conference on Soil Me- 0.00797 (see Table A1). The accumulative dissipated strain
chanics and Foundation Engineering, San Francisco, Calif., 12– energy (ADSE) is given as Eid = Eit − Eie .
16 August 1985. A.A. Balkema, Rotterdam, The Netherlands. In these calculations, i represents the ith load, and pi rep-
Vol. 2, pp. 587–590. resents the consolidation stress of the ith loading step.
Nagaraj, T.S., and Srinivasa Murthy, B.R. 1983. Rationalization It should be noted that strains thus defined in this example
of Skempton’s compressibility equation. Géotechnique, 33(4): follow the definition of engineering strain for simplification.
433–443. The computed strain energies are specific strain energies
Roscoe, K.H., Schofield, A.N., and Wroth, C.P. 1958. On the (strain energies per unit volume).
yielding of soils. Géotechnique, 8(1): 22–53. It should also be noted that due to the loading relief in the
Schmertmann, J.H. 1955. The undisturbed consolidation behavior sampling process the first part of the consolidation is actu-
of clay. Transactions of the American Society of Civil Engi- ally elastic recompression (only a little consolidation defor-
neers, 20: 1201–1233. mation). Therefore, the dissipated strain energy is negative

© 2004 NRC Canada

768 Can. Geotech. J. Vol. 41, 2004

Table A1. Numerical example of the calculation of various strain energies.

(ksf) (in.) ratio IVS (ksf) (ksf) C (ksf) (ksf) (ksf) (ksf)
0.0 0.04070 0.3551 0.0000 0.0000 0.0000 0.0000 0.0000 0.0000 0.0000
0.1 0.04270 0.3524 –0.0020 0.0001 0.0001 0.0188 0.0006 –0.0005 0.0182
0.5 0.05090 0.3412 –0.0083 0.0025 0.0026 0.0213 0.0029 –0.0004 0.0184
1.0 0.06110 0.3274 –0.0102 0.0076 0.0102 0.0289 0.0059 0.0043 0.0231
2.0 0.06830 0.3177 –0.0072 0.0107 0.0210 0.0397 0.0118 0.0092 0.0279
0.5 0.06470 0.3225 0.0035 –0.0044 0.0165 0.0353 0.0029 0.0136 0.0323
1.0 0.06615 0.3206 –0.0014 0.0011 0.0176 0.0363 0.0059 0.0117 0.0304
2.0 0.06940 0.3162 –0.0032 0.0049 0.0224 0.0412 0.0118 0.0107 0.0294
4.0 0.08270 0.2982 –0.0133 0.0398 0.0623 0.0810 0.0235 0.0388 0.0575
8.0 0.09640 0.2796 –0.0137 0.0824 0.1447 0.1634 0.0471 0.0976 0.1163

using Eid = Eit − Eie and Eie = C n pi /(1 + e0). These values Fig. A1. Strain energy versus consolidation stress for the exam-
should be corrected by adding a term equal to OR in Fig. 5. ple test.
RO can be obtained by regression analysis of the last three
points on the OD plot, i.e., (2, 0.0107), (4, 0.0388), and (8,
0.0976) (see Table A1, the Load column and the ADSE col-
umn). In this case, OR = 0.0187 ksf.
The accumulative total strain energy corrected (ATSEC) =
ATSE + OR, which is equivalent to coordinate transform
from R origin to O origin (see Fig. 5), and the accumulative
dissipated strain energy corrected (ADSEC) = ADSE + OR,
the meaning of which is as given previously.
Figure A1 plots the strain energies in the energy – consol-
idation stress space. The p coordinate that corresponds to the
Rp–OD intersecting point, 1.3 ksf, is the preconsolidation

© 2004 NRC Canada