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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Seepage induced instability in widely graded soils Li, Maoxin


Internal instability of a widely graded cohesionless soil refers to a phenomenon in which its finer particles migrate within the void network of its coarser particles, as a result of seepage flow. Onset of internal instability of a soil is governed by a combination of geometric and hydromechanical constraints. Much concern exists for embankment dams and levees built using soils with a potential for internal instability. Migration of finer particles to a boundary where they can exit, by washing out, may cause erosion or piping failure and, occasionally, induce collapse of these soil structures. There is a need, in professional practice, to better understand the phenomenon and to develop improved methods to evaluate the susceptibility of a soil. A series of permeameter tests was performed on six widely-graded cohesionless materials. The objectives are to assess the geometric indices proposed for evaluation of susceptibility, and examine hydromechanical factors influence the onset of internal instability. A modified slurry mixing technique, with discrete deposition, was found satisfactory for reconstitution of the homogeneous saturated test specimens. The onset of internal instability was founded to be triggered by a combination of effective stress and hydraulic gradient. The finding yields a hydromechanical envelope, unique for a particular gradation shape, at which internal instability initiated. Three commonly used geometric criteria were comprehensively evaluated with reference to these experimental data and also a database compiled from the literature. The relative conservatism of each criterion was examined and a modified semi-empirical geometric rule then proposed based on the capillary tube model. A theoretical framework for plotting the hydromechanical envelope was established based on an extension of the α concept of Skempton and Brogan, and subsequently verified by test data. Finally, a novel unified approach was proposed to assess the onset of internal instability, based on combining geometric and hydromechanical indices of a soil.

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