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Geotechnical Earthquake Engineering Design of Shallow and Deep Foundations for Earthquakes

IITGn March 4 8
, 2013 D. Roy

Prepared by
Debasis Roy
Department of Civil Engineering
Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur
Foundations may undergo severe distress during an earthquake. One such example of
foundation failure involving toppling of apartment blocks due to liquefaction during the 1964
Niigata Earthquake is presented in Figure 1. Earthquake effects on shallow and deep
foundations are accounted for by designing them structurally to provide necessary strength
and ensure serviceability. Strength considerations essentially involves ensuring that the
foundation loads remain well below that dictated by the allowable bearing capacity under
seismic conditions and serviceability is ensured by designing the substructure for the
estimated permanent ground deformation. Simple procedures for estimating bearing capacity
and permanent ground deformation under earthquake conditions are presented in this note.

Figure 1. Tilted apartment buildings
The states of stress within a soil element in static and earthquake conditions and the
corresponding Mohrs Circles are shown on Figure 2, from which it is apparent that the
Mohrs Circle representing a stable element in static condition (Element A, Figure 2a
represented by Mohrs Circle I, Figure 2c) may expand and translate towards the failure
envelope because of cyclic shear and normal stress imposed during an earthquake (Element B,
Figure 2b represented by Mohrs Circle II, Figure 2c). As the ground motion further
intensifies, Mohrs Circle II may evolve into Mohrs Circle III for which the failure plane is
horizontal. Any further increase in the amplitude of ground motion will lead to the failure of
soil layer without any further increase in resistance. It needs to be emphasized that the
response discussed here can be reached irrespective of earthquake-related pore water pressure
increase or liquefaction.

Geotechnical Earthquake Engineering Design of Shallow and Deep Foundations for Earthquakes
IITGn March 4 8
, 2013 D. Roy


Figure 2. Subsurface state of stress
Liquefaction is triggered when earthquake-related increase of pore water pressure causes a
remarkable reduction of effective stress. Liquefaction is often functionally as a state in which
large deformations (say, 5% double amplitude shear strain) develop within the deposit due to
pore water pressure rise. The notion of liquefaction used here is thus not identical to the
classical viewpoint that defines liquefaction as the state of zero effective stress. Saturated
loose to medium dense sands and soft and sensitive clays of low plasticity are susceptible to
liquefaction. The procedures for estimating the ultimate bearing capacities under earthquake
loads at non-liquefied and liquefied sites are discussed below.
Reduction in bearing capacity is mainly due to the inclination effects resulting from cyclic
earthquake shear and normal loads because of structural inertia. A simple approach to
account for these effects is to reduce the static bearing capacity factors using Figure 3. In
Figure 3 subscripts E and S signify earthquake and static conditions. The ratio of seismic
to static bearing capacity factors depend on the acceleration ratio,
v h
k k 1 , where k
and k

are the horizontal and vertical seismic coefficients within the failure zone. The seismic
coefficients are often assumed according to
5 . 0
h h
a k and
h v
k k 5 . 0 , where a
the average peak ground horizontal acceleration within the failure zone conservatively
assumed to be identical to the peak horizontal ground acceleration at surface if the founding
depth is not substantial. Alternatively, the average acceleration over the zone affected by
shear failure can be estimated from a free-field site-response calculation using, e.g.,
SHAKE91. The usual value of the factor of safety for estimating the allowable seismic
bearing capacity for shallow footings is 2.
Many sites are underlain by a non-liquefiable crust of variable thickness depending on soil
type and depth of groundwater. If the thickness of non-liquefiable layer below the bottom of
footing is thin, shallow foundations supported within the layer may punch through.
Shallow foundations in a site affected by liquefaction may also fail because of reduction of
Geotechnical Earthquake Engineering Design of Shallow and Deep Foundations for Earthquakes
IITGn March 4 8
, 2013 D. Roy


Figure 3. Ratio of seismic to static bearing capacity factors (from Richards et al., 1993)
bearing capacity due to earthquake-related pore water pressure rise. The foundation designer
must ensure adequate factor of safety against such possibilities as indicated below.
The ultimate resistance for a strip footing against punching can be estimated using:
u ult
s T q (1)
where T is the thickness of non-liquefiable crust below the footing base and s
is the
undrained shear strength of the non-liquefiable crust. For footings of limited length,
multiplier 2 on the right hand side of Equation 1 should be replaced with the perimeter of the
footing footprint. A factor of safety of safety of 2 should be provided in this regard.
Bearing Capacity
The bearing capacity problem related to liquefaction is essentially an undrained problem.
The problem is conveniently treated using the static bearing capacity factor, N
, for layered
soils shown on Figure 4, in which Layer 1 represents the non-liquefiable crust and Layer 2
represents liquefied soil. Since liquefaction of Layer 2 is likely to cause a significant
reduction in the amplitude of ground motion at surface, the static value of N
may be used to
estimate the ultimate bearing capacity even under earthquake condition. However, if
triggering of liquefaction fails to damp out the ground motion at surface, N
should be
estimated using the chart on the right side of Figure 4.
The undrained strength for non-liquefiable crust can be estimated from a field Vane Shear
Test or the CPT if the layer is comprised of fine-grained soils. For coarse grained soils, the
SPT or the CPT data can be used together with Equations 2 and 3 (Olson and Stark, 2003).
For the liquefiable layer, the post-liquefaction undrained shear strength can be estimated
using Equations 4 and 5 (Olson and Stark, 2003).
1 0
0143 . 0 205 . 0
c v u
q s (2)
60 1 0
) ( 0075 . 0 205 . 0 N s
v u
1 0
0143 . 0 03 . 0
c v u
q s (4)
60 1 0
) ( 0075 . 0 03 . 0 N s
v u
s is the undrained shear strength,
0 v
is the free field effective vertical overburden
5 . 0
0 1 v a c c
P q q , ER P N N
v a

5 . 0
0 60 1
) ( ,
q is the cone tip resistance,
is the atmospheric pressure and ER is the energy ratio of the SPT hammer. The usual
Geotechnical Earthquake Engineering Design of Shallow and Deep Foundations for Earthquakes
IITGn March 4 8
, 2013 D. Roy

value of the factor of safety for estimating the allowable bearing capacity for shallow footings
in a site underlain by liquefiable soils is 2.

Figure 4. Undrained bearing capacity factor, N
, for layered soils (NAVFAC 1982)
Since the factor of safety for estimating allowable bearing capacity under earthquake loads is
about 50% smaller than that under usual dead load plus live load design conditions, allowable
bearing capacity under earthquake loads may not be smaller than those in dead load plus live
load design cases. However, footings tend to undergo continually increasing permanent
vertical deformation (settlement) with the progress of earthquake-related cyclic moment and
shear loading. Published centrifuge data indicate that total permanent vertical deformation
can be as large as 1% of the footing width in areas not affected by liquefaction (Gajan et al.
2005) or 6% of the thickness of the liquefied layer when liquefaction is triggered.
Consequently, permanent displacements may become the critical consideration in structural
design for earthquake loads instead of bearing capacity.
For sites not affected by liquefaction, Richards et al. (1993) presented a simple framework
for estimating settlements because of earthquake-related unidirectional horizontal ground
motion by extending the Newmark (1965) methodology developed originally for estimating
permanent deformation of earth embankments. A similar simple framework is not available
for multi directional earthquake ground motion.
At liquefiable sites vertical settlement is usually estimated using the correlations presented in
Figure 5. In this figure symbols D
, N
and q
(expressed in MPa) have been used to denote
relative density, stress normalized SPT blow count and stress normalized cone tip resistance,
respectively. Factor of safety against liquefaction is estimated following the procedures
outlines in Youd et al. (2001). It should be noted that Japanese SPT data, based on which
Ishihara and Yoshimine (1992) originally proposed these correlations, are typically obtained
with hammers that deliver about 30% more energy than those employed in India. Figure 5
has been prepared accounting for this difference. The total permanent ground settlement
related to liquefaction is obtained by multiplying the thicknesses of soil layers by the
appropriate of the volumetric strain read out from Figure 5 and summing up the results for all
individual layers within the soil column underlying a site.

Geotechnical Earthquake Engineering Design of Shallow and Deep Foundations for Earthquakes
IITGn March 4 8
, 2013 D. Roy


Figure 5. Volumetric strain due to liquefaction (after Ishihara and Yoshimine, 1992)
Differential settlements rather than total settlements usually govern structural design. The
differential settlement is approximately 50% of the total settlement for isolated footings and
33% of that for mat foundations.
Pile foundation is among the most widely used foundation types in areas affected by
earthquakes. Several case histories involving failure of piles can nevertheless be found in the
literature, two of which are shown on Figure 6. Most earthquake-related failure of pile
foundations is due to permanent ground displacement (e.g., Figure 6a) or because of loss of
lateral support (e.g., Figure 6b)

Figure 6. Earthquake effects on pile foundations
Geotechnical Earthquake Engineering Design of Shallow and Deep Foundations for Earthquakes
IITGn March 4 8
, 2013 D. Roy

Piles are designed for earthquake loads focusing mainly on their bending behavior. The
interaction between the pile and the surrounding soil is approximated by idealizing the soil
resistance to relative movement between pile and soil by the so-called p y, t z, and the
Q z, springs, representing horizontal translation, vertical translation of the pile shaft and
vertical translation of the pile tip, respectively. Symbols p, t and Q have been used here to
represent the horizontal force, vertical force along pile shaft and the vertical force at the pile
tip, respectively, while y and z represent vertical and horizontal displacements, respectively.
A widely used empirical procedure for constructing these nonlinear springs for cyclic loading
conditions like earthquakes can be found in API RP2A (American Petroleum Institute 2000).
A simplified, quasi-static analytical includes the following steps: (a) estimation of the
free field deformation (without considering the existence of the piles), (b) applying these
deformations across the p y, t z, and the Q z, springs to the piles, (c) recalculating
the deformations, (d) applying the recalculated deformations across the p y, t z, and
the Q z, springs to the piles and (e) iterating through steps c and d until the input
deformation field becomes compatible with the pile deformation within an acceptable range
of tolerance.
A very simple method of pile design for earthquake-related permanent ground deformation
used by the Japanese Road Association (JRA 1996) involves consideration of a distributed
load along the pile shaft as shown on Figure 7 along with other structural loads.

Figure 7. Lateral load for pile design for earthquake-related permanent ground deformation
Concerns have been raised over recent years regarding the adequacy of this design procedure
because it neglects the possibility of bucking resulting from the remarkable reduction of
lateral restraint within the liquefied layer (Bhattacharya et al. 2004). However, to take proper
account of liquefaction-related loss of lateral restraint development of an elaborate numerical
model based on finite element or finite difference becomes necessary.
It should be noted that several case histories describing earthquake-related failures of
structures due to loss of lateral restraint for piles in cohesive deposits can also be found in the
literature. Although finite difference computer codes have been developed to account for this
possibility (Matlock and Foo 1980), a simple empirical procedure for estimating gap
formation as a function of soil strength and number of cycles of earthquake load is not yet
Geotechnical Earthquake Engineering Design of Shallow and Deep Foundations for Earthquakes
IITGn March 4 8
, 2013 D. Roy

An elaborate numerical model based on finite element (based on software package such as
FLUSH, PLAXIS, QUAKE/W, ABAQUS, LSDYNA) or finite difference (FLAC) is also
sometimes used to estimate the pile behavior. A suite of earthquake accelerograms are used
in these analyses. Sourcing information and a brief description of the capabilities of these
packages can be found at, and
Isolated shallow foundations do not work well during earthquakes particularly because of
differential settlements. However, lightly-loaded structures can be adequately supported
using shallow foundations connected by grade beams and/or structurally designed floor slabs
provided that sufficient depth of non-liquefiable (and/or insensitive) soils are present below
the bottom of the footing. The grade beams are typically designed to carry one tenth of the
maximum column load.
Mat foundation is often considered a viable foundation option under earthquake loading
conditions especially in areas underlain by liquefiable deposits. Uneven permanent ground
deformations in such situations are bridged relatively easily by an appropriately designed mat
Pile foundations also perform well under earthquake loads and are therefore commonly used
in seismically active areas. Pile caps are also often interconnected with grade beams and
structurally designed floor slab.
Structural design of foundations involves satisfying two requirements: (a) a factor of safety of
2 or more is available against bearing capacity failure under seismic loading and (b) the
permanent ground deformation can be accommodated by the foundation system and
superstructure. Some of the simple empirical procedures available to account for these issues
for common foundation types have been discussed in this note. Common strategies adopted
by geotechnical engineers in foundation design have also been briefly discussed.
American Petroleum Institute. 2000. Recommended practice for planning, desigining and
constructing fixed offshore platforms Working stress design. API RP 2A. Washington,
Bhattacharya S., Madabhushi, S.P.G. and Bolton, M.D. 2004. An alternative mechanism for
pile failure in liquefiable deposits during earthquakes. Gotechnique, 54(3): 2013-213.
Gajan, S., Kutter, B.L., Phalen, J.D., Hutchinson, T.C., and Martin, G.R. 2005. Centrifuge
modeling of load-deformation behavior of rocking shallow foundations. Soil Dynamics
and Earthquake Engineering, 25, 773-783.
Ishihara, K., and Yoshimine, M. 1992. Evaluation of settlements in sand deposits following
liquefaction during earthquakes. Soils and Foundations. 32(1), 173-188.
JRA. 1996. Japanese Road Association Specification for Highway Bridges, Part V, Seismic
Matlock, H. and Foo, S. 1980. Axial analysis of piles using a hysteretic and degrading soil
model. Proceedings, 1
International Conference on Numerical Methods in Offshore
Piling, London, 127-133.
Geotechnical Earthquake Engineering Design of Shallow and Deep Foundations for Earthquakes
IITGn March 4 8
, 2013 D. Roy

Newmark, N.M. 1965. Effects of earthquakes on dams and embankments. Gotechnique,
15, 139-160.
Olson, S.M. and Stark, T.D. 2003. Yield strength ratio and liquefaction analysis of slopes
and embankments. Journal of Geotechnical and Geoenvironmental Engineering.
ASCE. 129(8), 727-737.
Richards, R., Elms, D.G., and Budhu, M. 1993. Seismic bearing capacity and settlements of
foundations. Journal of Geotechnical Engineering. 119(4): 662-674.
Yuminamochi, F. 1999. Air photographs of the Niigata City immediately after the
earthquake of 1964. Japanese Geotechnical Society.