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ICSE6 Paris - August 27-31, 2012

Etzer, Aufleger, Muckenthaler

ICSE6-112

A Software Tool to evaluate the Internal Stability of Grain


Structures
Thomas ETZER1 , Markus AUFLEGER1 , Peter MUCKENTHALER2

1, Unit of hydraulic engineering, University of Innsbruck, Technikerstrasse 13a


A-6020 Innsbruck, Austria, +43 512 507 2912, markus.aufleger@uibk.ac.at

2, Ingenieurbro Dr. Muckenthaler, Dr.-August-Einsele-Ring 12


D-82418 Murnau, Germany, ib.dm@t-online.de

Abstract: Many of the available criteria for the assessment of internal erosion require extensive calculations
and are therefore prone to arithmetic errors. A free software tool developed at the University of Innsbruck
provides a user-friendly possibility for the application of established methods to estimate the internal stability
of grain structures. A simplified pore model based on geometrical considerations is also included. The paper
deals with the range of functions of this instrument. The on-site conditions of a conducted dyke project are
used as a case study to illustrate its practicability.
Key words: seepage, software, erosion criteria, pore model

Introduction

Common criteria for the evaluation of the internal stability in grain structures have been derived either empirically by laboratory tests or theoretically by geometrical considerations. Despite the remarkable number of
different findings, only a few rules are recommended in reference books and used in practice. In many cases
the applied criterion is not the one, which is fitted best to the problem, but the easiest to use. A reason for this
may be the fact that some procedures require more calculation effort than others.
For research on internal erosion processes, a software tool named Prolix was developed at the University of
Innsbruck to apply and compare different approaches. It was written in the widely-used programming language
MATLAB, which is marketed by MathWorks Inc. The structure has a modular concept to allow a quick adaption
of existing parts and the easy implementation of new thoughts. The basic idea was to provide a simple graphical
interface for the user which controls a couple of expandable functions. These functions are realized as so called
Script-Files and may be adapted individually. Some of them are presented and discussed below.
The usual starting point for most approaches is the particle size distribution (PSD) of the observed soil. It can
be easily received by standardized methods and is therefore a suitable base for an objective examination. To
run an analysis in Prolix, the used sieve sizes and the corresponding percentage passing by weight are required.
The data can be transferred into the software interactively for several soils at once from an Excel table with a
defined structure.

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Etzer, Aufleger, Muckenthaler

Basic Functions

The software stores the name of each soil and its PSD in a temporary file. Additionally, each PSD is stored in a
vector of uniform size as given in equation 1. Therefore, the corresponding grain diameters are interpolated loglinear from mass percentage 0 to 100 with spacing of 1 %. As usual, the characteristic diameter dx,i represents
the grain size, which is not exceeded by x weight percent of the particles in soil specimen number i. This step
simplifies the handling of samples which are gathered with unequal sets of sieves.
PSDi = [d0,i d1,i d2,i ... d100,i ]

(1)

It is possible, to classify the soils as a filter or base material in an additional column in the data source. This information is also written in the temporary file and allows the application of standard recommendations for filter
design. The actual version of Prolix contains the criteria of Terzaghi, the United States Bureau of Reclamation and the United States Department of Agriculture [Terzaghi & Peck, 1948], [USBR, 1987], [USDA, 1994].
Herein, these functions will not be treated further. All the results as well as the PSD of each soil can be plotted
automatically in standard graphs by the software. Export to common file formats is provided.

3
3.1

Implemented Criteria
Criterion of Burenkova

The criterion of Burenkova is based on experiments carried out on wide-graded, non-cohesive sand-gravel soils
with a maximum grain size of 100 mm [Burenkova, 1993]. The basic assumption is that transport processes
of internal erosion may only occur, if fine soil particles are able to pass through the constrictions between the
coarser grains. This approach divides the material in a supporting soil skeleton and a potentially mobile filling.
Initially, the tested soils were divided into fractions with grains of about the same size and the volume of the
coarsest size fraction was measured. Stepwise, at a time the next finer size fraction was added and the volume
of the mixture was measured again. If the volume of the mixture increased after the addition of a finer fraction,
this finer fraction was considered to belong to the soil skeleton. Otherwise it was believed to consist of particles,
which are loose and able to move though the specimen. Burenkova used two factors of uniformity to describe
the soils. Their definition is given in equation 2 and 3.

h0 = d90 /d60
h

00

= d90 /d15

(2)
(3)

According to Burenkova a sample is classified as a Non-suffusive Soil, if it satisfies equation 4.


0.76 log(h00 ) + 1 h0 1.86 log(h00 ) + 1

(4)

Figure 1 shows a plot of h0 against log(h00 ) and the boundaries between Suffusive Soils and Non-suffusive
Soils. The Zones I and III represent soils which are vulnerable to suffusion, and Zone IV is an area of artificial
soils. The materials which are stable against the effects of suffusion are located in Zone II.
The evaluation of this criterion is done pretty simple in the software. The program reads the characteristic grain
diameters out of the temporary file and calculates the factors of uniformity h0 and h00 . The output is done in a
graph similar to figure 1 and additionally in written text.

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ICSE6 Paris - August 27-31, 2012

Etzer, Aufleger, Muckenthaler

IV

d90 /d60

III

II
2

I
1

10

20 30
d90 /d15

50

100

200

Figure 1: Diagram for the classification of soils after Burenkova

3.2

Criterion of Kenney & Lau

The diameter of pores left between equally sized grains is in average about a fourth of their size. Kenney & Lau
stated that a particle with size d can not be washed out of a soil, if there are enough grains with a size between
d and 4 d. They carried out seepage tests on non-cohesive sand-gravel soil samples with a maximum grain size
of 100 mm [Kenney & Lau, 1985].
For the evaluation of their results, Kenney & Lau plotted the mass percentage F(d) passing a sieve with an
opening width of d against the auxiliary number H. H represents the proportion of grains that will prevent
particles of size d from moving and is calculated according to equation 5.
H = F(4 d) F(d)

(5)

Soils that were unstable in the experiment had according to Kenney & Lau at least a part of the shape curve
plotted below the borderline represented by H = 1.3 F. The percentage of possible movable grains, and
therefore the end of the limit range in the H-F diagram was defined with 30 %. In widely-graded soils with an
uniformity coefficient Cu > 3, only the smallest 20 % of the grains are suspected to be washed out. Figure 2
shows the H-F diagrams for narrow and for widely-graded soils and an example for a stable and an unstable
specimen.
1

1
unstable sample

stable sample

H = F(4d) F(d)

0.8

H = F(4d) F(d)

0.8
0.6

0.6

0.4

0.4

0.2
0

0.2

0.2

0.4
0.6
F(d)

0.8

0.2

0.4
0.6
F(d)

0.8

Figure 2: H-F diagrams for narrow (left) and for widely-graded (right) soils after Kenney & Lau

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Based on additional tests the borderline was later lowered to H = 1.0 F. The area between the first and the
revised threshold is referred to as transition zone.
To rate a soil sample using this criterion, the Prolix Software calculates in the first step a log-linear interpolation
of the mass percentages corresponding to the 4-times multiples of all characteristic diameters. This allows
the evaluation of equation 5 to determine H. The length of the borderline is selected due to the uniformity
coefficient Cu . Then it is checked, whether or not H is smaller than 1.3 or 1.0 F in this interval. The result is
delivered in written text. Also, the H F diagram for the examined soil sample is plotted.

3.3

Criterion of Wan & Fell

Wan & Fell carried out seepage tests in the laboratory and applied various existing criteria on the used soils to
compare the results [Wan & Fell, 2004]. In their investigation, they identified the already mentioned methods
of Kenney & Lau and Burenkova as most accurate. The criterion of Kenney & Lau seemed to be more conservative and identified a couple of soils as unstable, which really showed no sign of internal erosion during
the experiments. According to the authors, the method of Burenkova was more accurate in identifying unstable
soils, but also predicted some collapsing samples as reliable.
Based on their results, Wan & Fell suggested to combine these methods, as they seem to successfully supplement each other. The scheme for assessing the likelihood of internal instability is given in table 1. The software
Table 1: Scheme for the criterion of WAN & FELL
Likelihood of internal instability
KENNEY & LAU (1985, 1986)
H <F
F H < 1, 3F H 1, 3F
0
00
h 0, 76 log(h ) + 1
Likely Neutral Very
BURENKOVA
Very likely
Likely
unlikely
(1993)
h0 > 0, 76 log(h00 ) + 1
Unlikely
Very unlikely Very
Unlikely
unlikely
simply carries out the steps which are required for the methods of Kenney & Lau and Burenkova and unites the
results. The classification of the observed sample is done in form of a chart similar to table 1.

Pore model

Another approach to evaluate the internal stability of granular materials is based on the geometry of the void
constrictions. A soil can be considered as internal stable, if the voids between the coarser grains are narrow
enough to prevent the fines from moving through this interstitial volume. Therefore, a couple of authors have
tried in the past to determine the pore structure to describe the liability of a soil to processes of internal erosion.
Unfortunately, there is an infinite number of possible combinations, because the particles in a natural soil differ
widely in size and shape. Therefore, the use of spherical shaped grains is a prevalent simplification for this kind
of calculations. In a soil with the densest packing, a void is built by three grains. The narrow point is within the
plane going through the center of these spheres, as pictured in the left side of figure 3. The biggest grain which
would be able to pass this void can be drawn as a circle, which is tangent to the outer three. Its diameter d p can
be calculated with simple, trigonometric considerations. This model was established by Silveira, who published
the void diameters for all possible combinations of five different grain sizes in form of a table [Silveira, 1965].
The use of four connected grains as limit for the void is a common assumption for the loosest state of packing
in a soil. The biggest possible pore is composed, if the centers of all spheres are within the same plane. Again,
the pore size can be found as the solution of an 2D-problem. It is shown on the right side of figure 3. Silveira
described the area of the pore A p dependent on the aperture angle . This function has a maximum which can
be found by solving the corresponding extremum problem [Silveira et al., 1975].

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ICSE6 Paris - August 27-31, 2012

Etzer, Aufleger, Muckenthaler

r2

r2
Ap

r1

dp

r1
r3

@
@

r4

r3

Figure 3: Model of pore constrictions for dense and loose packing after Silveira
He used the size of the circle with the same surface area than A p as pore diameter d p for the loose state. This
practice overestimates the void size, which can be seen in figure 4. Silveiras approach was later improved by
Muckenthaler, who figured out the exact solution for the diameter of the pore [Muckenthaler, 1989].

d p exact

*
Pore area A p
*


d of Silveira

A
AU

Figure 4: Pore constriction for loose packing


To calculate the constriction size distribution (CSD) of a soil, knowledge about the present number of grains is
needed. Two fractions with the same weight will have a different number of particles because of the different
grain sizes. The Prolix Program uses an approach of Ziems to calculate the particle size distribution by number
[Ziems, 1968].
After this step, every weighted fraction is represented by its mean particle size and the number of grains within
this fraction. This allows calculating the probability of occurrence for all possible combinations of grains and
the corresponding pore diameters. To receive the CSD, they are sorted by size and plotted in a cumulative curve
as shown in figure 5. The calculation using three grains leads to the CSD of a soil with maximum density.
The software part considering four grains in a random sample delivers the CSD for the loose state. Figure 5
pictures the CSD for the loose and dense state of a protective filter material and the possible options for the
bordering base material. All particles of soil I are smaller than the voids of the filter. They cannot be held back
and the material will erode completely. Soils II and III both contain grains which cannot pass the voids of the
filter. Only a part of the smaller grains will be washed out. Soil IV can be considered as mechanical stable
against the contact surface to the filter material. All grains therein are bigger than the largest calculated void
constriction. Prolix allows to rate the liability of contact erosion at the interface between a coarse filter and a

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Cumulative percent of mass/volume [%]

ICSE6 Paris - August 27-31, 2012

Etzer, Aufleger, Muckenthaler

CSD dense state


100

CSD loose state


H

HH
j
H

HH
j

II

d p,min

III

IV

log d

d p,max

Figure 5: Comparison of particle and constriction size distribution


finer base material using the thoughts mentioned above. The CSD of a filter can be plotted together with the
PSD of another soil sample in a graph similar to figure 5.

fine

Sand

medium

coarse

fine

medium

Gravel
coarse

fine

Cobbles

Fines

Silt

coarse

medium

Cumulative percent of mass/volume [%]

100
PSD
PSD
PSD
CSD

80

soil sample
fine fraction
coarse fraction
scope

60

40

20

0.002

0.006

0.02

0,06

0.2
0.6
Grain size [mm]

2.0

6.3

20

63

Figure 6: Evaluation chart for internal stability using the CSD


To evaluate the internal stability of a soil using this approach, the material has to be divided into two fractions.
The software treats the coarser fraction as the supporting and stable soil skeleton and the finer fraction as the
potentially mobile filling. For both fractions the PSD is calculated and shown, while the user is requested to
choose a dividing diameter ddiv interactively. A suggestion for ddiv is calculated and displayed according to
equation 6.

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0.55 (h00 )1.5 <

ddiv
< 1.87 (h0 )1.5
d100

(6)

This proposal is based on the findings of Burenkova who stated that the size of the biggest erodible grain is
lying within this intervall [Burenkova, 1993]. Figure 6 shows an evaluation chart given by Prolix for the internal
stability of a gap graded soil. Beneath the PSD of the original soil sample, the recalculated curves for the fine
and the coarse fraction of this soil are displayed. For the coarse fraction, the constriction size distribution is
calculated and shown for dense and loose bedding conditions. For the pictured example, ddiv was set to 1 mm.

Case study

To prove the convenience of the software it was used to evaluate the internal stability of an already conducted
dyke projekt in southern Germany. The investigation was based on available data of soil samples taken at the
project site. Figure 7 shows the corresponding PSDs. The internal stability of each sample was rated by the

fine

Sand

medium

coarse

fine

medium

Gravel
coarse

fine

Cobbles

Fines

Silt

coarse

medium

Cumulative percent of mass/volume [%]

100

QS2BS2/1 H
H

Sand H

HH

80

60

QS3BS2H

HH
Gravel

QS4BS1H

40

QS2BS1/2 H
H
QS4BS3H

H
H

20

0.002

0.006

0.02

0,06

0.2
0.6
Grain size [mm]

HH

HH
QS3BS1
HH
H
HH
H QS1BS3/2
HH
HH
H QS1BS1/1
HH
H QS2BS3/2

2.0

6.3

20

63

Figure 7: PSDs of soils used for this case study


software using the criteria mentioned earlier. Since the related functions of Prolix were not discussed in this
paper, the liability of contact erosion at the interface of two soils was not evaluated. The examination results
are summarized in table 2. Almost all soils are classified as stable against internal erosion.
Two of the samples are widely graded "mixed soils" with a high factor of uniformity h00 . They are out of the
confidence range in which the criterion of Burenkova is supported by experiments. Therefore, it would not be
appropriate to rate them using the criteria of Burenkova or Wan & Fell. Out of these two, sample QS4BS2 is
classified as unstable by the criterion of Kenney & Lau. This happens, because the slope of the PSD is relatively
flat for this soil. The H-F ratio is slightly under the borderline in a small area of the corresponding diagram.
The current stage of development allows no unambiguous rating using the presented pore model because the
dividing diameter ddiv depends on the user. Unfortunately, the suggestion based on Burenkovas findings varies

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Sample
Gravel
Sand
QS1BS1/1
QS1BS3/2
QS2BS1/2
QS2BS2/1
QS2BS3/2
QS3BS1
QS3BS2
QS4BS1
QS4BS3

Etzer, Aufleger, Muckenthaler

Table 2:
Burenkova
stable
stable
stable
stable
stable
stable
stable
stable
not valid
stable
not valid

Result of the investigation


Kenney & Lau
Wan & Fell
stable
very unlikely
stable
very unlikely
likely stable
very unlikely - unlikely
stable
very unlikely
likely stable
very unlikely - unlikely
stable
very unlikely
likely stable
very unlikely - unlikely
stable
very unlikely
stable
not valid
unstable
unlikely
unstable
not valid

in a wide range. Therefore, the results are not listed in table 2. Further research will be necessary to achieve an
unique and automated evaluation using this method.

Conclusions

The Prolix Software provides a user-friendly possibility for the application of established methods to estimate
the internal stability of grain structures. First applications for testing purposes show that it is already a useful
and convenient tool. Current work aims at the integration of functions for automated appraisals based on the
presented pore model. Prolix will be used to compare this new approaches to the common methods. A sufficient
control sample of soils with a known erosion behavior will be necessary, to validate the model.

References
[Burenkova, 1993] Burenkova, V. (1993). Assessment of suffusion in non-cohesive and graded soils. In Proceedings of the 1st international conference on Geo-Filters, Karlsruhe.
[Kenney & Lau, 1985] Kenney, T. & Lau, D. (1985). Internal stability of granular filters. Canadian Geotechnical Journal, 23, 420423.
[Muckenthaler, 1989] Muckenthaler, P. (1989). Hydraulische Sicherheit von Staudmmen. Mnchen: Technische Universitt Mnchen.
[Silveira, 1965] Silveira, A. F. (1965). An analysis of the problem of washing through in protective filters. In
Proceedings of the 6th international conference on soil mechanics and foundation engineering, Montreal.
[Silveira et al., 1975] Silveira, A. F., de Loreno, P., & Nogueira, J. B. (1975). On void-size distribution of
granular materials. In Proceedings of the 5th panamerican conference on soil mechanics and foundation
engineering, Buenos Aires.
[Terzaghi & Peck, 1948] Terzaghi, K. & Peck, R. B. (1948). Soil mechanics in engineering practice. New
York, NY: Wiley [u.a.].
[USBR, 1987] USBR (1987). United states bureau of reclamation, design standards no. 13: Embankment
dams.
[USDA, 1994] USDA (1994). United states departement of agriculture - national engineering handbook. chapter 26: Gradatation design of sand and gravel filters.

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Etzer, Aufleger, Muckenthaler

[Wan & Fell, 2004] Wan, C. & Fell, R. (2004). Experimental Investigation of Internal Instability of Soils in
Embankment Dams and their Foundations. Technical report, University of New South Wales, Sydney.
[Ziems, 1968] Ziems, J. (1968). Ein Beitrag zur Kontakterosion nichtbindiger Erdstoffe. PhD thesis, Technische Universitt Dresden.

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