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INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL FOR NUMERICAL AND ANALYTICAL METHODS IN GEOMECHANICS

Int. J. Numer. Anal. Meth. Geomech. 2008; 32:15731595


Published online 3 March 2008 in Wiley InterScience (www.interscience.wiley.com). DOI: 10.1002/nag.683

The scaling law in the hole erosion test with a constant


pressure drop
Stephane Bonelli1, , and Olivier Brivois1, 2
1 Cemagref,
2 Laboratoire

3275 Route de Cezanne, CS 40061, 13182 Aix-en-Provence Cedex 5, France


de Mecanique et dAcoustique (UPR-CNRS 7051), 31 chemin Joseph Aiguier,
13402 Marseille, France

SUMMARY
A process called piping, which often occurs in the soil at dams, levees, and dykes, involves the formation
and development of a continuous tunnel between upstream and downstream ends. The hole erosion test
is commonly used to quantify the critical stress and the rate of piping erosion progression. The aim of
this study is to draw up a model for interpreting the results of this test. A characteristic internal erosion
time is defined and expressed as a function of the initial hydraulic gradient and the coefficient of surface
erosion. It is established here that the product of the coefficient of erosion and the flow velocity is a
significant dimensionless number: when this number is small, the kinetics of erosion are low, and the
particle concentration does not have any effect on the flow. This finding applies to most of the available
test results. Theoretical and experimental evidence is presented showing that the evolution of the pipe
radius during erosion with a constant pressure drop obeys a scaling exponential law. Copyright q 2008
John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
Received 5 September 2006; Revised 1 October 2007; Accepted 28 November 2007
KEY WORDS:

piping; internal erosion; rate of erosion; critical shear stress

1. INTRODUCTION
Piping, or the internal erosion of soil resulting from seepage flow, is the main cause of serious
failure at hydraulic works (dykes, levees, dams), in terms of the risk of downstream areas being
flooded [1]. These processes are also liable to occur in natural soils [2, 3]. When erosion is
suspected of occurring or has already been detected in situ, it is difficult to predict the time to
Correspondence

to: Stephane Bonelli, Cemagref, 3275 Route de Cezanne, CS 40061, 13182 Aix-en-Provence Cedex
5, France.
E-mail: stephane.bonelli@cemagref.fr

Contract/grant sponsor: Region Provence Alpes Cote dAzur


Contract/grant sponsor: French National Research Agency; contract/grant number: 0594C0115

Copyright q

2008 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

1574

S. BONELLI AND O. BRIVOIS

failure. To be able to develop effective emergency action plans preventing heavy casualties and
damage to property, it is necessary to have a characteristic time to use as a basis.
Four types of processes have been identified in this context [1]: (1) the development of defects
(cracks and microfissures) in the soil matrix, (2) backward erosion (which is also known as
regressive erosion), (3) suffusion, which affects the soil structure, and (4) contact erosion between
two soils. Overviews of current research on piping or internal erosion in the field of soil mechanics
and earthdam industry are given in Fell and Fry [1] and Wan and Fell [46].
In petroleum (oil and gas) industry, the sand production processes occurring in wellbores are
similar to the piping and internal erosion processes. Accumulated sand can bring production to a
halt or give rise to problems in the topside processing facilities. This makes sand production an
important issue. Sand erosion occurs in the perforation channels used to transport the hydrocarbon
produced into the wellbore. This erosion is mainly caused by radial flow (that occurs in the normal
direction with respect to the sand surface), but axial flow (that occurs tangential to the sand surface)
can also be significant. An overview of the research on this topic is available in Papamichos
et al. [7].
This study deals with the progression phase of the piping erosion process: that in which a
continuous pipe is enlarged by a tangential flow of water. Several experimental methods have been
developed for simulating this process experimentally, focusing, in particular, on the hole erosion
test with a constant pressure drop [46] or a constant flow rate [8, 9]. The experience acquired in
more than 200 tests has confirmed that this method is an excellent tool for quantifying the rate of
piping erosion in soil and determining the critical shear stress corresponding to the initiation/onset
of piping erosion. However, few attempts have been made so far to model this process.
There exists a large body of literature on the modelling of soil erosion in the field of sediment
transport and the hydraulics of free-surface flows [1012]. Most of these studies have taken a
global approach to the subject. Water flow is often expressed in terms of its average velocity in the
framework of shallow water equations. Erosion is regarded as a spatial transport capacity gradient
rather than a process of particle removal caused by the flow, and the question as to how fluid/soil
interfaces behave has been rather neglected. Dam breach models have been developed using a
similar approach [13]. More detailed descriptions have been published on cases where the erosion
processes take place near the wall (i.e. near the fluid/soil interface), and these problems are often
solved using integral boundary layer theory or two-dimensional boundary layer models [14, 15].
This study was based on a model of the latter kind.
The piping erosion process involves pressure-driven flows. The term piping is actually used in
the geomechanics literature to denote two processes, namely (i) backward erosion piping, which
is driven by a normal outward flow (the exfiltrating seepage causes the fluidization of grains at an
exit face) and (ii) progression erosion piping, which is driven by a tangential flow (the pipe flow
causes the removal of soil particles at the fluid/soil interface). The critical head liable to initiate
piping backward erosion in granular materials has been determined by modelling the flow through
this porous medium and introducing Bernoullis equation [16].
Several models for surface sand erosion under axial and radial flow conditions have been
proposed in the framework of continuum mixture theory [1721]. The process of erosion is assumed
in these studies to involve a smooth transition from solid-like to fluid-like behaviour. This transition
is described with a three-phase model (comprising solid, fluid, and fluidized phases). These three
phases interact while being constrained by balance equations. A sink term is introduced into the
mass balance equations to describe the detachment of sand particles via an erosion law. In [22], it is
assumed in addition that erosion follows a path of least resistance, given by the porosity gradient.
Copyright q

2008 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

Int. J. Numer. Anal. Meth. Geomech. 2008; 32:15731595


DOI: 10.1002/nag

THE SCALING LAW IN THE HOLE EROSION TEST

1575

These models have been mainly applied to granular materials and piping backward erosion. This
study was intended to provide a step towards modelling piping progression erosion in cohesive
soils.
The philosophy underlying the present approach differs from that in which previous theories of
surface erosion were based, in that our description deals with singular (or discontinuous) fluid/soil
interfaces [15] and not with smooth fluid/soil interfaces. The aim is simply to model the enlargement
of a continuous cylindrical pipe generated in a cohesive soil by a turbulent tangential flow.
After this Introduction, Section 2 summarizes the axially symmetrical equations for flow
involving fluid/soil interface erosion. In Section 3, the scaling law for the hole erosion test with a
constant pressure drop is presented. Some comparisons are made in Section 4 between the model
and experimental data. In Section 5, some of the hypotheses on which this study was based are
discussed.

2. AXIALLY SYMMETRICAL FLOW WITH EROSION


2.1. The reduced NavierStokes/Prandtl equations
It is first proposed to study the surface erosion of a fluid/soil interface subjected to a flow running
parallel to the interface. The soil is eroded by the flow, which then carries away the detached
particles. The basic balance equations and erosion constitutive law were developed by Brivois
et al. [15]. The quantity of particles present in the fluid is taken here to be small enough to be able
to assume that the properties of the carrier fluid are not significantly affected: this is the dilute
suspension flow assumption. We assume the gravitational forces to be negligible in comparison
with the turbulent forces: the sedimentation and deposition processes are therefore neglected here.
Let us take a long circular cylinder  with radius R (initial value R0 ). Figure 1 shows a sketch
of the flow and the notations. A list of nomenclature is provided in the Appendix. The flow is
assumed to be axisymmetrical, and circumferential variations are therefore neglected. Here, x and r
are used to denote the axial and radial coordinates, u and v to denote the mean axial and radial
velocities, w to denote the constant water density, and  to denote the mean shear stress. The
equations describing the flow are the mass and momentum balance equations, which are given by
1 *
*
(r v)+ (u) = 0
r *r
*x


*
1 *
*
*p
1 *
* 2
w
(u)+
(r vu)+ (u ) =
(r r x )+ x x
r *r
r *r
*t
*x
*x
*x


*
*

*p
1 *
1 *
*
+ r x
(v)+
(r v 2 )+ (uv) =
(r rr )
w
r *r
r *r
r
*t
*x
*x
*r

(1)
(2)
(3)

The shear stress components take the following form:

Copyright q

rr = 2eff

*v
,
*r

x x = 2eff

*u
,
*x

2008 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

v
r


*u *v
r x = eff
+
*r *x

 = 2eff

(4)
(5)

Int. J. Numer. Anal. Meth. Geomech. 2008; 32:15731595


DOI: 10.1002/nag

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S. BONELLI AND O. BRIVOIS

Figure 1. Sketch of the axisymmetrical flow involved in erosion of the soil and
transport of the eroded particles.

where eff is the effective viscosity. This parameter can be the molecular viscosity of water in the
case of laminar flow or the eddy viscosity in the case of turbulent flow in simplified models (such
as the Prandtl mixing length model [23]). It should be noted that eff relates to the flow behaviour
and not only to the fluid behaviour.
Characteristic values are required to simplify these equations by using an asymptotic
approach in the boundary layer theory spirit [23, 24]. The reference radial lengthscale is the
initial radius R0 , while the reference longitudinal lengthscale, which has to be determined,
is denoted by . The geometric scale ratio  = R0 /, which is a small parameter (  1), is
introduced.
The reference pressure is the pressure drop  p0 over the length . Pipe flow theory gives the
order of magnitude of the stress exerted by the fluid on the wall, which is denoted as
 P0 =  p0 .
Bernoullis principle gives the order of magnitude of the longitudinal velocity V0 =  p0 /w .
Variations in the streamwise direction are very small compared with variations in the transversal
direction. Consistent with the geometric ratio , we have the reference radial velocity V0 . Finally,
the reference flow time is t0 = /V0 .
To solve the equations, we introduce the following dimensionless variables:
t =
Copyright q

t
,
t0

r =

r
,
R0

x = 

x
,
R0

2008 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

u =

u
,
V0

v =

v
,
V0

 =


,
 p

 eff =

eff
w V0 R0

(6)

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THE SCALING LAW IN THE HOLE EROSION TEST

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If we now substitute the ratios in Equation (6) into Equations (1)(5), we obtain the following
balance equations:
*u
1 *
(r v)+

=0
r *r
*x
*
1 *
* 2
(u)+

(r v u)+

(u ) =
r *r
*t
*x


*
*v 1 *
2

+
(r v )+ (u v)
=
*t r *r
*x

(7)

1 *
*
* p
(r  r x )+  x x
r *r
*x
*x

(8)

*r x
 
1 *
* p
+
(r  rr )
1
r *r
r
*x
*r

(9)

and the following flow constitutive law:


 rr = 2 eff
 x x

*v
,
*r

*u
= 2 eff ,
*x

  = 2 eff

 r x =  eff

v
r
*v
*u
+2
*r
*x

(10)

(11)

The special case of uniform steady flow (*()/*x = 0 and *()/*t = 0) yields v = 0, based on
Equation (7). Integrating Equation (8) gives
 r x =

r * p
2 *x

where
*u
(12)
*r
Consequently, the condition  eff = O(1) must hold to ensure consistency. This condition gives the
relevant longitudinal lengthscale , which depends on the flow. In the case of a laminar flow,
eff = w w (the molecular water viscosity) and  can be given by the condition  = O(Re1 ) (as
in [25, 26]), where Re = V0 R0 /w is the Reynolds number. With the turbulent flow assumed to
exist here,  must fulfil  = O[eff /(w V0 R0 )], but this analysis is beyond the scope of this paper.
Finally, the two assumptions  eff = O(1) and   1 yield the elongational flow approximation
for piping flow [23, 24], which is similar to the reduced NavierStokes/Prandtl equations [25, 26].
In dimensional terms, these equations can be expressed as follows:
 r x =  eff

Mass:
1 *
*
(r v)+ (u) = 0
r *r
*x
Axial momentum:


w


1 *
*
1 *
* 2
*p
(u)+
(r vu)+ (u ) =
(r )
r *r
r *r
*t
*x
*x

(13)

(14)

Radial momentum:
*p
=0
*r
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2008 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

(15)

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S. BONELLI AND O. BRIVOIS

Flow behaviour:
 = eff

*u
*r

(16)

As *u/*r <0 in axisymmetrical flows,  was re-defined in order to yield a positive stress. The
pressure gradient in the radial direction is negligible, as in the classical boundary layer equations.
The flow has a streamwise component and a transversal component, whereas the deviatoric stress
has only a shear component.
2.2. The RankineHugoniot jump equations with erosion
Let  denote the fluid/soil interface. The water/particle mixture is assumed to flow like a fluid
above , whereas a solid-like behaviour is taken to occur below . As there is a process of
erosion, a mass flux crosses this interface and undergoes a transition from solid-like to fluid-like
behaviour. As a result,  is not a material interface:  is not defined by the same particles at
different moments. We assume  to be a purely geometric separating line, which has no thickness.
The description of the soil is a simplified one. It is assumed to be rigid, and the frame is attached
to the soil in question (u is uniform in the soil and equal to zero). Since this soil is saturated
and devoid of seepage, the mass flux crossing the interface is an erosion flux. Lastly, the soil is
homogeneous (the saturated density  is uniform in the soil).
Balance equations can be transformed into RankineHugoniot jump conditions across . Let n
denote the unit vector normal to  oriented from the flow to the soil and v denote the velocity of
. Let m denote the total flux of material (both particles and water) crossing the interface, which
is defined by
m = (v u)n
The mass jump equation over  is (Appendix A)
'm(
=0

(17)

where 'a( = ag ab is the jump of any physical variable a across the interface, and ag and ab
stand for the limiting values of a on the solid and fluid sides of the interface, respectively. This
equation means that the total flux of the eroded material (both particles and water) crossing the
interface must be continuous across the interface:
v


fluid and particles


leaving the soil

m

fluid and particles
crossing 

= w (v ub n)



(18)

fluid and particles


going into water

The momentum jump equation over  is (Appendix B)




1
1
, sb sg = mu

Tb
b g = m 2
w 

(19)

The tangential velocities are taken to be continuous across  (no-slip condition at the interface):
uTb = 0. This is the only assumption about , mainly because of the lack of experimental data. The
shear stress is therefore continuous across . Note that the normal stress cannot be continuous
across , but this stress will not be included in the model.
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2008 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

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THE SCALING LAW IN THE HOLE EROSION TEST

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The motion of the interface is unknown and is a part of the solution of the problem. From
Equation (18), it emerges that the interface celerity can be expressed as a function of the mass
flux, and the latter therefore becomes the main unknown, for which a constitutive law is required:
the erosion law.
Erosion laws dealing with soil surface erosion by a tangential flow are often expressed in the
form of threshold laws, such as

ker (|sb |c ) if |sb |>c


m =
(20)
0
otherwise
where |sb | is the tangential shear stress exerted on the soil. As shear stresses are assumed to be
continuous across the interface, this is the fluid shear stress at the interface.
This erosion law dates back a long way. It was first used in studies on free-surface flows
[11, 2729]. We used the same constitutive law here to model piping flows. The threshold c can
be referred to as the critical shear stress [27], and ker is the coefficient of soil erosion [28].
Now, as the control volume is that of the fluid domain, the interface becomes a boundary, on
which the conditions are given by the jump equations. Based on the above assumption, these
boundary conditions, in addition to Equation (20), are
Mass jump equation:


1
1
m
vb = m

(21)
, v =
 w

Momentum jump equation:
u b = 0,

|sb | = |sg |

(22)

Basic algebra shows that the interface celerity, which is normal to the interface, can be related to
the radius rate and gradient as follows:
 2 1/2
*R
*R
v =
1+
*t
*x

(23)

3. THE PIPING EROSION MODEL


The flow can now be accurately calculated using numerical solvers. A similar set of equations
was previously used to study various situations involving a permanent flow (a boundary layer and
a free-surface flow) over an erodable soil [15]. In addition, the above hypotheses are somewhat
basic and can be eliminated one after the other, making the model increasingly complex.
However, the aim here is to find a simple model giving the main features of piping erosion.
A simplified description leads to a better understanding of the process and the relevant scaling
processes, and some simplifications are both physically acceptable and expedient. The use of these
equations is extended here to study turbulent piping flow with erosion using spatial integration
methods.
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2008 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

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S. BONELLI AND O. BRIVOIS

3.1. Integrated equations on a section


Let a denote the average value of any physical variable a across any section:
R(x,t)
2

a(r, x, t)r dr, S(x, t) =


R 2 (x, t)
a(x, t) =
S(x, t) 0
Time and space derivations of average quantities give
R
*a
*
*S
r dr = (Sa)ab ,
2

*
*
*
0

 = t, x

(24)

(25)

We now integrate the system Equations (13)(14) on a cross section, with the boundary conditions
given by Equations (21)(22):


1
*
1
(26)

(Su) = 2
R m
w 
*x


*
*p
*
2
w
(Su)+ (Su ) = 2
Rb S
(27)
*t
*x
*x
Let L denote the characteristic geometrical length of the system (it is not a wave lengthscale, but
the length of the pipe, for example). The significance of Equation (26) can best be assessed by
performing axial integration:


L


M(t)
Q out (t) Q in (t) =
1
with M =
2
R m dx
(28)

w
0
where Q = Su is the volumetric flow rate of water, and M is the mass flow rate of the eroded
material (both soil water and soil particles) crossing the interface.
The next step consists in generating simpler equations that will contain all the relevant factors.
This is achieved by determining the relative importance of the driving forces acting on the system
and by determining which terms can be simplified.
The aim is to show that, assuming that the flow rate of the eroded material to be much smaller

than the water flow rate (( M/)


 Q), the RHS of Equation (26) can be neglected, which means
that there will be a uniform flow rate in the pipe Q out (t) = Q in (t). The LHS of Equation (27) can
also now be neglected.
Characteristic values are again necessary here. These are summarized in Table I. They can be
said to be typically of the order of magnitude of a variable in the volume range and the time span
considered. As usual, these values are introduced by performing phenomenological analysis. The
reference water flow rate Q 0 is the initial value or the value just before erosion starts. This value
gives the reference water velocity V0 = Q 0 /(
R02 ). The reference stress is the initial value P0 of
the driving pressure P in the pipe, which is defined as follows:
P(t) =

R0 ( pin (t) pout (t))


2L

(29)

where R0 is an estimate of the initial radius, and pin and pout are the input and output pressures
( pin > pout ). The reference erosion velocity is Ver = ker P0 /. This gives the reference volumetric
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2008 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

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THE SCALING LAW IN THE HOLE EROSION TEST

Table I. Reference variables for pipe flow with soil erosion.


Total flow rate

Flow velocity

Driving pressure

Q 0 = Q(t = 0+ )

V0 = Q 02

+ ) p (0+ ))
out
P0 = R0 ( pin (0 2L

Erosion flow rate

Erosion velocity

Erosion time

R0

Q er = 2
R0 L Ver

Ver =

Erosion mass flux

ker P0

ter = VR0

er

Reference volume fraction

Friction factor

er
cref = (1n)Q
Q

f b = P0 2

m ref = Ver

w V0

flow rate of the eroded material Q er = 2


R0 L Ver crossing the interface. The characteristic erosion
time is obviously ter = R0 /Ver .
To simplify this expression, the reference friction coefficient f b = P0 /(w V02 ) is introduced.
Lastly, ker = ker V0 is defined as erosion kinetic number, which is a key dimensionless number in
our analysis. The geometric scale ratio this time is  = R0 /L.
To complete the equations, the following dimensionless variables are introduced:
t =

t
,
ter

V
V = ,
V0

x =

x
,
L

Q
Q =
,
Q0

m
m =
,
Ver

R
R = ,
R0
P
P = ,
P0

 b =

 =

b
,
P0


w

 c =

c
P0

where V = u is the average velocity. The system Equations (20)(23) and (26)(27) can be recast
in a non-dimensional form as follows:
 *

 1 )
( Su)
= 2ker R m(1
f w *x


1 R0 * p
 * 2
1 *

 ker ( Su)+

( Su ) = 2 S
2 R  b
f b *x
P0 2 *x
*t

2 1/2

*R
* R
= m 1+2
*t
*x

m =

 b  c

if  b >c

otherwise

(30)
(31)

(32)

(33)

3.2. Low kinetics of erosion assumption


The geometric scale ratio  = R0 /L is a small parameter (  1), so that the last term of the RHS of
Equation (32), which gives the effect of the radius gradient on the erosion, can be neglected. When
f b ker  , the amount of eroded material is lower than the amount of water (Q er  Q 0 ), so that the
input and output water flow rates are equal: the RHS of Equation (30) can therefore be neglected.
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S. BONELLI AND O. BRIVOIS

The characteristic volume concentration of eroded particles in the flow is cref = (1n)Q er /Q 0
(where n is the porosity of the soil). The above assumption f b ker   is therefore consistent with
the initial assumption of a dilute suspension flow (cref  1). As the presence of eroded particles
does not affect the flow, the only possible source of inhomogeneity is the spatial gradient of the
radius.
We assume that the pipe is initially straight: *R0 /*x = 0. A careful examination of the above
system shows that under the above assumptions, the radius remains uniform during the erosion
process. Indeed, the flow is a dilute suspension, and the eroded particles do not interact with the
shear stress. All the other quantities are therefore uniform, including the pressure gradient and the
water momentum. The second term on the LHS of Equation (31) can therefore be neglected.
If ker  1, the erosion velocity is much lower than the flow velocity (Ver  V0 ) and the flow
can be taken to be quasi-steady: the first term on the LHS of Equation (31) can be neglected, as
 = O(1).
Lastly, if f b ker   and ker  1, and if the pipe is initially straight, the system can considerably
simplified as follows:

R P  c
d R
=
dt
0

if R P >  c
otherwise

(34)

Assuming that  c <1, we take a unit step in the driving pressure:

t) =
P(

0 if t<0
1 if t>0

As the erosion starts immediately (Appendix C), the closed-form solution is

t) =
R(

if t<0

 c +(1  c ) exp(t) if t>0

(35)

The velocity and the flow are related to the radius by


V =

R,

Q = R 5/2

(36)

Equation (35) is the scaling law of piping erosion with a constant pressure drop. This important
result has far-reaching practical as well as theoretical consequences. It will be used below to
fit experimental data, after expressing the scaled radius R  c as a function of the scaling time
t +ln(1  c ), and to obtain a unified description of piping erosion processes occurring in different
soils, in pipes of various diameters, etc.
The assumption ker  1 is supported by the fact that surface erosion is a very slow process,
which evolves on a very long time scale in comparison with the flow. The assumption f b ker  
has a different meaning: it means that the pipe is not too long (L  R( f b ker )1 ) and that the
accumulated eroded particles therefore do not transform the flow into a concentrated suspension.
Since the order of magnitude of the friction coefficient f b is 103 102 [30], even in rough pipes
[23, 31], this assumption can be simplified to L  100R(ker )1 .
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THE SCALING LAW IN THE HOLE EROSION TEST

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4. ANALYSIS AND APPLICATION


4.1. Analysis of the scaling law
The scaling law has two parameters: the erosion time scale ter and the dimensionless critical stress
 c . The influence of ter is obvious. The influence of  c is illustrated in Figures 2 and 3. The
dimensionless radius and flow rate are plotted in these figures as a function of the dimensionless
time. The parameter  c is not only a threshold value but also has a considerable influence on
the kinetics of erosion, especially on the flow rate, which increases in Q R 5/2 . When  c 1
(c < 1), or in other words, when P0 c (P0 > c ), the time is shifted as shown by the term
ln(1  c ) . Raw data obtained in the hole erosion test with a constant pressure are provided
by the flow rate time series. If  c is nearly equal to one, with  c < 1 (in which case so erosion
occurs), a rough interpretation of the raw data could lead to the conclusion that there is no erosion,
as the flow rate Q does not seem to initially increase with time. This point is discussed in the last
section.
4.2. Comparisons with experimental data
The scaling law Equation (35) is now compared with previously published data obtained in hole
erosion tests [4]. This test was designed to simulate piping flow erosion in a hole. The soil specimen
was compacted in a standard mould used for the standard compaction test. A hole was drilled

Figure 2. Influence of the critical stress on the evolution of the dimensionless radius (a) and the dimensionless flow rate (b) as a function of the dimensionless time.

Figure 3. Position of the evolution of the dimensionless radius on the scaling curve as a function of the
dimensionless critical stress.
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S. BONELLI AND O. BRIVOIS

along the longitudinal axis of the soil sample. An eroding fluid was driven through the soil sample
to initiate erosion of the soil along the pre-formed hole. The results of the test are given in terms
of the flow rate versus time curve with a constant pressure drop. The flow rate is therefore used as
an indirect index to the erosion rate. For further details about this test, see Wand and Fell [46].
Parametric identification is performed as follows: Equation (36) gives the dimensionless radius
as a function of the flow rate (measurements), and Equation (35) gives the dimensionless radius
as a function of time (model):


 
Q(t) 2/5
 c , ter ) =  c +(1  c ) exp t
r (t) =
(37)
, R(t,
Q0
ter

Table II. Geological origin, particle size distribution, and particle density of soil
samples (data from Wan and Fell [4]).
Soil
Bradys
Fattorini
Hume
Jindabyne
Lyell
Matahina
Pukaki
Shellharbour
Waranga

Geological origin
Residual
Colluvial
Alluvial
Residual
Residual
Residual
Glacial
Residual
Alluvial

% Gravel

% Sand

% Fines

% Finer than 2 m

Soil particle density

1
3
0
0
1
7
10
1
0

24
22
19
66
70
43
48
11
21

75
75
81
34
29
50
42
88
79

48
14
51
15
13
25
13
77
54

2.74
2.68
2.71
2.68
2.61
2.67
2.70
2.75
2.69

Table III. Geotechnical properties of soil samples (data from Wan and Fell [4]).
Soil
Bradys

Test name

BDHET001
BDHET002
Fattorini
Medium plasticity sandy clay FTHET010
Hume
Low plasticity sandy clay
HDHET001
HDHET005
HDHET006
HDHET007
HDHET009
Jindabyne
Clayey sand
JDHET001
JDHET005
JDHET013
JDHET016
Lyell
Silty sand
LDHET014
Matahina
Low plasticity clay
MDHET006
Pukaki
Silty sand
PDHET003
Shellharbour High plasticity clay
SHHET005
SHHET009
Waranga
Low plasticity clay
WBHET001
Copyright q

High plasticity sandy clay

2008 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

Optimum water Test water Optimum Test


content (%)
content (%) porosity porosity
35.0
35.0
18.5
21.0
21.0
21.0
21.0
21.0
16.0
16.0
16.0
16.0
10.0
16.5
8.5
41.0
41.0
19.0

35.8
35.9
15.6
21.4
17.9
22.6
22.4
22.7
15.7
13.8
16.2
18.3
8
14.3
8.6
38.7
37.9
18.5

0.52
0.52
0.37
0.39
0.39
0.39
0.39
0.39
0.35
0.35
0.35
0.35
0.25
0.32
0.20
0.55
0.55
0.38

0.52
0.52
0.37
0.40
0.40
0.40
0.40
0.40
0.35
0.35
0.35
0.35
0.25
0.32
0.20
0.55
0.55
0.38

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THE SCALING LAW IN THE HOLE EROSION TEST

The mean-square error is minimized with respect to the unknown (c , ter ):
N


n ,  c , ter )]2 min


[r (tn ) R(t

(38)

(c ,ter )

n=1

where N is the number of data. The results of the identification are


c =  c P0 ,

ker =

R0
ter P0

Scaling was performed in 18 tests, using nine different soils (including clay, sandy clay, clayey
sand, and silty sand). The initial radius and the length of the pipe were R0 = 3 mm and L = 117 mm.
Tables II and III give the geological origin, the particle size distribution, the particle density of
the soil samples, and the geotechnical properties of the soil samples. The soil density /w ranged
from 1.78 to 2.35. The initial water content ranged from 8 to 38.7%. The Reynolds numbers ranged
from 2000 to 8800.
Tables IVVI give the parameters of the hole erosion tests and the results of the modelling
study with the scaling law. The critical stress ranged from 6 to 128 Pa. The coefficient of erosion
ker ranged from 105 s/m (test HDHET009) to 102 s/m (test LDHET014). The erosion time
scale ranged from 60 s (test LDHET014) to 2200 s (test HDHET009). Since the erosion kinetic
numbers ker ranged from 104 to 102 , low erosion kinetics and dilute suspension flow were
present in all the cases studied. Nearly all the values of the dimensionless critical stress  c were
practically equal to one, except for the FTHET010 test, which gave a low value of 0.07 due
to a very low critical stress (less than 7 Pa) and the high value of the driving pressure (94 Pa)
(Table IV).
Table IV. Parameters of the hole erosion test with a constant pressure drop
(data from Wan and Fell [4]).

Copyright q

Test

P0 (Pa)

V0 (m/s)

f b (102 )

BDHET001
BDHET002
FTHET010
HDHET001
HDHET005
HDHET006
HDHET007
HDHET009
JDHET001
JDHET005
JDHET013
JDHET016
LDHET014
MDHET006
PDHET003
SHHET005
SHHET009
WBHET001

79.96
53.22
93.78
92.87
66.13
79.30
79.43
79.57
77.74
9.65
53.22
6.91
7.96
129.00
16.43
106.30
102.39
105.91

2.20
1.87
2.57
2.43
2.22
2.29
2.33
2.15
2.26
0.71
1.52
0.63
0.81
2.93
1.02
2.68
2.71
2.71

1.65
1.52
1.42
1.57
1.34
1.51
1.47
1.72
1.53
1.94
2.32
1.72
1.21
1.51
1.57
1.48
1.39
1.44

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S. BONELLI AND O. BRIVOIS

Table V. Results obtained with the scaling law. Hole erosion


tests with a constant pressure drop.
Test

c (Pa)

ter (s)

Ver (105 m/s)

ker (104 s/m)

BDHET001
BDHET002
FTHET010
HDHET001
HDHET005
HDHET006
HDHET007
HDHET009
JDHET001
JDHET005
JDHET013
JDHET016
LDHET014
MDHET006
PDHET003
SHHET005
SHHET009
WBHET001

76.07
50.93
6.63
92.87
66.13
76.00
79.41
74.42
72.32
6.92
49.66
6.42
7.95
128.22
13.85
106.20
99.77
105.81

223
210
73
319
299
1712
600
2183
133
647
380
1165
57
424
424
152
975
213

1.35
1.43
4.10
0.94
1.00
0.18
0.50
0.14
2.26
0.46
0.79
0.26
5.22
0.71
0.71
1.98
0.31
1.41

3.02
4.80
8.57
2.01
2.93
0.44
1.26
0.35
5.89
9.59
3.03
7.73
139.19
1.13
10.05
3.22
0.52
2.62

Table VI. Characteristic dimensionless numbers of the hole erosion


tests with a constant pressure drop.
Test

Re0

ker (104 )

cref (105 )

 c

BDHET001
BDHET002
FTHET010
HDHET001
HDHET005
HDHET006
HDHET007
HDHET009
JDHET001
JDHET005
JDHET013
JDHET016
LDHET014
MDHET006
PDHET003
SHHET005
SHHET009
WBHET001

6610
5606
7721
7298
6663
6875
6981
6452
6769
2115
4548
1904
2433
8779
3067
8038
8144
8144

7
9
22
5
6
1
3
1
13
7
5
5
113
3
10
9
2
7

11
14
39
9
10
2
5
1
25
16
13
10
185
6
21
13
2
12

0.9515
0.9570
0.0707
1105
1106
0.9583
0.9997
0.9354
0.9302
0.7170
0.9332
0.9283
0.9993
0.9940
0.8426
0.9990
0.9744
0.9990

Figure 4 shows the effect of the erosion process in terms of the flow rate with respect to time
and shows that the use of ter leads to efficient dimensionless scaling. Without this scaling, multiple
graphs would be necessary for clarity of presentation. Figure 5 shows the increase in the radius
R Q 2/5 , which ranged from 2 to 3.
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THE SCALING LAW IN THE HOLE EROSION TEST

1587

In Figure 6, dimensionless flow rates Q are plotted as a function of the scaling time t +ln(1  c ).
Nearly all the data can be seen to fall on a single curve. The scaling time is therefore an efficient
and simple means of plotting the flow rate.
Scaled radii are plotted as a function of the scaling time in a linear plot in Figure 7. Again,
nearly all the data can be seen to fall on a single curve. These graphs confirm the validity of
the scaling law Equation (35). Given the many simplifying assumptions used here, the agreement
speaks for itself: in spite of the large range of ker (covering three orders of magnitude), no further
operations are required to bring the model into line with the experimental data.

Figure 4. Hole erosion tests with a constant pressure drop, test (symbols) versus model (continuous lines).
Dimensionless flow is shown as a function of dimensionless time (data from Wan and Fell [4]).

Figure 5. Hole erosion tests with a constant pressure drop, test (symbols) versus model (continuous lines).
Dimensionless radius is shown as a function of dimensionless time (data from Wan and Fell [4]).
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S. BONELLI AND O. BRIVOIS

Figure 6. Hole erosion tests with a constant pressure drop, test (symbols) versus model (continuous lines).
Dimensionless flow is shown as a function of scaling time (data from Wan and Fell [4]).

Figure 7. Hole erosion tests with a constant pressure drop, test (symbols) versus model (continuous lines).
Scaling law of the radius as a function of time (data from Wan and Fell [4]).

5. COMMENTS AND DISCUSSION


5.1. On the uniformity of the flow
Turbulent piping flows are known to be non-uniform at the entrance. The entry length of the flow
is lin 1.6Re0.25 R, where Re is the Reynold number and R the radius of the pipe. Assuming
uniformity in the interpretation of the data requires lin  L, yielding 15R  L for a Reynolds
number Re = 8000. The tests described in the previous section give lin 45 mm, i.e. 38% of the
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2008 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

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THE SCALING LAW IN THE HOLE EROSION TEST

1589

length of the pipe. It can be concluded that the pipe should be at least 1 m long in hole erosion
tests.
5.2. On the method of identification of erosion parameters
The LevenbergMarquartd method was used to solve the non-linear least-squares problem in
Equation (38). Establishing the existence and uniqueness of the parameters is fairly straightforward
due to the simplicity of the scaling law. Other methods were tested, such as linear regression
between b and dR/dt (the method used by Wan and Fell [46]) and linear regression between
b dt and R. The results obtained were similar; however, these linear regressions seem to be very
highly dependent on the quality of the raw data, and some of the data had to be removed. This
was not the case with the non-linear method used in Equation (38), which proved to be robust:
this method converged in a few iterations in all cases, with all the raw data, even when  c was
almost equal to one (e.g. tests HDHET001 and HDHET005). It was concluded that the non-linear
method used in Equation (38) is a more reliable means of determining the critical stress and the
coefficient of erosion than the linear extrapolation method.
5.3. On the identification of the critical stress
The extrapolation method used by Wan and Fell [46] to obtain the critical stress yielded rather
inaccurate estimates. The authors suggested directly estimating the initial shear stress, i.e. the
minimum shear stress initiating the erosion. This method has a serious drawback: it gives values
of  c , which are almost equal to one. Therefore, if the duration of the test is not large enough (i.e.
if the duration is less than ter ln(1  c )), the operator might conclude that a non-erosion process is
involved, although erosion has started and is slowly evolving. For this reason, the term ter ln(1  c )
is likely to reflect the patience of the operator more than anything else. A value of the driving
pressure P0 significantly greater than c is a more relevant criterion, as it improves the accuracy
of identification and decreases the duration of the test.
5.4. On the erosion law
The linear erosion law given by Equation (20) is a strong assumption. A non-linear expression can
of course be chosen, such as


p

ker c |b | 1
if |b |>c
c
m =

0
otherwise
Assuming that  c <1, the closed-form solution generalizing Equation (35) is therefore

1
if t<0

t) =  c +[(1  c )1 p + t(1 p)(c )1 p ]1/(1 p) if p


= 1 and t>0
R(

 c +(1  c ) exp(t)
if p = 1 and t > 0

(39)

The empirical exponent p0 can be higher or lower than one [3234]. However, the value p = 0
corresponds to an erosion law which does not depend on the stress, and this gives a constant flux
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S. BONELLI AND O. BRIVOIS

of eroded material, which is not relevant. On the other hand, if p>1, the radius takes an infinite
value in finite time:

 p1
 c
t) = with tu = 1
lim R(
if p>1
(40)
p 1 1  c
ttu
As this result has no mechanical significance, we can conclude that the condition for this third
parameter is 0< p1. This result confirms that the model developed by Meyer-Peter and Muller
cannot be used as an erosion law, as it involves the exponent p = 32 . This empirical model was
based on a spatial transport capacity gradient under steady-state conditions and, thus, on an overall
view of the subject.
Adding the third parameter p is just a matter of fitting the numerical and experimental results.
It provides a little insight into the real mechanism underlying surface erosion, contrary to the two
parameters c and ker , which are of obvious significance. The exponential scaling law compares
favourably with all the measured values, where |b |/c 1 ranged from 0 to 3. The values of p
differing significantly from one have been found to give poor fits. We conclude that p = 1 appears
to be suitable for interpreting hole erosion tests. Note that it is not possible to extend this conclusion
to case studies, as the eroding fluid velocity can be greater in the pipes occurring at dams or dykes.
Further research is now required to determine whether other sources of non-linearity should be
taken into account.
The fact that the erosion law does not depend on the normal stress is more fundamental. This
parameter includes the pressure and the normal component of the turbulent stress. A more general
expression has to be used if the eroding flow is not strictly tangential to the surface (as in the case
of turbulent jets). Another point that needs to be examined is the structure of the erosion law from
the point of view of the irreversible thermodynamics, as it is a constitutive law. This analysis is
beyond the scope of this paper.

6. CONCLUSION
The hole erosion test appears to provide a simple, efficient means of quantifying the rate of piping
progression erosion. However, few attempts have been made so far to model this process. The
aim of this study was to draw up a model for interpreting hole erosion tests with a constant
pressure drop.
In the present modelling study, we started with the axially symmetrical equations for flow
involving fluid/soil interface erosion. After making a few assumptions, asymptotic developments
and dimensional analysis were performed and some characteristic numbers were obtained; the two
most significant of which are the erosion kinetic number and the characteristic erosion time.
A particular case was defined which covers the range of soils usually met in practice, involving
low erosion kinetics and dilute suspension flows. This situation arises when the coefficient of
erosion is small and when the pipe is not too long. In this case, the erosion velocity is lower
than the flow velocity. The influence of both concentration of soil particles in the flow and inertial
effects can be neglected, and the flow is quasi-steady.
A scaling law was obtained for interpreting the results of the hole erosion test with a constant
pressure drop, making it possible to give a unified description of the piping erosion of different soils
in pipes of various diameters. Comparisons were made between the results of the present modelling
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THE SCALING LAW IN THE HOLE EROSION TEST

1591

study and previously published experimental data. These comparisons confirm the validity of our
scaling law.

APPENDIX A: MASS JUMP EQUATION


In this section, the mass jump equation is developed. Let  = w soil be any control volume in
a fluid/solid domain, with a smooth boundary *, containing matter with density  and velocity u.
The zero-thickness interface between the fluid and the soil is denoted by , with velocity v and
a normal vector n oriented outward w . This is a discontinuity interface: the density is that of
the fluid on the one side and that of the soil on the other side.
The mass balance equations of the fluid and solid phases are
*
+div(u) = 0
*t

in w and s

The mass balance equation for the overall domain  is


d
M() = 0
dt

with M() =

(A1)

 d

(A2)

The mass M() can be split into M() = M(w )+ M(s ). The Reynolds transport theorem gives
the mass rates accounting for the material boundary *w  (velocity u) and the geometrical
boundary  (celerity v and unit normal n exterior to *w ):



*
d
M(w ) =
(un) ds + b (v n ) ds
(A3)
d+
dt
w *t
*w 

where ab denotes the value of a on  on the fluid side. The second term on the RHS of Equation
(A3) can be rewritten by applying the Gauss theorem to u in w :



un ds =
div(u) d b ub n ds
(A4)
*w 

w

Substituting Equation (A4), and then Equation (A1) into Equation (A3) gives

d
M(w ) = b (v ub )n ds
dt


(A5)

The same reasoning holds for the solid phase. Keeping the same normal vector n on  yields

d
M(s ) = g (v ug )n ds
(A6)
dt

where ag denotes the value of a on  on the solid side. Summing Equations (A5) and (A6) yields

d
M() = '(v u)n ( ds
(A7)
dt

where 'a( = ab ag is the jump in a across the interface . Finally, substituting Equation (A2)
into Equation (A7) and assuming that this result will hold for any control volume , we obtain
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S. BONELLI AND O. BRIVOIS

the mass jump equation on :


'(v u)n ( = 0

on 

(A8)

Hence, the following quantity, which is the mass flux crossing , is continuous across :
m = (v u)n

(A9)

APPENDIX B: MOMENTUM JUMP EQUATION


In this section, the momentum jump equation is developed with the same control volume as in
Appendix A. The momentum balance equations for the fluid and solid phases are
*(u)
(B1)
+div(uu) = div T+g in w and s
*t
where T is the Cauchy stress order-two tensor, and g is the body force vector. The momentum
balance equation for the overall domain  is



d
A() =
Tn ds + g d with A() = u d
(B2)
dt
*


The momentum can be split into A() = A(w )+ A(s ). The Reynolds transport theorem gives the
momentum rates accounting for the material boundary *w  and the geometrical boundary :



dA
*(u)
(w ) =
u(un) ds + b ub (v n ) ds
(B3)
d+
dt
w *t
*w 

The second term on the RHS of Equation (B3) can be rewritten by applying the Gauss theorem
to uu in w :



u(un) ds =
div(uu) d b ub (ub n ) ds
(B4)
*w 

w

Inserting Equation (B4) and then Equation (B1) into Equation (B3) gives


dA
(w ) =
div T+g d+ mu
b ds
dt
w

The Gauss theorem can now be applied to the first term on the RHS of Equation (B5):



dA
(w ) =
Tn ds +
g d+ mu
b ds
dt
*w
w


(B5)

(B6)

The same reasoning holds for the solid phase. Keeping the same normal vector n on  yields



dA
(s ) =
Tn ds +
g d mu
g ds
(B7)
dt
*s
s

Note that

*w

Copyright q


Tn ds +

*s

2008 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.


Tn ds =

*


Tn ds +

'T(n ds

(B8)

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THE SCALING LAW IN THE HOLE EROSION TEST

Summing Equations (B6) and (B7) and substituting Equation (B8) into the result yield



dA
() =
Tn ds + g d+ 'T(n+ m'u(

ds
dt
*



1593

(B9)

Finally, substituting Equation (B2) into Equation (B9) and assuming that the result will hold for
any control volume , we obtain the momentum jump equation on :
'r(n+ m'u(

=0

on 

(B10)

Taking the normal and tangential parts of Equation (B10) and substituting Equation (A9) into the
result yield


1
1
b g = m 2
, sb sg = m(u

Tb uTg )
(B11)
w 
where = nTn is the normal stress on , s = Tn n is the shear stress vector on , and
uT = u(un)n is the tangential velocity on .
APPENDIX C: EROSION ONSET TIME
Before erosion starts, the velocity response is likely to be gradual because of the term dV /dt. The
closed-form solution of
R *V
ker
= R P  b
2 *t
before the erosion starts is
1
t)
V (t) = tanh(2 kref

The erosion onset time is therefore


tc =


kref
arctan h  c
2

As arctan h[1103 ] = 3.8, we have tc  1 if 1  c > 103 , which is of the same order of magnitude as the accuracy of the raw data. The erosion onset time can therefore be neglected in the
interpretation because ker  1, as shown by the TaylorLagrange development of tc (c ) around one:
tc =

ker
ln(1  c )+ O(ker )
4

APPENDIX D: NOMENCLATURE

a
a
a g , ab
'a(

fluid/soil interface
dimensionless value of any physical variable a
average value of a across any section
limiting value of a on the solid and fluid sides of 
jump of a across 

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1594
R

L
S
x,r
n
w , 
ker
c
eff
u
v
uT
u, v
V
Ver

, , s
p,  p
P
m
M
t0
ter
Q
Q er
fb
ker


S. BONELLI AND O. BRIVOIS

pipe radius (m) (initial value R0 )


pipe lengthscale in elongational flow approximation (m)
pipe length (m)
pipe section (m2 )
axial and radial coordinates (m)
soil porosity
water and soil densities (kg/m3 )
coefficient of surface erosion (s/m)
critical shear stress (Pa)
effective (eddy) fluid viscosity (kg/m/s)
fluid (or soil) velocity (m/s)
interface celerity (m/s)
velocity tangential to  (m/s)
axial and radial fluid velocities (m/s)
average axial velocity (initial value V0 ) (m/s)
reference erosion velocity (m/s)
fluid shear stress (Pa)
normal stress, tangential stress and shear stress vector on  (Pa)
fluid pressure, pressure drop (Pa)
driving pressure (Pa)
mass flux of eroded material (water and particles) (kg/m2 /s)
mass flow rate of eroded material (kg/s)
characteristic flow time (s)
characteristic erosion time (s)
volumetric flow rate of water (m3 /s)
reference volumetric flow rate of eroded material (m3 /s)
reference friction coefficient
erosion kinetic number
geometric scale ratio (  1)
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

This project was sponsored by the Region Provence Alpes Cote dAzur. This research project is continuing
under the sponsorship of the French National Research Agency under grant 0594C0115 (ERINOH). The
authors wish to thank Professor Robin Fell and Dr Chi Fai Wan for their valuable experimental data.
REFERENCES
1. Fell R, Fry J-J. Internal Erosion of Dams and Their Foundations. Taylor & Francis: London, 2007.
2. Hagerty DJ. Piping/sapping erosion. I: Basic considerations. Journal of Hydraulic Engineering 1991; 117(8):
9911008.
3. Hagerty DJ. Piping/sapping erosion. II: Identification-diagnosis. Journal of Hydraulic Engineering 1991; 117(8):
10091025.
4. Wan CF, Fell R. Investigation of internal erosion and piping of soils in embankment dams by the slot erosion
test and the hole erosion test. UNICIV Report No R-412, The University of New South Wales, Sydney, July
2002; ISSN 0077 880X.
5. Wan CF, Fell R. Investigation of rate of erosion of soils in embankment dams. Journal of Geotechnical and
Geoenvironmental Engineering 2004; 130(4):373380.
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2008 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

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Copyright q

2008 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

Int. J. Numer. Anal. Meth. Geomech. 2008; 32:15731595


DOI: 10.1002/nag