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Stresses imposed on the soil by the weight of the overburden or by structural loads may cause
strengthening of the soil mass or failure depending on the method of application of the load and distribution of the
If a vertical load of 1 ton is applied to a column of 1 sq.ft cross-sectional area, and the column rests directly
on a soil surface, the vertical pressure exerted by the column onto the soil would be, on average 1 ton/ft (neglecting
the columns weight). In addition to this pressure at the area of contact between column and soil, stress influence
extends both downward and outward within the soil in the general area where the load is applied. The increase in
pressure in the soil at any horizontal plane below the load is greatest directly under the load and diminishes
outwardly. The pressures magnitude decreases with increasing depth.
Stress distribution in soil is quite important to soil engineers particularly with regard to stability analysis and
the settlement analysis of the foundation.
Vertical Pressure below a Concentrated Load
There are two methods for calculating pressure below a concentrated load the Westergaard Equation and
the Boussinesq Equation. Both of these result from the theory of elasticity, which assumes that stress is proportional
to strain. Implicit in this assumption is a homogeneous material, although soil is seldom homogeneous. The
Westergaard equation is based on alternating thin layers of an elastic material between layers of an inelastic material.
The Boussinesq equation assumes a homogeneous soil throughout.
Westergaard Equation:
The Westergaard equation is as follows:


Q = concentrated load
= Poissons ratio
z = depth
r = horizontal distance from point of application of Q to point at which

is desired

The vertical stress at depth z resulting from load Q, is sometimes referred to as vertical stress increment, since it
represents stress added by the load to the stress existing prior to application of the load. (The stress existing prior to
application of the load is the overburden pressure). This equation gives
as a function of both the vertical distance
z and horizontal distance r between the point of application of Q and the point at which
is desired. If Poissons
ratio is taken to be zero, Eq, (1) reduces to

( ) ]

Stresses due to Surface Loads; Boussinesqs Equations

In 1885 Joseph Valentin Boussinesq advanced theoretical expressions for determining stresses at a point within an
ideal mass due to surface point loads. They are based on the assumption that the mass is an (1) elastic, (2)
isotropic, (3) homogeneous, and (4) semi-infinite medium that extends infinitely in all directions from a level surface.
Boussinesqs equations provide a widely-used basis for estimating the stresses within a soil mass caused by a
concentrated load applied perpendicularly to the soil surface. In 1938 Westeergard developed a solution for stresses
within a soil mass by assuming the material to be reinforced by very rigid horizontal sheets that prevent any
horizontal strain.
Boussinesqs equations may be expressed in terms of either rectangular or polar coordinates. Referring to
the elements Figure 1, the equations are as follows:

In rectangular coordinates:






Figure 1. Stresses on elements due to concentrated
load Q (a) rectangular coordinate (b) Polar
coordinate notation


In polar coordinates


(eq. 9)

(eq. 10)
(eq. 11)

In the above equations designates Poissons ratio, which varies between 0 and 0.5. Although Poissons
ratio may be readily obtained from tables for most materials, for soil it cannot. In fact, the experimental results in this
regard vary widely and are inconclusive. Because it simplified some of the equations, many engineers have used a
value of 0.5.
The expression for vertical stress, designated , is regarded as reasonably accurate and is widely used in
problems associated with bearing capacity and settlement analysis.
Equation 8 is more conveniently expressed in a slightly different form as


(eq. 12)

(eq. 13)
where NB, commonly referred to as the vertical stress coefficient, is given by

Distribution of Pressure from Point Load

An analysis of Eq. 12 reveals that the intensity of vertical stress at a point within a soil mass caused by a given
surface point load decreases with an increase in the depth and radial distance from the load to the point within the

The intensity of the vertical stress, , at various depths and radial distances is plotted to a uniform scale and
is schematically represented in Figure 2 by the arrows under the dashed lines. If one were to connect the points of
equal stress for various depths, the result would be a series of pressure bulbs, as indicated by the solid lines. That is
the pressure at each point of a particular pressure bulb has the same value. Hence, any number of pressure bulbs
may be drawn for any given load, with each pressure bulb representing particular stress magnitude. The value of any
given pressure bulb could be obtained by merely reading the intensity of
corresponding to the point where the solid
line intersects any of the dashed line.

Figure 2. Distribution of vertical stress induced by point

load Q. Dashed lines represent the stress
distribution for various values at depth z; solid
lines connect points of equal stress

Pressure caused by Uniformly Loaded Line of Finite

Boussinesqs expression for the vertical stress
as given by
Eq. 1 is not directly applicable for the determination of vertical
stresses induced by line loads, perhaps typified by continuous
wall footings. It can be modified, however, to provide us with a
tool for estimating the vertical stress or pressure from a line load.
Figure 3 shows a line load applied at the surface. For an
element selected at an arbitrary fixed point in the soil mass, an
expression for
could be derived by integrating Boussinesqs
expression for point load as given by Eq. 1. The line load is
assumed to be of equal intensity q and applied at the surface.
Furthermore, one notes that the intensity of q is expressed as a
force per unit length.

With these assumptions established, the expression for


Figure 3. Vertical stress induced

by line loads

can be determined as follows:


. Thus, we have


For a specific location of the element, x and z are constants (x and z in Fig. 3). Let
Eq.( b) becomes



. Then Eq. (c) becomes

, and

From Fig.3,



. Thus, substituting into Eq.(d)

/ ]


If we let


) 1


, equation (e) becomes

) ]



) 1

Values for Po for various combinations of m and n are given in Table 2. In using this table one notes that
the values for m and n are not interchangeable. Furthermore, for values of m and n falling within the range of those
given in the table, a straight-line interpolation may be assumed.

Uniformly Loaded Circular Area

The unit vertical stress on any given depth could be determined with acceptable accuracy by extending Boussinesqs
equation to a uniformly loaded circular area.
Two separate cases of the vertical stress under circular footings will be considered. Case A considers only the
vertical stress under the center of the footing, while case B considers the vertical stress at any point in the soil,
including under the center of the footing.
Case A. Vertical stress under the center of the footing

Figure 4. Vertical stress under center of loaded circular area

From Boussinesqs equation

Integrating with respect to

and substituting limits, we have




[ ]


(eq. 15)


(eq. 15a)

where W 0, a dimensionless coefficient is given by

Values for W o for various combinations of r and z are given in Table 3.

Case B. Vertical stress at any point in the soil

Figure 5. Vertical stress from loaded circular area

Equation 15 is only valid when
is to be determined under the center of a circular area. Charts and tables are
available, however, that provide expedient means for estimating
for points lying under as well as outside the
center. A chart developed by Foster and Ahlvin can be used to determine the vertical stress. The expression for
takes the form
(eq. 16)

where Nz is a shape function of dimensionless variables,

The value of Nz can be determined from developed by Foster and Ahlvin or from table for selected values of

It is based on the assumption that the mass is a semi-infinite elastic medium whose Poissons ratio is 0.5. It
is applicable to points under as well as outside the centerline of a circular footing

Pressure caused by a Uniformly Loaded Rectangular Area

From Boussinesqs equation the vertical stress under a corner of a rectangular area uniformly loaded with a uniform
load of intensity, q, can be expressed as

Figure 7. Vertical stress under corner of rectangular area uniformly loaded

The integral is difficult and far too long to provide a practical benefit. The integration is performed by Newmark with
the following results:


(eq. 17)

. Equation 16 can also be expressed as


is the shape function of the dimensionless ratio m and n. The influence values for various
combinations of m and n can be found directly from table.
When the point at which the stress is desired does not fall below a corner of the area, the area is adjusted
into rectangles such that corners become located over the point in question. Subsequently the effects are

Total Load on Rectangular Area in Undersoil

In the preceding section the vertical stress induced by a uniformly distributed load over a rectangular area to a point
at z depth below the surface was evaluated. Now the total load induced on a rectangular area below the surface by a
concentrated load applied at the surface will be evaluated. For example, the typical problem may be represented by
a wheel load applied at the surface, creating stresses on a buried pipe or culvert, or perhaps on the roof of a relatively
shallow tunnel. Although we shall be assuming a horizontal plane, the procedure gives reasonably acceptable results
for arch-shaped surfaces by assuming the horizontal plane to be projection of the circular shape.
Figure 8 depicts a rectangular plane, a distance z beneath the surface, subjected to a concentrated surface
load, Q, over one of the corners. The total load on the shaded area is a summation of all the increments of forces
induced by the surface load Q.
The increment of force over a small area may be expressed as the product of the stress and the increment of
area, as indicated in Eq. (a):
(eq. a)

eq. (a) becomes


(eq. b)
(eq. 18)

is the influence coefficient or shape function, which can be obtained directly from table.

Figure 8. Load on rectangular area undersoil from concentrated surface load Q over one area

Newmarks Influence Chart

The procedure outlined in the preceding sections for determination of vertical stresses
induced by uniformly loaded
or circular area are rather clumsy when applied to irregularly shaped areas. Newmark devised a graphical procedure
for computing stresses induced by irregularly shaped loaded areas.
Newmarks procedure evolves from the expression for the vertical stress under the center of a loaded circular area,
given by Eq. 15 or Eq. 15a. From these expressions the ratio of

equals Wo, the influence coefficient given in the

table. That is, Eq. 15 can be written as


(eq. a)

The relationship between and may be illustrated by extracting a few values from Table 4 as shown in the
table below. For convenience ten equal increments of between
will be selected.
Table. Values of for selected values of




















The values of represent concentric circles of relative radii. Plotted for a selected scale for z, these circles are
shown in Fig. 9 with the last circle not shown since

Figure 9. Newmark influence chart for vertical

stress at any depth

Now divide the circles by evenly spaced rays emanating from the center, for convenience say 20.
Thus, a total of
influence units was obtained. Hence, the influence value, IV, is
In this case

The stress at a depth z for a specific point is

(eq. 18)

To use this chart, one draws an outline of the loaded surface to a scale such that the distance AB from Figure 9
equals the depth of the point in question. The point beneath the loaded area for which the vertical stress is sought is
then located over the center of the chart. Hence, the area will encompass a number of influence units on the chart (in
our case each unit has a value of 0.005). Thus, by counting the influence units and by using equation 18, one may
proceed to determine the stress at the given point.
One may note that while the values for indicated in the table may be fixed for the selected values of
the scale for the influence chart was arbitrarily chosen and can, therefore, be altered as needed. Similarly, the
number of rays or the number of rays or the number of radii may also vary as desired, thereby varying the influence
values for these charts.
Approximate Estimate of Vertical Stress
Approximate estimates of the average vertical stress under a uniformly loaded area at a given depth, z, can be made
by assuming that the applied surface load spreads downward to a horizontal plane, which is enveloped by four planes
sloping from the edges of the loaded area at an angle of 30 with the vertical. Another method is to assume a slope
of 2:1 as shown in Figure 10. The methods are approximate but rather easy and expedient, and they are quite
commonly used for estimating average stresses. Generally, this approach yields values for
slightly lower than
those obtained by previously discussed methods for shallow depths but of comparable magnitude at greater depths.

Figure 10. Approximate

For a uniformly loaded area a x b,

on plane at depth z

is approximately as follows. For a 30 slope,

(eq. 20)

For a 2:1 slope,

(eq. 20a)