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Indian Geotechnical Conference 2010, GEOtrendz

December 1618, 2010

IGS Mumbai Chapter & IIT Bombay

A Critical Study on Seismic Design of Retaining Structures

Katdare, A.D. Choudhury, D.

Research Scholar Associate Professor,
E-mail: E-mail:

Department of Civil Engineering, IIT Bombay, Mumbai

Knowledge of seismic earth pressure is very important for design of retaining structures in the earthquake prone
areas. Knowledge of the wave theories play an important role in the estimation of the additional seismic destabilizing
forces. Many researchers have developed several methods for the calculation of earth pressure and design of
retaining walls in earthquake prone areas. Pseudo-static and pseudo-dynamic methods are most popularly used
methods in geotechnical engineering practice. The results obtained by researchers show the advantage of pseudo-
dynamic method over conventional pseudo-static method. In the present paper an overview of the available analytical
solutions for seismic analysis of retaining structures with merits and demerits of each methods and the comparison
between the different methods are expressed in detail.

1. INTRODUCTION idea, there was no design method against earthquake effects.

Determination of seismic earth pressure plays a vital role Since this method works easily with static calculation, it is
in the analysis and design of retaining structures in still widely used. Figure 1 is an example of slope stability
earthquake prone area. Pseudo-static and pseudo-dynamic analysis.
methods are most popularly used methods in geotechnical
engineering practice which play an important role in the
estimation of the additional seismic destabilizing forces. K*W
Mononobe and Okabe used the first explicit application of
pseudo-static approach for retaining wall in 1926 and 1929.
This paper describes the methods for the analysis and design
Weight W
of the earth retaining structures for seismic activity. Also,
it summarizes the advantages and disadvantages of these Fig. 1: Example of Elementary Seismic Slope Stability
methods. Analysis (Towahata, 2008)

2. THE PSEUDO-STATIC METHOD A theoretical background of seismic coefficient lies in

the DAlemberts principle of mechanics. When a base of
In 1920s, the seismic stability of earth structures was a structure has an acceleration of A, the effects of this
analysed by a pseudo-static approach in which the effects shaking to the overlying structure is equivalent to a forceof
of an earthquake were represented by constant horizontal (A/g)*W in the opposite direction from the acceleration
and/or vertical accelerations. The pseudo-static method is (Fig. 2); g stands for the acceleration due to gravity.
the very old method to design facilities against earthquake
effects. The first explicit application of the pseudo-static
approach to the analysis of seismic of seismic slope stability
has been attributed to Mononobe and Okabe in 1929. But Static Inertia
the details of the pseudo-static approach for slope stability Force = AW/g
analysis were described by Terzaghi (1950) (see Kramer,
1996). This method statically applies a force to a designed
facility (pseudo-static method). The magnitude of this force
is specified to be K*W in which K is called the seismic Acceleration, A
coefficient and W is the weight of the facility. Before this Fig. 2: DAlemberts Principle of Mechanics (Towahata, 2008)
204 A.D. Katdare and D. Choudhury

Thus, the seismic coefficient of K appears to be propagation behind a retaining wall. This method also
equivalent to A/g. considers the effects of horizontal and vertical seismic
The value of K depends on the region, seismic activity, accelerations as time, frequency and amplification
and importance of facilities, local geology and soil conditions. dependent parameters for seismic design of retaining
Different countries have different values of K. Today, the structures. Steedman and Zend (1990) devised this method
value of K in Japan is 0.15-0.2 or greater (Towahata, 2008). to overcome the drawbacks of the pseudo-static method. a
The method of seismic coefficient is still in use because vertical rigid retaining wall supporting a particular value
it is simple and the factor of safety can be calculated by the of soil friction angle () and a particular value of seismic
same way as the conventional static stress calculation. No horizontal acceleration (khg, where g is the acceleration
advanced analysis is therefore necessary. It made a great due to gravity) has been considered.
contribution to the improvement of seismic safety. But, the Choudhury & Nimbalkar (2005) modified this method
problems lying in the seismic coefficient are as follows: by considering the effect of vertical seismic acceleration.
1. The real seismic force is cyclic, changing in Authors also studied the effects of a wide range of
direction with time, and its time duration is limited. parameters like wall friction angle, soil friction angle, shear
In contrast, the seismic coefficient method applies wave velocity, primary wave velocity and horizontal and
a force in a static manner. This seismic force vertical seismic accelerations on seismic active earth
overestimates the risk of earthquake failure. pressure. They also considered that the shear modulus (G)
2. Representation of the complex, transient, dynamic is constant with depth of a retaining wall throughout
effects of earthquake shaking by single constant thebackfill and only the phase and not the magnitude of
unidirectional pseudostatic acceleration is vey accelerations are varying along the depth of the wall.
crude. The major conclusions of their work was that the
3. At the time of 1994 Northridge earthquake near Los pseudo-dynamic method gives more realistic non-linear
Angeles, the maximum horizontal acceleration of seismic active earth pressure distribution behind the
1.8g or possibly 1.9g was recorded at Tarzana site. retaining wall (Fig.3) as compared to the MononobeOkabe
Within tens of meters from the accelerometer here, method using pseudo-static approach.
a small hut did not suffer damage (Towahata, 2008).
Was this structure well designed against a
horizontal static force as intense as 1.8 times its
4. Thus, the relation between K and the maximum
Fig. 3: Model Retaining Wall Considered by Choudhury and
ground acceleration is not clear. Acceleration of
Nimbalkar (2006) for Computation of Pseudo Dynamic Active
1.9g does not mean K = 1.9. Study on seismic
Earth Pressure
damage of quay walls led Noda et al. (1975) to
propose Again, in a similar way, Choudhury and Nimbalkar
(2008) developed the theory to estimate the seismic passive
Amax 3 earth pressure by using the pseudo-dynamic approach. But
/3 (1) the work done by Choudhury and Nimbalkar (2005) did
not consider the effect of soil amplication on both the
where A max is the maximum horizontal shear and primary waves to compute the seismic earth
acceleration. pressures for both the active and passive cases. In this work,
Besides the shortcomings of the method, the method they have considered the amplification of the soil. The
is used because of its simplicity. The method is simple and formulae are modified as,
straight forward, also has a similarity with limit state
Hz H z
equilibrium analysis which is routinely conducted by a h ( z , t ) = 1 + ( f a 1)k h g sin t
Geotechnical Engineers. Also, the computations are easy H V s (2)
to understand and perform. However, that the accuracy of
Hz H z
the pseudo-static approach is governed by accuracy with a v ( z , t ) = 1 + ( f a 1)k v g sin t (3)
which the simple pseudo-static inertial forces represent the H V ps

complex dynamic inertial forces that actually exist in an
Where Vs and Vp are shear and primary wave velocities
It is an improvised method which considers the phase
difference due to finite shear and primary waves

Qha t = ma ( z )a h ( z , t )dz
A Critical Study on Seismic Design of Retaining Structures 205

It was observed that effects of the soil parameters are seismic passive earth pressure coefficients and their points
more pronounced on the passive state of seismic earth of application with corresponding critical failure surfaces
pressure compared to that for the active state. have been determined in this work for different values of
Shafiee et al. (2010) performed the pseudo-static soil friction angles, wall friction angles and wall batter
analysis for the seismic passive earth thrust on retaining angles. Moreover, the effect of seismic accelerations both
walls with cohesive backfills. The model is shown in in the horizontal and vertical directions have been studied.
Figure 4. While doing so, method of slices has been considered,
considering pseudo-static seismic forces. It is observed that
in presence of higher seismic force, even for vertical wall,
the pressure distribution is vertical and the convexity or
concavity of the pressure distribution depends on the wall
batter angle and the magnitude of the seismic acceleration
Psarropoulos et al. (2005) calculated seismic earth
Fig. 4: Model Considered by Shafiee et al. (2010)
pressures on rigid and flexible retaining walls. Authors have
developed a more general finite-element method of solution.
A rigid retaining wall AB has been considered in this In this study the numerical verification of the Veletsos and
study with cohesive backfill as an improvent over earlier Younan (1997) has been done, so as to validate the
studies which consider cohesionless backfill. The slip assumption and define the range of applicability.
surface has been considered to be planer. The final
expression for the seismic passive earth resistance has been
given as,
2 3
x1 + x 2 x3 a h

* tan ( + ) 1 H H H
Ppe = 3 (5)
8 tan
2 3
2 tan
+ H y1 + H y 2 H y 3

+ a v tan ( + ) + c* [tan ( + ) + cot ]
Fig. 5: Analytical Model Considered by Choudhury
In which term c*[tan( + ) + cot ] represents total et al. (2002)
passive force corresponding to backfill cohesion. Major
observation was the backfill cohesion has an increasing Presuming plane-strain conditions, the numerical
effect on Ppe. Also, the effect of amplifaction factor on the analysis was two-dimensional, and was performed using
passive force has been found to be negligible. the commercial finite-element package ABAQUS.
The analysis has been performed for two cases viz. for
4. OTHER METHODS homogeneous and non- homogeneous soils. The results
Jain and Scott (1989) analysed the cantilever retaining walls agree with results obtained by Veletsos and Younan (1997).
treating them as Euller-Bernoulli beam. The cantilever wall Shukla et al. (2010) gave another method to calculate
is converted as Euler-Bernoulli beam connected to the soil seismic active earth pressure on rigid and flexible retaining
backfill, modelled by a shear beam, through Winkler wall. Authors have described the derivation of an analytical
springs. Actually, this is a simple linear model for seismic expression for the total active force on the retaining wall
analysis of flexible cantilever retaining walls. Analysis has for c- soil backfill considering both the horizontal and
been carried out with for wall and soil properties (EI, m,
vertical seismic coefficients. The results are found to show
k ,G and ) with depth. The wall is assumed to be fixed at
good agreement with results of previous researchers. Figure
the base for simplicity. Then expressions for free and forced
6 explains the same.
vibrations are derived. Which are used to calculate the
moments. These moments are higher than Mononobe-
Okabe method, sighting Mononobe-Okabe methods
Wang (2000) used a method of horizontal slices for
determining the active earth pressure distribution for static
case for a rigid vertical retaining wall with horizontal
backfill. Choudhury et al. (2002) extended Wangs
approach for determining the seismic passive earth pressure Fig. 6: (a) Trial Failure Wedge and (b) Force Polygon
distribution for a rigid inclined retaining wall supporting Considered by Shukla et al. (2010)
cohesionless backfill. The model is shown in Figure 5. The
206 A.D. Katdare and D. Choudhury

Atik and Sitar (2010) studied the seismic earth pressures Choudhury, D., Subba Rao, K. S. and Ghosh, S. (2002).
on cantilever retaining structures. They had an experimental Passive earth pressure distribution under seismic
and analytical program designed and conducted to evaluate condition, 15th Engineering Mechanics Conference of
the magnitude and distribution of seismically induced lateral ASCE, Columbia University, New York.
earth pressures on cantilever retaining structures with dry Choudhury, D. and Subba Rao, K. S. (2002). Seismic passive
medium dense sand backfill. It was observed that dynamic earth resistance for negative wall friction, Canadian
earth pressures and inertia forces do not act simultaneously Geotechnical Journal, 39(5), 971981.
on the cantilever retaining walls. Das, B. M. (1993). Principles of Soil Dynamics, PWS-KENT
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maximum dynamic earth pressure increment and maximum Jain, S. K. and Scott, R. F. (1989). Seismic Analysis of
wall inertia, as is the current practice, is overly conservative Cantilever Retaining Walls, Transactions of the 10th
and does not reflect the true seismic response of the wall- International Conference on Structural Mechanics in
backfill system Lew et al. (2010) have briefly reviewed the Reactor Technology, Anaheim, USA, 241 - 246.
theories which are related to seismic earth pressures based
on available literature. Also, they have supported this study Kramer, S. L. (1996). Geotechnical Earthquake Engineering,
with their practical experiences in this field. References from Prentice Hall, New Jersey.
California Building Code, NEHRP, ASCE-SEI-7/05, and Lew, M., Sitar, N. and Linda, A. A. (2010). Seismic earth
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pressures on building basement walls is conservative, Mononobe, N. and Matsuo, H. (1929). On the determination
uneconomical, and perhaps unnecessary. In addition, authors of earth pressures during earthquakes, Proceeding of the
have explained practical experiences from around the world World Engineering Congress, Vol. 9, 177-185.
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5. CONCLUSIONS seismic coefficient and ground acceleration for gravity
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