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IJPMG-International Journal of Physical Modelling in Geotechnics 3 (2009) : 21-32




A physical modelling of low-energy dynamic compaction (DC) on fine, dry loose sand based on image processing
(PIV method) was undertaken. Tamping was executed by rising and dropping semi-cylindrical steel tampers of known
diameters and weights on the surface of sand deposit. The effective factors of DC and the deformation pattern of sand
after tamper drops were investigated using the PIV method. The displacement field of soil mass was investigated. Strain
elements were obtained from displacement patches in the ground. The changes in relative density due to impacts at
different depths were evaluated using total volumetric strains. A normalized relation between the influence depth and
DC parameters was presented for low-energy DC design. This relation may be used to predict the influence depth
of improvement. By deriving crater depth versus drop number curves, the influence value of each impact on the increase
of improvement depth was defined.

Key words: dynamic compaction, image processing, soil improvement

INTRODUCTION of the bearing capacity and improvement of the engineering

Nowadays, expanding cities confront the problem of properties of the soil and the reduction of the settlement
scarcity of suitable land to accommodate the growth of of deposit caused by structures. The depth and degree of
their industries and infrastructures. In many parts of the the ground improvement by using this technique are a
world, this problem results to the unavoidable use of poor function of the energy imparted to the soil by the falling
grounds, often with inadequate bearing capacity properties. mass. Mayne et al., (1984) reported a depth of improvement
In such cases, to optimize or improve the performance of of up to 33 m.
the ground, special foundations such as piles are often used. However, the effectiveness of this technique in improving
Other times, the soil is removed and replaced with a material soil stiffness to a significant depth is countered by the
of acceptable engineering properties. However, both effects of induced ground vibrations on nearby structures,
procedures can be costly at times. which may further exacerbate as the energy per blow
One option to ground improvement is the improvement increases.
of the engineering properties of the existing ground itself. In cases when the ground to be modified consists of
Different ground improvement techniques have already been a layer of loose material with depth of only a few meters,
developed and are widely carried out for this purpose. or when only a small increase in bearing capacity is required,
Dynamic compaction (DC) is among the most field-proven ground improvement to great depths may not be necessary.
and commonly used of these techniques, especially for As such, a low-energy dynamic compaction method has
reclaimed areas in coastal regions. This technique has found been developed to provide a rapid, economic and efficient
application to a wide range of soil types. ground improvement system. Since the energy per blow
Dynamic compaction uses a heavy tamper which is is less than in conventional dynamic compaction, the
repeatedly raised and dropped with a single cable on a consequential risk of damage to the nearby existing
pre-designed impact grid at 4 to 15 m spacing. The mass infrastructure is potentially reduced.
of the tampers generally ranges from 5 to 35 ton, and drop Dynamic compaction has been an important soil
heights range from 10 to 35 m. These impacts produce improvement process for many years. Menard and Broise
sufficient compaction effort to reduce void space and (1975) provided the basis for this method. The depth of
increase the density of deposit. This leads to the increase influence dmax to impact energy for various soil types is
given by:

i) Assistant Professor, Faculty of Civil Engineering, University of Tabriz, Tabriz, Iran

ii) Ph.D. Student, Faculty of Civil Engineering, University of Tabriz, Tabriz, Iran
The manuscript was received for review on January 7, 2008.

(1) effects of base shape of tamper with the use of physical

modelling and the measurement of tamper volume.
where W is the dropped weight in tons, and H is the height Accurate measurement of soil deformation is
of drop in meters. The value of empirical coefficient n fundamental to the success of geotechnical modelling. One
ranges from 0.35 to 0.6 depending on soil type. Despite of the methods that have received a great attention in recent
of the extensive application of Eq. (1) in the design of DC, years because of numerous benefits is the use of digital
this approach is seen to over-simplify the problem. In images. The current practice involves the tracking of the
practice, the depth of compacted soil may be influenced movement of a grid of target markers embedded in an
by many other factors such as the total energy applied, exposed plane of soil through a sequence of digital images.
shape and base area of the tamper and grid spacing. A texture-driven technique for non-contact measurement
Current practice for the determination of optimum field of soil deformation in physical models provides the improved
operation parameters for DC technique relies mainly on precision and accuracy, comparable to instrumentation,
field pilot tests and past experiences based on case histories. whilst removing the need for intrusive target markers
In many cases, post-improvement penetration resistance (White et al., 2002, 2003). This system combines digital
measurements based on field trials are compared against photography, close-range photogrammetry and image
design penetration resistance values to determine the field analysis by Particle Image Velocimetry (PIV) to allow the
DC operational parameters and level of treatment required. soil displacements to be detected at high precision. The
Considering the fact that real field tests can be very application of PIV to the measurement of displacements
expensive, the application of physical and numerical models in soils has shown great promise wherein thousands of
is seen useful in the investigation of compaction mechanism measurement points can be observed in a single field of
and wave propagation in soil. Laboratory dynamic view. Assuming a patch size greater than 16 x 16 pixels,
compaction tests have been carried out by a number of GeoPIV developed in conjunction with White et al. (2002)
researchers. Ellis (1986) performed dynamic compaction has a precision in excess of 1/50th of a pixel in image-
tests in a metal drum, on dry and saturated sand, clay, and space.
fly ash specimens. On the other hand, Poran and Rodriguez In this research, an attempt to study the effective factors
(1992) introduced dimensionless relations to the design of of low-energy DC and deformation pattern of soil after
DC based on laboratory tests. They built a cubic steel compaction was carried out using physical modelling based
tank with dimensions of 1.22 × 1.22 × 1.22 m to conduct on PIV method. This is an innovative manner to see the
laboratory dynamic compaction model tests on Boston dry deformation in soil due to dynamic compaction with very
sand specimens. Three circular flat-based tampers with good precision. With the aid of PIV, displacement fields
diameters of 102 mm, 152 mm and 229 mm were used. of soil mass were investigated and generated strain and
The influence zones resulting from the densification were change in relative density due to impacts in different depths
determined by using a portable nuclear instrument in the were evaluated using physical modelling of loose sand.
sand specimens. Results of their test revealed that the The different parameters that were considered in this study
influence zone has a bowl shape, with a width at the top include the improvement depth, DC characteristics (energy
equal to three times the diameter of the tamper and a depth intensity, base area of tamper, drop height, momentum),
equal to four times the diameter of the tamper. Oshima induced crater depth and volume. Further more, design
and Takada (1998) studied the effect of the momentum graphs are presented in this paper. As a small scale physical
of tamping and presented some graphs for estimation of modelling the experimental results should be scaled to
the improvement depth during dynamic compaction using prototype conditions. In order to eliminate the scale effect,
data obtained from site tests and centrifuge model tests. the influence depth and total specific energy were normalized
In the abovementioned studies, the displacement patterns by tamper diameter. This type of normalization was
of soil were obtained using very limited number of performed successfully by Poran et al. (1992).
measurements. Parameters like stress, strain or penetration
resistance were measured sparsely in the soil deposit by CHARACTERISTICS OF PHYSICAL MODEL
instrumentation. Test Boxes
Few physical modelling of low-energy DC were carried A rigid wooden box with dimension of 700 × 470 ×
out in the course of the development of DC technique. 830 mm was used as container for physical models of the
Merrifield and Davies (2000) conducted field measurement sand medium. To examine the rigidity of the box, two trial
and centrifuge test in order to study the efficiency of the tests were carried out wherein several displacement gauges
low-energy dynamic compaction process and the were installed on the lateral surfaces of the box. No
development of a novel technique of real-time monitoring considerable deformation due to lateral pressure of soil
to demonstrate soil improvement in quantitative engineering and impacts was observed on these tests. In order to avoid
units during the process. Feng et al. (2000) studied the the boundary effect on wave reflection, 50 mm layers of

Ionolite (damping fiber) was used on the three (3) vertical Two special projectors in both sides of the camera at 45
walls and on the floor of the box. A thin protective layer degree angle placed at a level higher than the optical axis
was then laid over the damping fiber. A 20 mm thick of the camera were used to eliminate optical effects of
transparent Perspex was erected in the front side of the the environment on the viewing window and to avoid errors
box in order to monitor the ground displacements. Seventy caused by random variation of pixel intensities (see Fig. 1b).
(70) reference black dots/points of known real-space location The great number of measurements (approximately 1,200
were created on the inside face of the observation window. patches from soil plane using 72 pixels of patch size) makes
These points were used to optimize the photogrammetric it possible to investigate the displacement and deformation
transformation parameters. A black dot on a white of the soil precisely. Having obtained the displacement
background provides a high contrast control marker that vector field, strains at different points can be evaluated,
can be located in image-space using a centroiding method. enabling to study the effects of different factors on the
pattern of soil improvement.
Test material
This study was conducted using fine, dry sand obtained Impact procedure of model surface
from north east of Tabriz (Ana Khatoun) in the north west Tamping was executed by the raising and dropping of
of Iran. Grain size distribution curve of sand is shown in the semi-cylindrical steel tampers of known diameters and
Fig. 1a. According to the unified soil classification system weights on the surface of sand deposit (Fig. 2). Because
(USCS), this sand is poorly graded (SP). Table 1 represents of axi-symmetry, only half of the soil mass and the tamper
the properties of this sand (ASTM [D854-92, D4254-91]). were modeled. One difficult part of the test was the dropping
Because of inter-grain color variation, the captured image of the tamper just tangentially to the viewing window. This
patches of the chosen sand contain a wide spectrum of
intensity values. By having good spatial brightness
frequency, a well-textured image for PIV analysis can be

Procedure of model preparation

Dry sand pluviation technique was used to prepare loose
dry specimens of model ground with an initial depth of
50 cm. In order to obtain homogeneous models in desired
relative density, a constant drop height of sand particles
was obtained by lifting the container at a constant speed
equal to the rate of increase in the thickness of the sand
specimen. A thin layer of colored sand was poured in front
of viewing window at certain depths for a better optical
observation of the soil deformation field and as a point
of comparison for test results. After the sand pluviation, (a)
the average relative density of model was determined for
each test by the measurement of weight and volume of
the model ground.

Digital photography and image processing

After each impact on model surface, a digital image
was captured using a Canon G6 digital camera with an
image resolution of 3072 x 2304 pixels. All controls such
as focus, gain and shutter speed was adopted automatically.

Table 1 Mechanical properties of tested sand


Fig. 1 a) Grain distribution curve of tested sand; b) General view

of test set-up

is essential because the primary aim of the test was to Table 2 Properties of used tampers
observe the soil deformation of central plan below the
tamper after compaction. If the tamper drops at some distance
from the viewing window, the observed soil deformation
will be different from the central plan.
In order to perform accurate impact, a simple system
was devised. Two 6.1 mm diameter holes were made on
the gravity center of each quadrant of tampers. Cylindrical METHODS OF THE TEST
bars of 6.0 mm diameter were used as guides to impose After each impact on model surface, a digital image
the exact location of drop. The tampers were made to pass of the deformed soil mass was captured and the frequent
through the bars and the effect of friction during dropping images were processed with the GeoPIV software (White
was minimized by greasing the bar guides. These guides et al., 2004). The displacement vectors of each patch between
were fixed by a cubic of wood in the bottom of the test each pair of images were then obtained. Cumulative
box. A beam with two holes was made in order to ensure measurement of displacement vectors creates the
the position of the guides on top. The distance and location displacement vector field. In each analysis, some irregular
of guide bars were ensured to pass through the two holes vectors (wild vectors) would appear due to imaging noises
on the tampers. This beam was located on top of two and software errors. These wild vectors were omitted for
50 × 50 × 50 mm wooden seats. These seats are jointed each test. The resulting displacement vectors in image space
to graded piers which were erected on the test box. In order measured in unit pixels were converted to object-space
to carry out drops with different heights, a series of holes measurement units (e.g. mm) using a constant image scale
in variable heights of piers (0.2 to 1.0 m with 0.05 m step) factor. An example of mesh generation, resulting
were made. The seats can be fixed at different location. displacement vectors and the corresponding strains in soil
Exact setting of drop height was carried out by a screw mass in colored scale is shown in Fig. 3.
on the gravity center of the tamper (having 0.5 mm pitch). Strain elements were derived from the displacements
Tamper weight was regulated by the addition or reduction of patches. In order to extract the strain from displacement
of knots on the gravity center of the tamper. This screw vectors in plane strain condition, one way is to consider
was used for adding pieces of tampers to each other to triangular plane elements and to calculate the strain in two
obtain different weights and to simplify the raising of the directions. However, in our experimental models, the plane
tamper by hand (Fig. 2). In total, seven (7) tampers were strain condition cannot be applied because the model is
used. Table 2 presents the properties of each of these tampers. axi-symmetric. Instead, in order to calculate the strain,

Fig. 2 General view of impact system and used tampers


(a) (b)

(c) (d)

Fig. 3 a) Mesh generation; b) Soil condition after dynamic compaction; c) Resulting displacement vectors,
and; d) Occurring strains obtained from displacement vectors

(a) (b) (c)

Fig. 4 General view of elements

wedge shape elements were defined. The element shape (2)

in the direction of the viewing window is triangular (see (3)
Fig. 4a), and the 3-D form of the elements is as shown where Ri is radial distance of gravity center of element
in Fig. 4c. Using PIV method, the 3 joints displacement from center line of tamper and θ is the selected radial
of triangular side of these elements due to each impact angle of element. In this research, θ was equal to π/12
can be measured. Knowing these displacements, the area for all tests.
before each impact (Si) and after impact (Si+1) can be For each element, R can be considered constant and
calculated. Given the axi-symmetric condition, the volume the volume change of each element will depend only to
of the elements after and before each impact is the triangular area before and after each impact. The
expressed by: horizontal, vertical and volumetric strain can be defined

for each element in the area of the viewing window. Since in which the relative density of different depth under tamper
the weight of elements is constant during test and initial centre for various number of drops were given.
volume and density of element are known, the change of
element density due to each impact can be determined as Tests characteristics
follows: In this investigation, 13 tests with various values of
(4) affective factors on dynamic compaction were carried out.
Table 3 gives the characteristics of tests and prepared models.
Knowing the density of element and having γd min and Tests 4 and 5 were performed with the same properties
γ d max, the relative density after each impact can be computed. in order to know if the tests are repeatable or not. Resulting
This helps to plot the contours of Dr in viewing area (see vectors for both tests have good agreements, confirming
Fig. 5a). Figure 5b gives another result of this calculation that the test is repeatable.

(a) (b)

Fig. 5 a) Distribution of relative density variations in the observed plane of soil; b) Variation of relative density versus depth below
the center of tamper for different number of impacts

Table 3 Characteristics of tests


(a) (b)

Fig. 6 a) General shape of occurring displacement after 10th impact for vertical lines of soil; b) general shape of occurring displacement
after 10th impact for horizontal lines of soil

General pattern of soil deformation
Knowing the displacement vectors of soil patches, the
soil deformation pattern can be observed and the effective
parameters of DC can be investigated. The deformation
of different points in the ground after each impact for all
tests was plotted. Figure 6a shows the general shape of
occurring displacement after 10th impact.
A sickle-shape curve characterizes the soil displacement
profile along the vertical line of the ground. The curves
become flatter as they go farther away of the impact centre.
On the other hand, it was observed that the displacement
(a) of soil mass in any horizontal depth has a bell-shape
curve or a Gaussian distribution curve (see Fig. 6b). The
direction of displacement vectors with respect to the
horizontal plane (angle θ) can be used as a criterion to
compare deformation patterns at other points of the soil
media. Figure 7a shows the angle of displacement vectors
plotted against the normalized distance from tamper central
line for various depths after 12 impacts (related to Test
13). As observed, the displacement vectors under center
line of tamper were almost vertical (θ≈90). The angle of
vectors decreases as it goes far away from the center
line. At lower depths however, after a distance of about
Χ/D= 1, the angle of vectors increases again. With increase
of depth, the curvature of the curves decreases (increase
in curvature radius) and in deeper depths, the shape of
(b) curves takes a constant decreasing form. In other words,
with increase of depth, the location of minimum angle
Fig. 7 a), b). Angle of displacement vectors versus X/D curve for also moves away from the center.

Fig. 8 Angle of displacement vectors versus Y/D curve for n=12 Fig. 10 Fitted curve and correlation coefficients

Fig. 9 Contours of 1.5% volumetric strains for different drop Fig. 11 Normalized influence depth versus drop numbers for
numbers Test 1, 2, 3, 4

The displacement vector angle versus normalized influence depth of each test, the 1.5% volumetric strain
distance from center for Tests 13 and 8 after the 12th drop contours of tests after each drop were plotted using PIV
are shown in Fig. 7b. This shows the effect of applied analysis. As an example, Figure 9 shows the volumetric
energy for the same tamper area. It is observed that the strain contours for various drops related to Test 13.
values of angle of vectors in the same depth for Test 13 In order to reduce the scale effects, the method proposed
(larger applied energy) are greater in comparison by Poran et al. (1992) was applied. In this method, the
with Test 8. improvement depth (DI) was scaled to tamper diameter
The relationship of the angle of vectors versus depth (D) and a normalized total specific energy index,
for various distance of impact center is shown in Fig. 8. N.W.H/A.DI, was considered in which N represents the
In the said figure, the resulting curves for Test 4 after the number of drops, W is the weight of the tamper in mega
12th drop is shown. After comparing the results of other grams, A is the base area of the tamper in m2 and H is
tests, the minimum value of angle was found to appear the drop height in meters. The total specific energy represents
at a distance of about 1 to 1.5 times of the tamper diameter. the accumulative energy per unit area delivered by all N
Furthermore, it was also observed that the location of the impacts in a particular test normalized by the depth of
minimum value of vector angle moves downwards with influence (DI) of the respective density counter, in units
increasing distance from the center. of stress. Model dimensions effects are generally minimized
whit this rational normalization which results in a common
Influence Depth parametric ranges for the model study and field DC
In this research, a volumetric strain of 1.5% was chosen construction.
as criterion for influence depth. In order to evaluate the The abovementioned method was applied to all tests

of this research and the result for the non-dimensional were determined using image processing in order to measure
equation is shown in Fig.10. Based from the figure, a the crater volume. In all of the tests, the crater dimensions
logarithmic relation between DI/D and N.W.H/A.DI is (depth and diameter) were measured precisely after each
observed. Using this graph, an estimation of the influence drop. The depth of crater with respect to drop number for
depth based on DC parameters is possible. The equation Tests 1, 2 and 3 are shown in Fig. 12a. The results show
presented in this research would be suitable for the estimation that for the same tamper diameter, the crater depth increases
of influence depth when the applied energy intensity is by the energy level of the compaction. By derivation of
limited to the values of our tests, i.e. low energy intensity. crater depth versus drop number curves, the influence of
Based on the obtained equation, increasing the applied impact on the increase of improvement depth was
energy and momentum will effectuate to a corresponding investigated. Figure 12b shows this curve for Tests 13 as
increase in influence depth. The relation of normalized an example. It was found out that after the 8th drop, the
influence depth versus the number of drop for the Tests influence of impact on improvement depth was reduced
1 to 4 (same tamper diameter) is shown in Fig. 11. and that after 15th drop, this influence was almost negligible.
From this observation, it can be said that the main portion
Crater Properties of improvement depth in granular soils is effectuated by
Upon impact, the tamper partially penetrated into the the initial impacts and preceding impacts only increase the
soil medium. The tamper was then carefully retrieved by density of the improved ground. This inference can also
hand and raised up to a predefined height for the next be observed in the volumetric strains contours after each
impact. A crater appeared after the removal of the tamper. impact as seen in Fig. 9.
The point coordinates of the cross section of the crater A logarithmic curve can be fitted for each test results.
It is found that the general shape of resulting curves for
all tests are very similar to decreasing rate of influence
depth change with respect to drop number. It is then possible
to use the crater depth (Dc) as an index for improving
depth. The results show a linear relationship between the
normalized crater depth and normalized influence depth
for each test (Fig. 13). From this figure, an average linear
relationship for all tests can be obtained and can be
expressed mathematically as:

On the other hand, to study the effect of tamper diameter

on crater depth, results of two series of tests (6, 7, 8 and
10, 12, 13) are presented in Fig. 14. The results show that
(a) with the same applied energy and momentum, an apparent
increase in depth of the crater with increase in


Fig. 12 a) Crater depth versus drop number for tests 1, and 2; Fig. 13 Normalized crater depth versus normalized influence depth
b) Derivation of crater depth versus drop number for
tests 13



Fig. 14 a) Depth of crater versus drop number for tests 6, 7 and

8; b) Normalized depth of crater versus drop number for
tests 10, 12 and 13

energy intensity or contact pressure of tamper can be

The craters created by various tampers have a bowl
shape as depicted in Fig. 15b. Note that the heave around Fig. 15 a) Volume of crater versus number of drop curves for tests
8 and 13; b) Parameters used for calculating crater volume
the craters was absent in these tests. The crater volume was
and general view of generated crater.
calculated in cylindrical coordinates, r and z as follows:

rdzdrdθ (5) For the medium with the same initial density, larger
crater indicates a higher increase in density and thus a
The parameter r1 is defined in Fig. 15b. The relation higher efficiency of dynamic compaction. For the same
z=ƒ(r) represents the variation of magnitude of depression initial relative density, the volume of the crater in all tests
in the radial (r) direction and was obtained from image increases with increase in drop height (i.e. increase in
processing analysis (see Fig. 15b). The crater volume related compaction energy).
to Tests 8 and 13 which have the same tamper diameter
but different energy intensity versus drop number, is Efficiency of impact pressure
compared in Fig. 15a. It can be observed that the rate of In order to study the efficiency of impact pressure
change of crater volume is logarithmic with respect to (W/A) in DC, three physical models were prepared (Models
number of drops. 9, 10, 11). In these tests, the applied energy (W.H) and

(a) (a)

(b) (b)

Fig. 16 a) Influence depth versus drop number for tests 9, 10 and Fig. 17 a), b) Normalized influence depth versus number of drop
11; b) Volume of crater versus total applied energy for tests
10, 12 and 13

the base area of tampers were made uniform. Figure 16a the normalized influence depth with respect to drop number
shows the influence depth versus number of drops while for these tests. Applied energy and momentum were same
Fig. 16b shows the volume of crater versus total applied for all tests of each series. It is found that the ratio of
energy for these tests. It is found that for constant energy, improvement depth to tamper diameter is greater for the
a greater improvement and influence depth can be achieved test that have greater applied energy intensity.
with greater impact pressure in comparison with low impact In order to closely investigate this phenomenon, the
pressure. It can be concluded that the influence of tamper displacement field of these tests in viewing plane was
mass is more significant than the drop height. In other compared. It is observed that for higher energy intensity,
words, the influence of momentum is greater than the larger displacements occur at shallow depth beneath the
influence of applied energy. The test with maximum tamper compared with other tests. The displacements
momentum of tamper creates a larger crater and so greater decreased significantly in deeper depths compared with
improvement is achieved. other tests of lower energy intensity. It can be concluded
that when the area of tamper decreases, the energy intensity
Efficiency of tamper diameter increases. Furthermore, it can also be said that most of
Efficiency of tamper base area was investigated using the applied energy is consumed to create large deformations
the results of two series of tests (Tests 10, 12, 13 with in soil mass beneath the tamper. As the impact area decreases
an applied energy of 11.65N-m and Tests 6, 7, 8 with an and the stress bulb become smaller, the influence radius
applied energy of 4.73 N-m). For each series, the same consequently decreases. The generated strains in the soil
total energy was applied with different energy intensity plan show that the decrease of tamper base area causes
per unit area. Three tampers with diameters 7.5 cm, 10 an increase in stress and an improvement of depth of about
cm, 12 cm were used. Figure 17a, b shows a graph of 1.2-1.4 times the diameter of tamper.

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