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Antonio Anderson F. Araújo*, Vanda T. C. Malveira†, Anderson B. Soares‡ and
Francisco David M. Sousa§
Universidade Federal do Ceará – UFC
Departamento de Engenharia Hidráulica e Ambiental, Bloco 713 – 1º Andar, Centro de
Tecnologia, Campus do Pici, 60440-970 Fortaleza – CE, Brasil
e-mail:, webpage:

Keywords: Embankment, Internal erosion, Filter, Constriction size distribution

Abstract. This paper presents an application of a methodology for the assessment of

granular filters as to their effectiveness in the filtering capacity of the eventual eroded
particles of the finest soil in embankments and its internal stability. The assessment it is
about the real capacity to prevent the loss of its own finest particles, preventing any
possible internal erosion. The methodology is based on the analytical concept of the
constrictions determination, meaning the smaller existing openings, characteristic of the
filter material grain size, that allow or not the passage of compacted soil of the
embankment due to the action of the water flow. The adopted criteria present two
significant parameters in the behavior filtering of granular filters in dams: the grain size
of the coarse material consisting the filter and its stability due internal natural seepage.
This methodology was applied in four dams located in the state of Ceará, Brazil, in which
the results obtained were compatible with the anomalies observed in the inspections
carried out in 2010.

One of the main precautions to be taken in the embankments, during either the design or
operation, is the seepage control in the embankment or foundation. Soil particles, when
subjected to high intense water flows can be removed or carried, causing structural problems
that may result in its rupture. This process of removal and washing is known as internal
The internal erosion processes represent one of the main cause of dam incidents,
corresponding to about half of the cases of failures in large embankments built between 1800
and 19861. It is important to note that in most of the cases the internal erosion developed
through the embankment, due mainly to the absence of filter or the inadequacy of its range
size in the internal drainage system.
In the semi-arid northeast region of Brazil, the constant drying and filling cycles of the
reservoir can result in soil fatigue (deformation), which increases the risk of occurrence of
internal erosion. Therefore, it is important to design an adequate filter grain size to avoid the

Universidade Estadual Vale do Acaraú - UVA

Universidade Federal do Ceará - UFC
Universidade Federal do Ceará - UFC

Antonio Anderson F. Araújo, Vanda T. C. Malveira, Anderson B. Soares and Francisco David M. Sousa.

erosion of the base soil.

The usual filter design criteria consist of empirical ratio between filter particles and base
soil diameters, such as Terzaghi2 criterion and the NRCS3 guidelines. However, subsequent
studies4,5 describe limitations of these criteria when used in well graded materials, in which
the effectiveness decreases with the increase of the coefficient of non-uniformity. In addition,
one of the main parameters in the filtration process is not considered, the filter constrictions,
which are the smallest openings that gives access to the pores of the filter, and therefore,
perform the retention of the eroded particles.
Recent studies6,7 presents a new filtering criteria, based on the determination of the
constriction sizes from an analytical and empirical perspective in which presents two
significant parameters to evaluate filter behavior: Dc 35 (constriction diameter corresponding
to 35% finer) and Dc95 (constriction diameter corresponding to 95% finer).
In this way, the present article intends to evaluate the efficiency of the base soil/filter
system and the internal stability of the filter for embankments located in the state of Ceará,
Brazil through analytical and empirical criteria based on the filter constrictions concept.


The constrictions are formed by different grouping of the filter particles. Each constriction
diameter (Dc) depends on the arrangement of the particles and the filter density. The
procedure to determine the Constriction Size Distribution (CSD) consists of considering two
geometric configurations for the extreme compaction states, the dense 8 and the loose9 state,
as showing in Figure 1.

(a) (b)
Figure 1: Diameter of constrictions for (a) dense state and (b) loose state

The necessary data for the calculation of the Dc is obtained by means of the particle size
distribution (PSD) of the filter8. In the PSD are initially defined N ranges of particle sizes,
where each interval is represented by a medium diameter (D1, D2, D3, ..., DN-1, DN) and by a
frequency of occurrence (P1, P2, P3, ..., PN-1, PN), as shown in Figure 2. These medium
diameters are grouped in different combinations, varying according to the geometric
configuration adopted (Figure 1). Each combination results in a Dc and a frequency of
occurrence of the constriction (Pc), which depends on the frequencies of the particles forming
the cluster.
For the dense state, formed by three random particles, the Dc can be calculated by using
Equation 110. For the loose state, formed by four random particles, the Dc is equal to the
diameter of the circumference equivalent to the largest area effectively formed by the
tangency of the particles, obtained by using Equation 2 9. However, it is recommended to
multiply it by 0.82, because the constrictions will hardly be formed in the same plane that
passes through the centers of the four particles. The angles α, β, γ and δ are obtained by
geometric correlations in order to generate the highest value for the area Avf.
When using PSD to determine the distribution of constrictions, an error is introduced in
well graded soils. The particle distribution is determined as a function of the mass

Antonio Anderson F. Araújo, Vanda T. C. Malveira, Anderson B. Soares and Francisco David M. Sousa.

percentages in the sieve test. In well graded soils, the largest particles are associated with
higher frequencies in the PSD, however they are in smaller numbers compared to the smaller
grains. In this way, it is unlikely that the larger particles form a grouping, because the smaller
particles will be filling the voids between them, reducing the size of the constriction. The
error lies in considering that the frequencies of the larger grains lead to the formation of
larger constrictions.

Figure 2: Representative medium diameter and their frequencies

 2   2  2 2   2  1  2   2   2   2 
2 2 2

                    (1)
 Di   Dj   Dk   Dc  2  Di   Dj   Dk   Dc 

1 Dm  Di Dm  Djsinα  Dk  Di Dk  Djsinβ 

A vf  

8  αDm 2  βDk 2  γDi 2  δDj2  


4A vf
Dc  0.82 (3)
To overcome the described limitation, the most accepted model proposed by Humes 12. The
model defines that each constriction is limited by the surfaces of the particles tangent to each
other in the grouping, thus the probability that a particle is part of a grouping is proportional
to its surface area instead its mass, solid or hollow particles produce the same constriction. In
this case, the medium diameters and their respective frequencies must be obtained from the
PSD in terms of surface areas and not by the normal PSD (in terms of mass of the particles).
Equation 4 converts the frequencies Pi per mass of a particle i into frequencies by surface
areas PSA,i. The frequencies of occurrence of the constrictions Pc depend on the individual
frequencies of the particles that form the groupie. Equations 5 and 6 are used for the
calculation of the Pc for the dense and loose states respectively, in which r i, rj, rk and rm are
the number of times that the particles i, j, k and m are repeated in a groupie.
PSA, i  Di (4)
x 1 Dx

Antonio Anderson F. Araújo, Vanda T. C. Malveira, Anderson B. Soares and Francisco David M. Sousa.

3! r r r
Pc  (PSA, i ) i (PSA, j ) j (PSA, k ) k (dense) (5)
ri !rj!rk !

4! r r r r
Pc  (PSA, i ) i (PSA, j ) j (PSA, k ) k (PSA, m ) m (loose) (6)
ri !rj!rk !rm !
The two geometric configuration presented in Figure 1 relate the arrangements that
represent the extreme states of compaction in a filter. In reality, however, the filters are in an
intermediate state. In this case, it is assumed that the constrictions increase in size
proportionally to the decrease of the relative density RD11. Equation 7 gives the values of Dc
for a given accumulated percentage n, where Dcd and Dcf are the constriction sizes for the
dense and loose state respectively for the same percentage n.
Dcn  Dcdn  n1  R D Dcfn  Dcdn  (7)
Through the CSD it is possible to describe the transport behavior of soil particles through
the filter, adopting a model for the constrictions (washing paths of particles). The cubic
pore network model developed by Schuler 13 (Figure 3) presents a reasonable
approximation of the constrictions in a filter, where the pores are interconnected by the
constrictions and each pore has six constrictions that allow the entry and exit of particles.

Figure 3: Cubic pore network model by Schuller13

The probability pc of a particle d being retained by a constriction is associated with the

accumulated frequency of constrictions smaller than d. Considering the Schuler 13 model, a
particle may move to a near pore, following the flow direction (forward) or by one of the four
constrictions perpendicular to the flow (sideways). However, the focus is given to the
movement of particles in the flow direction. Equation 8 allows to calculate the probability
P(F) of a particle to move in the flow direction 11. With the value of P(F), it is possible to
estimate the number of confrontations (λ) required for a particle, which moves from one pore
to another in the flow direction, to be retained by a constriction for a given confidence level
NC, by means of Equation 9.

 
i 
PF  1  p c    1  p c (1  p c )p c [(1  p c )p c ]i
4 3
i 0

log 1 - N C 
λ (9)

Antonio Anderson F. Araújo, Vanda T. C. Malveira, Anderson B. Soares and Francisco David M. Sousa.

When analyzing Equation 9 for a NC of 95%, Raut4 found that λ increases excessively
when pc is less than 35%, in other words, it will be necessary several confrontations until a
particle is effectively retained by a constriction. In this way, it is admitted that particles
smaller than the Dc35 cannot be retained by a filter, unless the constrictions become
progressively smaller by self-filtration, this parameter is defined as controlling constriction
On the other hand, when the pc is greater than 95% the value of λ is less than 1, that is,
particles larger than the Dc95 will not be able to move inside the filter 4. In this way, the
particles that will effectively participate in the filtration process will be those smaller than
The Raut and Indraratna6 criteria consider the two constriction diameters that influence the
filtration process: Dc35 and Dc95. The criterion proposes the adjustment of the base soil PSD
in order to consider only the soil fraction that can be eroded through the filter, eliminating
from the analysis all the particles larger than the Dc 95. The procedure is similar to that of
Terzaghi2 in which Dc35 is compared to d*85 (particle diameter corresponding to 85% finer in
PSD of the adjusted base soil) by using Equation 10. This criterion proved to be more
realistic compared to the NRCS3 and ICOLD14 methods, being able to evaluate the efficiency
of filters for most of the base soils.
Dc 35
1 (10)
In addition to the analysis of the efficiency of the base soil/filter system, it is also
necessary to verify the possibility of the finer fraction of the filter being washed by the water
flow, that is, to analyze the internal instability of the filter. The method of Indraratna et al7,
based on the same concept of constrictions, consists of separating the fine fraction of the
coarser fraction of the filter from a certain percentage passing through filter PSD. In this case,
it is assumed that the coarser fraction has the function of capturing the particles of the finer
fraction. Equation 11 is proposed to attest the filter stability, where the Dcc35 is the Dc35 of
the CSD of the coarse fraction of the filter, and df85,SA is d85 of the PSD by surface areas of
the finer fraction of the filter. Compared with the method of Kenney and Lau15 the approach
of Indraratna et al7 is more reliable and realistic to evaluate the potential of internal instability
in filters.
Dc c 35
1 (11)
d f 85,SA

In this paper, four embankments in operation were selected, these structures are of great
importance to the regional water system, located in Ceará State, Brazil: the dams Angicos,
Bengue, Figueiredo and Monsenhor Tabosa, being analyzed the filter grain size distribution
as to the effectiveness in their capacity of filtration and internal stability.
The grain size data of the base soil and filter materials were obtained from the field studies
for the design of the respective dams16,17,18,19. For the analyzes, only the PSD that represent
the extremes in terms of particle sizes for the filter and for the different types of base soil
present were selected. Thus, for each different filter and base soil, two grain size distribution
were used, one representing the distribution of the finer fraction and the other the distribution
of the coarser (of the same material used in the dam).
Firstly, it was considered the ability of the filter to prevent the loss of its own smaller
particles, in another words their internal stability was evaluated. The separation point

Antonio Anderson F. Araújo, Vanda T. C. Malveira, Anderson B. Soares and Francisco David M. Sousa.

between the finer fraction (with potential to be carried) and the thicker of the adopted filter
was 20%. The criterion used to verify the potential of internal instability was Indraratna el al 7
(Equation 11).
The determination of the medium diameters occurred by dividing the PSD in terms of
surface areas of the filters into ten size ranges, each corresponding to a frequency of 10%
occurrence. The medium diameter was obtained as the geometric average of the limits of
each interval.
The constrictions were calculated following the procedures for the two geometric
configurations (dense and loose state). However, the analyzes were only performed with the
filters CSD corresponding to a relative density (RD) of 60%, considering the reasonable value
for the real density of the analyzed filters. In order to evaluate the efficiency of the filters, the
Raut and Indraratna6 criteria (Equation 10) were adopted and the adjustment procedure for
PSD of the base soils was similar to that proposed in the NRCS3 guidelines.

The results for the verification of the internal stability of the filters of the selected dams
are presented in Table 1. It is observed that, for the selected criterion and considering the
adopted value of 20% for fraction separation, all the grain size data of the filters were
classified as internally stable; it is unlikely that the finer fraction of the filter particles will be
eroded by the seepage.
From the CSD of the selected filter PSD, for the adopted value of RD=60%, the PSD of the
base soils were adjusted as a function of the Dc 95 obtained in each grain size data. It should
be noted that each selected particle size of the base soil was analyzed for the two extreme
filters grain size in each dam, so each soil base particle size was adjusted twice, one for each
Dc95 obtained.

Filter_finer Filter_coarser
df85,SA 0,175 0,540
Angicos Dcc35 0,097 0,180
Dc 35/ df85,SA
0,552 0,334
df85,SA 0,105 0,580
Bengue Dcc35 0,036 0,194
Dcc35/ df85,SA 0,340 0,335
df85,SA 0,145 0,146
Figueiredo Dcc35 0,063 0,063
Dcc35/ df85,SA 0,432 0,429
df85,SA 0,560 0,660
Dcc35 0,176 0,204
Dc 35/ df85,SA
0,314 0,309
Table 1: Results for internal stability of the filters

Figure 4 shows the PSD of the adjusted base soils and the CSD of the filters for the RD of
the 60%. It can be noticed that the CSD of the Bengue and Figueiredo dams filters are very
close to the adjusted base soil PSD, whereas for the Angicos and Monsenhor Tabosa dams,
the CSD are slightly distant from some PSD.
The results of the verification of the effectiveness of the filters designed for the Angicos,
Bengue, Figueiredo and Monsenhor Tabosa dams are shown in Tables 2, 3, 4 and 5
respectively. It is observed that, according to the criteria of Raut and Indraratna 6 and
considering that the filters have a relative density of around 60%, only for the Bengue and

Antonio Anderson F. Araújo, Vanda T. C. Malveira, Anderson B. Soares and Francisco David M. Sousa.

Figueiredo dams the filters grain size were attested as efficient to capture eroded particles of
the soil, that is, to avoid internal erosion processes. However, for the Angicos and Monsenhor
Tabosa dams, some grain size distributions did not meet the criteria.
For the Angicos dam, two combinations of base soil and filter did not meet the Raut and
Indraratna6 criterion, but the values obtained for the ratio between Dc 35 and d*85 are close to
1, that is, if a greater relative density were considered, possibly the filter grain size would
meet the criterion. However, the same does not occur for the Monsenhor Tabosa Dam, in
which the ratio obtained is about twice as large as the boundary criterion.




Figure 4: PSD of the base soils adjusted for each CSD of the filter for the dams (a) Angicos, (b) Bengue, (c)
Figueiredo and (d) Monsenhor Tabosa

Antonio Anderson F. Araújo, Vanda T. C. Malveira, Anderson B. Soares and Francisco David M. Sousa.

Dc35 d*85
Nº Filter Soil base Dc35/d*85 ≤ 1 Results
(mm) (mm)
1 Filter_finer CL_finer 0,027 0,055 0,48 √
2 Filter_finer CL_coarser 0,027 0,055 0,48 √
3 Filter_finer ML_finer 0,027 0,048 0,55 √
4 Filter_finer ML_coarser 0,027 0,054 0,49 √
5 Filter_coarser CL_finer 0,060 0,078 0,76 √
6 Filter_coarser CL_coarser 0,060 0,06 0,99 √
7 Filter_coarser ML_finer 0,060 0,05 1,19 X
8 Filter_coarser ML_coarser 0,060 0,057 1,05 X
Table 2: Results of the Angicos dam verifications

Dc35 d*85
Nº Filter Soil base Dc35/d*85 ≤ 1 Results
(mm) (mm)
1 Filter_finer SM_finer 0,022 0,036 0,60 √
2 Filter_finer SM_coarser 0,022 0,046 0,47 √
3 Filter_finer ML_finer 0,022 0,03 0,72 √
4 Filter_finer ML_coarser 0,022 0,036 0,60 √
5 Filter_coarser SM_finer 0,056 0,117 0,48 √
6 Filter_coarser SM_coarser 0,056 0,15 0,37 √
7 Filter_coarser ML_finer 0,056 0,08 0,70 √
8 Filter_coarser ML_coarser 0,056 0,073 0,76 √
Table 3: Results of the Bengue dam verifications

Dc35 d*85
Nº Filter Soil base Dc35/d*85 ≤ 1 Results
(mm) (mm)
1 Filter_finer SC_finer 0,025 0,050 0,49 √
2 Filter_finer SC_coarser 0,025 0,055 0,45 √
3 Filter_finer CL_finer 0,025 0,042 0,59 √
4 Filter_finer CL_coarser 0,025 0,044 0,56 √
5 Filter_finer SM_finer 0,025 0,045 0,55 √
6 Filter_finer SM_coarser 0,025 0,067 0,37 √
7 Filter_coarser SC_finer 0,027 0,050 0,53 √
8 Filter_coarser SC_coarser 0,027 0,055 0,48 √
9 Filter_coarser CL_finer 0,027 0,042 0,63 √
10 Filter_coarser CL_coarser 0,027 0,044 0,60 √
11 Filter_coarser SM_finer 0,027 0,045 0,59 √
12 Filter_coarser SM_coarser 0,027 0,067 0,40 √
Table 4: Results of the Figueiredo dam verifications

Antonio Anderson F. Araújo, Vanda T. C. Malveira, Anderson B. Soares and Francisco David M. Sousa.

Dc35 d*85
Nº Filter Soil base Dc35/d*85 ≤ 1 Results
(mm) (mm)
1 Filter_finer SM_finer 0,062 0,178 0,35 √
2 Filter_finer SM_coarser 0,062 0,16 0,38 √
3 Filter_finer SM-SC_finer 0,062 0,136 0,45 √
4 Filter_finer SM-SC_coarser 0,062 0,04 1,54 X
5 Filter_finer CL_finer 0,062 0,075 0,82 √
6 Filter_finer CL_coarser 0,062 0,11 0,56 √
7 Filter_finer SC_finer 0,062 0,145 0,42 √
8 Filter_finer SC_coarser 0,062 0,165 0,37 √
9 Filter_coarser SM_finer 0,114 0,21 0,54 √
10 Filter_coarser SM_coarser 0,114 0,226 0,51 √
11 Filter_coarser SM-SC_finer 0,114 0,195 0,59 √
12 Filter_coarser SM-SC_coarser 0,114 0,05 2,29 X
13 Filter_coarser CL_finer 0,114 0,075 1,53 X
14 Filter_coarser CL_coarser 0,114 0,134 0,85 √
15 Filter_coarser SC_finer 0,114 0,18 0,64 √
16 Filter_coarser SC_coarser 0,114 0,21 0,54 √
Table 5: Results of the Monsenhor Tabosa dam verifications

According to the adopted methodology, it was possible to verify that the filters grain size
used in the selected embankments in this study have internal stability since they are in
according with the Indraratna et al7 criteria, considering 20% as the value for separation of
the fraction susceptible to be eroded from filter. However, in relation to the filtering of the
Raut and Indraratna6 criteria, only the Bengue and Figueiredo dams had the filters with
adequate grain size to the base soils, highlighting that in the analysis the value of 60% for the
actual density of the filters was considered.
Considering the inspection carried out in 2010 on the Angicos, Bengue and Monsenhor
Tabosa20 dams, shortly after a rigorous rainy season occurred in 2009, it was possible to
register some anomalies that may be alerts of internal erosion processes taking place in the
dams. Signs of water leakage, sinkhole, erosion and sliding in the downstream slope were
observed in the Angicos dam, while in the Monsenhor Tabosa dam there were sinkholes in
the crest and water leakage in the downstream region.
However, in the Bengue dam none of the recorded anomalies indicate to be caused by an
internal erosion process due to an inadequacy of the filter grain size. The leakage recorded in
the region downstream of the dam may be related to high hydraulic gradients in the
foundation, and thus characterizing an internal erosion occurring by the foundation.
Therefore, the application of the methodology used in the assessments results compatible
with the behavior observed in these dams from inspections carried out after a period of filling
of the reservoir. In addition, the value of 60% for the actual density of the filters (R D) should
be used as the maximum value in analyzes of the constraints, as observed in the Angicos
dam, in which the use of larger values could result in the adequacy filter grain size, which did
not occur according to the inspections carried out.

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