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Hunt S.W. & Angulo M., 1999.

Identifying and Baselining Boulders for Underground

Construction. In: Fernandez G. & Bauer R.A. (Eds), Geo-Engineering for Underground
Facilities, ASCE, Reston Virginia, 255-270.

Identifying and Baselining Boulders for Underground Construction

Steven W. Hunt1 and Mauricio Angulo 2

This paper focuses on identification of boulders during subsurface exploration and
on baselining of boulder quantities for construction of underground facilities. Comments
are provided on the sensitivity and reliability of conventional and other subsurface
exploration methods in identifying boulders based on a literature study and survey sent to
exploration drillers. Geologic assessment and documentation of drilling observations are
two keys to boulder identification. Boulder quantities may be baselined by utilizing
statistical relationships between boulder indications in boreholes and quantities
encountered in excavations, experience databases, and probabilistic methods of data

Boulders are often a cause of significant excavation difficulty for many shafts and
soft-ground tunnels. They are a major concern when micro-tunneling. They can result in
delays, lost ground problems, face instability and tunnel alignment difficulty (Cording et
al., 1989; Tarkoy, 1994). A 1984 study of many tunnels found that boulders and other
obstructions accounted for approximately 12 percent of tunneling problems and are a
common cause of differing site condition claims (US National Committee on Tunneling
Technology, 1984). Schmidt (1974) listed obstructions (including boulders) as one of
five high priority parameters to be assessed in a subsurface investigation for a tunnel

To appropriately allocate risks and minimize unnecessary claims for extra work,
various tunneling committees and support organizations have concluded that pertinent
subsurface parameters such as boulder quantities should be thoroughly investigated
during design and baseline quantities included in contract documents for use by bidders.
The culmination of this effort is an American Society of Civil Engineers guideline

P.E., M. ASCE, Senior Geotechnical Engineer, Harza Engineering Company, Milwaukee, WI 53202
Ph.D., M. ASCE, Geotechnical Engineer, Harza Engineering Company, Chicago IL, 60606-6392

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document entitled Geotechnical Baseline Reports for Underground Construction
(Technical Committee on Geotechnical Reports of the Underground Technology
Research Center, 1997). The guideline explains how baselining may be performed.

The focus of this paper is on baselining boulder quantities. Three primary

components to boulder baselining are presented:
1. Researching available geologic and excavation case history information.
2. Properly monitoring and documenting boulder signs during subsurface exploration.
3. Estimating boulder quantities based on empirical correlations with boring data,
statistical databases, and probabilistic methods.

A boulder is defined as a stone or rock fragment that has a diameter or width of at

least 300 mm (12 inches). Boulder properties of most interest to underground
professionals are considered to be:
• Frequency – volumetric density, occurrence per foot of tunnel (probably the most
important property to baselined since it directly affects excavation effort and cost).
• Distribution – random (scattered) or geologically concentrated (lags or nests).
• Size – approximate diameter or width, length and depth (many tunnel boring
machines [TBMs] can not process boulders that are larger than approximately 20 to
30 percent of the excavated diameter).
• Shape – spherical, cubic, slaby, irregular, and angularity or roundness of corners
(affects breaking by TBM cutters and disks and passage through mucking system).
• Composition – rock mineralogy, compressive strength, lithology, degree of
weathering (affects ease of breaking by TBM cutters and the rate of cutter wear or
the effort needed for manual drilling and splitting).
• Matrix soil composition – density, strength, grain-size distribution, permeability
(affects ability to push partially contacted boulders aside, to hold them rigid for
fracturing by disc cutters, to dig around them with excavating tools or to control
soil and groundwater inflows at the heading when exposing them for drilling and

Geologic Setting
The distribution and properties of boulders within a soil unit should be assessed in
conjunction with the geology of the formations involved. Baselining of boulders based
on soil type, e.g. silty clay or gravelly sand, may not result in reasonable correlations.
Instead, boulder occurrence should be assessed for individual geologic soil units with
consideration of common geologic characteristics and anomalies. The importance of
using a geologic framework when assessing boulder occurrence (and other parameters
that affect tunneling) has been explained by Essex (1993), Gould (1995), Heuer (1978),
Legget (1979), Terzaghi et al. (1996) and others.

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Typical characteristics of boulders and likelihood of occurrence within various glacial
units and morphological features are discussed by Flint (1971). If available, local
geologic papers should be studied to better understand the regional structure of geologic
features and typical characteristics of the units and formations that are likely to be
encountered. The previously listed boulder properties can be better understood and
explained in reports, and baselined if subsurface exploration data is evaluated in a
geologic context.

Subsurface Exploration for Identifying Boulders

Subsurface exploration is the most important component of baselining boulders
for a specific project location or alignment. It is the source of site-specific data on
geologic conditions and of indications that boulders are present. Despite its importance,
cobble and boulder presence may not be addressed and quantities may often be
underestimated within many geotechnical reports (Gould, 1995 and Cording et al., 1989).
Poor exploration practices often fail to identify boulders where they are abundant.
Tarkoy (1992) cites poor subsurface exploration and reporting practices as a primary
cause of unanticipated boulder conditions and related tunneling problems and claims.

Hunt and Fradkin (1991) describe a Milwaukee project where drilling was not
monitored in the field by an engineer or geologist. As a result, the logs of 16 borings that
were drilled into bedrock through moderately bouldery till failed to report any boulders.
In addition to missing scattered boulders in an upper till, an underlying bouldery
lodgment till was misinterpreted as weathered bedrock. Excavation and ground support
problems at two shafts resulted in differing site condition claims and extra costs over

Tarkoy (1994) cites three case histories where borings did not properly identify
boulders, bedrock or both. Wallis (1993) describes a Seattle microtunneling project
where boulders were not anticipated by the geotechnical report, but where frequent
cobbles and small boulders were encountered. Abbott (1995) describes another Seattle
project where no boulders were reported on boring logs, but where frequent boulders up
to 0.6 m in size stopped and severely damaged a 1.17 m Isecki Unclemole. Stoll (1976)
describes a Michigan project where 17 borings failed to indicate any boulders but where
numerous boulders were encountered during tunneling. Many more examples can be

A study of these projects and other references (Gould, 1995; Osterberg, 1978)
suggests the following reasons why many subsurface investigations and geotechnical
reports fail to adequately predict boulder occurrence:

1. Lack of geologic assessment in planning, evaluating and reporting of subsurface

exploration data resulting in a poor understanding of the geologic setting, character
and uncertainties.

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2. Lack of a phased exploration program that progressively reduces key uncertainties
that remain from the previous phase.
3. Lack of focused drilling instructions and monitoring of drilling by a geotechnical
engineer or geologist (or one with proper training and experience).
4. Inadequate documentation and reporting of drilling observations and historical
5. Over reliance on drilling refusal or extremely high Standard Penetration blow counts
as the primary indicators of cobbles and boulders.
6. Insufficient exploration budget (including boring spacing) and lack of redundancy in
exploration methods causing over-reliance on only conventional drilling methods that
are often chosen for speed and cost of drilling rather than sensitivity to cobbles and

Conventional Drilling and Sampling Methods

Drilling and sampling methods that are selected affect the relative volume of
ground sampled, the sensitivity of drilling tools to boulder presence and the ability to
recover boulder samples. Very little guidance was found in the literature on selecting
drilling and sampling methods that help improve cobble and boulder identification. To
supplement this deficiency, a survey on boulder drilling and identification was sent to 15
subsurface exploration drillers and drilling managers in Wisconsin, Michigan and Illinois.
Five responses were received. The results are summarized below:
• 4 of 5 said that a 205 mm (8-inch) hollow-stem auger is usually more sensitive to
cobble and boulder presence than 75-100 mm (3-4 inch) rotary wash drilling.
• 4 of 5 said that smaller, lower torque drill rigs are generally more sensitive to cobbles
and boulders than bigger, higher torque drill rigs.
• 4 of 5 said that larger 150-200 mm (6-8 inch) wash rotary drilling would be more
suitable for identifying cobbles and boulders than similar size auger drilling.
• 5 of 5 said that larger diameter and stiffer rotary wash drill rods help increase
sensitivity to cobbles and boulders by minimizing deflections and bending.
• 5 of 5 said that cobbles and boulders could still be detected (despite less sensitivity)
when using a high torque rig with augers equipped with tungsten carbide fingers.
• 3 of 5 said that augers often wrap around some cobbles and boulders thereby
decreasing sensitivity.
• 5 of 5 said that they could distinguish between gravel and cobbles based on the nature
of “chatter” and degree of rig “jumping.”
• 4 of 5 said that they could distinguish between cobbles and boulders based on the
nature of “chatter” and degree of rig “jumping.”
• 3 of 5 said that very high (refusal or near refusal) Standard Penetration Test blow
counts are not a reliable indicator of cobbles and boulders unless drill rig chatter also
suggests the presence of rocks larger than gravel.

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• 4 of 5 said that drilling with a rock-coring barrel is not a better method than auger or
rotary wash drilling for identifying cobbles and boulders.
• 3 of 5 said that boulder samples could be obtained by use of rock coring, but warned
that if the cobble or boulder moves the bit may be destroyed or the core barrel may
become stuck.
• 4 of 5 said that boulder thickness could be better determined by auger or rotary wash
drilling than by rock coring.
• 3 of 5 said that documenting drilling rates (e.g. mm/min) was not practical and not a
good indicator of relative drilling resistance.

Boring Spacing
An appropriate spacing between borings for boulder identification is dependent on
many factors including nature and complexity of the site geology, availability of previous
borings and subsurface experience, the borehole diameter, use of supplementary
exploration methods (such as probe holes or seismic reflection/refraction), tunnel depth,
anticipated tunneling methods and subsurface exploration budget. A National Research
Council subcommittee on geotechnical site investigations found that an average boring
spacing of approximately 80 m (260 feet) was completed for 84 non-mountainous tunnel
projects studied (US National Committee on Tunneling Technology, 1984). To further
reduce tunneling risks and provide better overall exploration results they recommended
an average of 1.5 linear feet of borehole per route foot of tunnel alignment. This converts
to a much closer average spacing of 20 m (66 feet) assuming average borehole depths of
30 m (100 feet) are appropriate. Terzaghi et al. (1996) recommend a minimum spacing
of 30 to 60 m for subway [tunnel] projects. Essex (1993) recommends a minimum of one
borehole per shaft and a maximum spacing from 46 m to 61 m (150 to 200 feet) for
micro-tunnel and pipe jacking projects. Klein (1996) made essentially the same
recommendation, but with the maximum spacing at 91 m (300 feet).

Horn and Ciancia (1989) provide a detailed evaluation of the effect of boring
spacing variations from 3 m to 30 m (10 to 100 feet) on the number of boulders
encountered within a well documented, 91 m (300 foot) long bouldery stretch of the Red
Hook Intercepting Sewer in New York. Although they found that more borings hit
boulders as the spacing decreased, the percentage of borings hitting boulders did not
increase appreciably. An average spacing of 30.5 m (100 feet) was determined to be
reasonable for that project. They also concluded that borings should be spaced closer in
the vicinity of geologic features that may contain boulder concentrations.

Stoll (1976) found from a study of randomly distributed 305 mm (1 foot) diameter
boulders projected onto a plane, that about five times as many 102 mm (4-inch) diameter
holes as 914 mm (3-foot) diameter holes are required to achieve the same degree of
certainty on boulder concentrations. This study demonstrates that borehole diameter
should also be considered when determining the spacing of borings and probes.

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Large Diameter Auger Drilled Shafts
Large diameter, 760 mm to 1.22 m (2.5 to 4 feet), auger drilled shafts appear to be
a very effective method of boulder exploration. The unit volume explored for a 914 mm
(3 feet) diameter drilled shaft is over 80 times greater than for a 102 mm (4 inch)
diameter borehole. Cobbles and boulders up to approximately 305 mm (1 foot) can be
removed and examined using a 914 mm (3 feet) diameter single helix or bucket auger
such as commonly used for drilled shaft construction (Stoll, 1976). In addition,
temporary casings can be set to allow ground conditions to be examined and sampled at
the shaft base or within windows cut within the casing (Brierley et al., 1991; Smirnoff
and Lundin 1985). Selected large diameter holes could be left accessible through a
bidding period to allow contractors and their geotechnical advisors to directly examine
ground conditions. Alternatively, the holes can be converted to wells and utilized for full
scale pump tests. Multiple uses should help improve cost-effectiveness of large diameter
drilled shafts in an exploration program.

Stoll (1976) demonstrated the value of large diameter holes. On one southeastern
Michigan project, 17 convention boreholes failed to identify one boulder. However, fifty
percent of the drilling logs from 150 dewatering wells having a 914 mm (3 foot) diameter
indicated boulder presence. Stoll found from a study of randomly distributed 315 mm (1
foot) diameter boulders projected onto a planar surface, that when a “boulder
concentration” ranges from 1 to 16 percent, 914 mm (3 foot) diameter holes encounter
boulders from three to five times more often than do 102 mm (4-inch) diameter holes.

Hammer and Rotosonic (Percussive) Drilling

References indicate that percussive hammer and rotosonic drilling methods are
effective at penetrating through bouldery soil at faster and more economical rates than by
conventional drilling methods. Brierley et al. (1991) describe exploration in bouldery
ground on a Tempe, Arizona project using a hammer drill. The method involved driving
of a double-walled casing with a diesel pile hammer that cuts and fractures the soil
encountered. The material encountered was removed by air forced down the casing
annulus and up the inner casing. The resulting disturbed sample material and measured
penetration rates were analyzed by a geologist to estimate the nature of cobbles, boulders
and matrix soil encountered. Hammer drilling allows boulder presence and composition
to be determined, but may not provide adequately reliable information on boulder size
and frequency.

Rotosonic drilling involves advancement of a casing with a drill head having

tungsten carbide embeds. The drill head is vibrated at a high frequency and progressively
rotated downward. As the casing cuts through the ground, an inner core barrel advances
around the cut material to obtain continuous core samples from 75 to 228 mm (3 to 9-
inches) in diameter and 0.3 to 6.1 m (1 to 20 feet) in length (Davis and Oothoudt, 1997).
Case histories show that rotosonic drilling can obtain core samples of cobbles and
boulders at relatively high production rates. Boulder composition and size (chord length

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cored) can be determined. In addition to its ability to core boulders, rotosonic drilling is
well suited for piezometer installation and environmental sampling.

Exposed Cuts, Test Pits, Shafts and Pilot Tunnels

Available boulder information from large excavations in the vicinity of a site
should be gathered and reviewed to help plan future subsurface explorations and to
provide data for boulder baselining. Relatively large excavations (e.g. shafts, test pits,
cofferdams, pilot tunnels and roadway cuts) or eroded bluffs that expose geologic units of
interest provide a good opportunity to determine cobble and boulder characteristics
within relatively large volumes of soil. If available, case histories of previous cofferdam,
shaft and tunnel excavations that documented cobble and boulder occurrence within the
same or a similar geologic units are also a valuable source of information.

Geophysical Methods
Geophysical methods may in some cases successfully complement conventional
drilling and sampling, but are generally ineffective for identifying and quantifying
boulders. Geophysical methods including active seismics (surface and borehole cross-
hole reflection/refraction), ground penetrating radar, magnetometer surveys, resistivity
and others have been performed along tunnel alignments with limited success. Past
discussions on use of geophysical methods in tunneling are presented in Alsup (1974)
and Schmidt (1974). De Pasquale and Pinelli (1998), Hindle (1995), and Miller (1996)
present more recent discussions of geophysical use on tunnel and directional drilling

In general, geophysical methods have the highest resolution at shallow depths

(less than 3 to 10 m) and where significant contrast in properties exists between boulders
and the soil matrix. In addition, signal penetration is limited to shallow depths for some
methods. For example, ground penetrating radar penetration is generally limited to 2 to 3
m depths in clay and saturated granular strata. Most tunnels are deeper than 3 m and are
overlain by some clay or saturated strata. Furthermore, boulders at the tunnel zone may
be embedded in dense soils that provide poor contrast in reflective properties.

Surface application of seismic reflection/refraction is perhaps the most useful of

the geophysical methods, particularly when the tunnel zone is within 10 m of bedrock.
Although boulders are unlikely to be identified, this method can be effective at
identifying variations between boreholes in the level of bedrock and possibly of a dense
bouldery till surface. Knowing the proximity of the tunnel zone to bedrock is an
important factor in baselining boulders because bouldery ground is often more likely
within approximately 3 m of bedrock.

Monitoring, Documenting and Reporting of Drilling Observations and Data

Monitoring, documenting and reporting of drilling observations and data are
critically important aspects of identifying cobble and boulder presence, (Brierley, 1996;

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Gould, 1995; Legget, 1979; Neyer, 1985; Osterberg, 1989). Despite its importance,
many subsurface exploration programs for tunneling projects are performed without field
monitoring by an experienced geologist or geotechnical engineer. Drillers should not be
relied upon to document their observations of cobble and boulder presence. They are
busy operating the equipment and trying to be profitably efficient at advancing the
borehole. They are generally reluctant to spend extra time carefully describing depths
and indications of cobbles and boulders. However, most drillers are willing to orally
report their cobble and boulder observations and assessments of relative drilling
resistance. With good cooperation between the driller and a monitoring professional,
more accurate and thorough information can be recorded. In addition, a monitoring
professional should be able to make timely decisions on drilling program changes such as
sample type and interval in response to the conditions encountered.

Boring Logs
Final boring logs included in geotechnical reports often fail to adequately report
information on drilling methods and observations such as chatter, bouncing, relative
drilling resistance and estimated boulder and boulder zone thickness (Gould, 1995).
Even if drilling information and observations are fully documented on field logs, its value
is diminished unless it is transferred to the final logs. Field logs are seldom conveniently
available to bidders and their consultants. Therefore, the final boring logs should contain
detailed information on drilling behavior and boulder observations (Neyer, 1985).

Limited Milwaukee-Chicago Area Boulder Experience in Tunnels

Records from five tunneling projects in the Milwaukee and Chicago metropolitan
areas were examined to assess boulder quantities encountered and boulder indications on
boring logs. Pertinent data from these projects is summarized in Table 1. These tunnels
were mostly mined within Wisconsinan age Oak Creek/Wadsworth till and associated
outwash and ice-margin soils that are more than 3 m (10 feet) above bedrock.

Without other guidance, the boring log boulder data for these projects seems to
suggest that only a small number of boulders might be expected during tunneling. The
percentage of borings hitting boulders ranged from 0 to 35 percent. The percentage of
total length of boulders drilled as compared to lengths bored within potentially bouldery
till, outwash or ice-margin soils varied from 0 to 3.5 percent.

The reported number of boulders encountered during tunneling on the project

segments studied varied from as few as 5 to as many as 282. Boulder sizes generally
ranged from 0.3 to 1.5 m (1 to 5 feet) diameter. Shapes mostly ranged from spherical to
rounded corner cubes. Boulder compositions were not well documented, but are
estimated to have been approximately two-thirds erratics (non-native igneous boulders)
and one-third native dolomite boulders. The average number of boulders ranged from 0.2
to 3.4 and averaged 1.9 per 30 m (100 feet) of tunnel. The percentage of estimated
boulder volume relative to total excavated volume ranged from 0.01 percent to 0.72
percent (boulder volume was estimated as 0.7 D3 which is approximately the average

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Table 1 – Limited Milwaukee and Chicago Area Boulder Experience

Case No. 1 2 3 4 5
Case Name Milwaukee, Milwaukee, Milwaukee, Milwaukee, Elgin IL,
Interplant South Ramsey CT-7 Northeast
Solids Pennsylvania Avenue Collector, Interceptor
Pipeline Ave. MIS Relief Sewer Bruce St.
Tunnel Length, 2295 2498 941 656 1313
m (ft) (7529) (8195) (3088) (2151) (4308)
Excavated 2.29 1.40 1.00 3.54 1.98
Diameter, m (ft)
(7.5) (4.6) (3.3) (11.6) (6.5)
No. of Borings 16 44 8 8 17
Avg. Boring 143.3 131.4 125.9 82.0 77.1
Spacing, m (ft)
(470) (431) (413) (269) (253)
% Boulder Length 2.9% 3.5% 0.4% 0.0% 2.4%
Drilled in Borings
No. of Boulders 7 25 1 0 8
Hit By Borings
% Borings Hitting 25% 25% 12.5% 0% 35%
No. of Boulders In 232 282 7 5 112
Avg. Boulders per 3.1 3.4 0.3 0.2 2.6
30m (100 ft)
Avg. Till Boulders 7.1 9.0 0.3 0.2 2.6
per 30m (100 ft)
Max. Boulders per 49.0 27.1 7.0 1.0 32.3
30m (100 ft)
Estimated Boulder 44.3 27.4 0.6 0.6 19.3
Volume, m3 (yd3)
(58.0) (35.9) (0.8) (0.8) (25.2)
Avg. % Boulders 0.47% 0.72% 0.08% 0.01% 0.35%
By Volume
Avg. % Boulders 1.08% 1.82% 0.08% 0.01% 0.35%
By Volume Mined
in Till/Outwash/
Max % Boulders 10.52% 5.11% 1.21% 0.03% 1.12%
By Volume, 60m
(200’) Segment +/-

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volume of a sphere with diameter D and a cube with width D). At four of the projects
(Cases 1, 2, 3 and 5) 10 to 60 m (30 to 200 foot) long tunnel segments encountered
boulder concentrations (nests and lag zones) that accounted for much of the total boulder
quantities. Maximum boulder volume concentrations by volume within 60 m (200 foot)
long segments ranged from 0.03 to 10.52 percent.

The limited number of Milwaukee-Chicago area tunneling projects evaluated

provide some useful information for baselining boulders, particularly in the study area. A
comparison of boulder volume mined to boulder length drilled in borings is shown in
Figure 1. The normalized percent boulder length drilled in borings (x-axis) was
computed as the percent boulder length drilled in borings times the average boring
spacing in feet divided by 30.5 m (100 feet). The percentages of both the boulder length
drilled in borings and volumes of boulders to volumes of tunnel excavated are limited to
the potentially bouldery soils encountered, i.e. till, outwash and ice-margin units.
Although based on only five cases, Figure 1 shows that the data points fall reasonably
close to a linear trend line. This relationship could be used as a guideline for estimating
the boulder volume likely to be encountered when tunneling through potentially bouldery
glacial soil.


Average Percent Boulders By Volume Mined

in Till/Outwash/Ice-Margin Units








0.0% 2.0% 4.0% 6.0% 8.0% 10.0% 12.0% 14.0% 16.0%

Normalized Percent Boulder Length Drilled in Borings

Figure 1. Boulder Volume from Normalized Length Drilled in Borings

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Establishing A Boulder Baseline
Guidelines for baselining quantities to be presented in a geotechnical baseline
report and contract documents are thoroughly discussed in an ASCE publication entitled
Geotechnical Reports for Underground Construction, (Technical Committee on
Geotechnical Reports of the Underground Technology Research Center, 1997). Much
thought should be given on what boulder sizes are important, how quantities will be
measured, how payments will be made and upon the conservatism used for the quantities
listed. For example, on micro-tunnel and small tunnel projects all boulder sizes are likely
to be important. On larger tunnels and those with more face access, only large boulders
may need to be baselined.

Use of Conventional Borings and Empirical Relationships

Percent boulder volume and a boulder quantity may be estimated using boulder
fraction data interpreted from conventional soil borings and probes. Boulder fraction
data (boulder length divided by length drilled in a unit) from borings should be
geologically evaluated to assess boulder distribution for specific units. For example, one
data set may be for a unit with randomly distributed boulders and another data set for
concentrated boulders within a lag zone unit. Distinctions might also be made for
different segments of alignment, particularly if most of the borings that encountered
boulders are located in a segment.

After estimating average boulder fractions for the units and segments selected,
percent boulder volume may be estimated using a relationship such as that shown in
Figure 1. Boulder volumes may be estimated for estimated soil volumes to be
excavated/mined within each of the soil types and segments involved.

Even if a relationship between boulder fraction in borings to percent boulder

volume is not locally available, boulder data from excavation projects within local
geologically similar soil units may be used as limits for baselining boulders. Table 1
shows that the minimum average boulder volume within the till evaluated could be
assumed as approximately 0.05 percent. The maximum boulder volume averaged over a
60-m (200-foot) segment within this unit could be assumed as approximately 11 percent.
Additional data for common soil units or concentration zones could be collected from
adequately documented excavations in a region. For example, observations made from a
12.2 m (40 foot) square shaft that was excavated into rock in southern Milwaukee (Hunt
and Fradkin, 1991) indicate that bouldery till within approximately 2 m of bedrock had
an average cobble and boulder concentration of approximately 70 percent by volume at
that site.

Probabilistic Methods for Analysis of Boring Data

Probabilistic approaches may also be used for baselining boulder quantities where
sufficient high quality data exists. Given that conventional borings at a typical spacing

11 Hunt and Angulo

actually sample only a very small portion of the soil volume to be excavated and due to
inherent geologic variability, data uncertainties will exist for the frequency, distribution,
size, shape, composition and other characteristics of boulders in a soil stratum.
Probability tools may be useful in analyzing uncertainties in a systematic manner to
complement more traditional geotechnical evaluation methods rather than to replace

Stoll (1976) evaluated the sensitivity of conventional and larger diameter

boreholes in indicating boulder presence. Stoll assumed a random concentration of 315
mm (1 foot) diameter boulders projected onto a plane. The diameter of the boring and
the concentration of boulders are the only variables that controlled the likelihood of
detecting boulders. A chart was presented to determine the number of borings required
for a 95% certainty of encountering at least one boulder for different boulder
concentrations. The chart is of limited practical use since it is related to the non-
encounter of only one boulder size. Although the paper presents a valid approach for
statistical analyses, it appears to be somewhat limited for practical application. An
improvement over this method would be to incorporate a variable boulder concentration
(dependent on the site geology) and to incorporate boulder size variability.

Tang and Quek (1986) developed statistical models of boulder size and boulder
fraction. The first model uses intercepted boulder chord length data to estimate the
distribution of boulder diameters for the entire boulder population. Bayesian analysis is
used to update the mean boulder size. This method is very thorough from a mathematical
perspective but may not be practical due to the difficulty in measuring chord lengths
during drilling and where sufficient data is lacking. In addition, the method assumes that
all the boulders are spheres.

The second probabilistic model presented by Tang and Quek (1986) relates the
fraction of boulder volume encountered at boring locations within a bouldery stratum to
boulder volume within the stratum. This parameter may be easier to use in practice since
the required data may be directly obtained from boring logs. A key assumption with the
method is that the boulders are randomly distributed. Based on two Singapore sites
studied, Tang and Quek found that a lognormal cumulative distribution function
correlated well with the data. They hypothesized that Bayesian updating methods as
described in Ang and Tang, 1975 could be used to incorporate data from additional sites.
If the parameters of the distribution function can be updated or verified for a site, then
boulder fraction data may be used to estimate boulder volume within a selected volume
of the same soil mass.

An effort was made to evaluate the data from the five Milwaukee/Chicago area
cases that were previously discussed. A simple method based on the percentage of
borings that encountered boulders proved to be ineffective. The data in Table 1 shows
that the percentage of borings encountering boulders is not directly related to either the

12 Hunt and Angulo

number of boulders or the boulder volume encountered. Such a simple method fails to
account for borehole diameter, boring spacing, boring depth, occurrence within specific
geologic units and the excavated tunnel volume.

Attempts were also made to develop cumulative distribution functions for

correlating boulder fraction encountered in borings to boulder volumes encountered
during tunneling at the five Milwaukee/Chicago area sites. Insufficient data was
available to establish useable relationships. Our results suggest that this probabilistic
approach may not be applicable for typical tunnel projects unless a database correlation
between boulder fraction in borings and percentage boulder volume within the soil mass
can be developed for soil units within a region. Even if an applicable cumulative
distribution function can be established for a soil unit, this method would only help
provide baseline estimates for the more randomly distributed boulders. Boulder estimates
for concentrations and anomalies would have to be independently assessed.

The primary conclusions of this paper are as follows:
1. Boulder quantities may be baselined by combining local geologic knowledge and
boulder experience with the results of a phased subsurface investigation program.
2. Boulder baselining should start with a desk study of available information on the
geologic setting of the site and of local boulder experience within similar geologic
units. This information should be utilized to plan an initial subsurface exploration
program. Subsequent exploration phases should reduce geologic uncertainties by
more intensively exploring the ground, reducing data gaps and providing redundancy.
3. Conventional subsurface exploration should provide useful boulder data if drillers are
instructed to carefully report indications of boulders and if a properly qualified
geotechnical professional is assigned to monitor drilling in the field and to document
all pertinent observations. Final boring logs should include field observations.
4. Redundant or supplementary exploration methods should be considered for one or
more phases of exploration. These methods might include use of auger borings where
rotary wash borings were previously used. Larger diameter borings, more sensitive
(less powerful) drill rigs, percussive methods such as rotosonic drilling, test pits, 0.9
to 1.2 m diameter auger drilled shafts and geophysical methods such as seismic
refraction/reflection may also provide useful supplementary or redundant
5. The normal criteria recommended in the literature for determination of boring spacing
on tunnel projects should be suitable for boulder detection. An average borehole
spacing ranging from 30 to 90 m (100 to 300 feet) is typical for soft-ground tunnel
projects. For randomly distributed boulders, the average percentage of borings hitting
boulders is generally not sensitive to borehole spacing within this range. Closer
borehole spacing (e.g. 30 m or less) guided by geologic interpretation may be

13 Hunt and Angulo

selectively utilized within specific areas to help minimize the risk of missing large
boulder nests or lag deposits.
6. Normalized percent length of boulders intercepted in borings within potential
bouldery soil appears to have a linear relationship to boulder volume as a percentage
of excavated volume. Where local experience is lacking, the relationship shown in
Figure 1 could be utilized to estimate an order of magnitude for boulder volume.
Local experience should be accumulated to verify or modify this relationship.
7. A local experience database should be developed to document ranges in boulder
quantities, sizes, and composition for common local soil units and for geologic
features such as nests within filled gullies or ice-margin deposits, lag zones between
geologic units of different age, and soil-rock interface zones. This database could be
used as a guide when evaluating subsurface exploration results. Local boulder
experience on projects should be published to help a local database to grow.
8. Probabilistic methods may be useful where there is sufficient understanding of the
site geology and where a large enough population of high quality data exists to
perform a Bayesian analysis and to establish a probability density function. Where
sufficient quantity and quality of data is not available, probabilistic methods are not
likely to be useful.

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