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Drained vs Undrained Loadings

in Geotechnical Engineering
• Published on June 18, 2014

Siva Sivakugan
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One thing that takes a while for the budding geotechs to digest is the
difference between undrained and drained parameters, and when to
use what. Actually, it is simple and is common sense. When a
saturated clay is loaded, it will not let the water out immediately (i.e.
remains undrained) and that is when most of the failures occur. In the
short-term, the clay can be treated as an undrained homogeneous
material where we will not separate the grains and water. Here, we
carry out the undrained analysis in terms of total stresses, using
undrained shear strength cu ( = 0).

In the long term (after some months or years), the clay will drain out
some water until the excess pore water pressure is fully dissipated and
the pore water pressure is in equilibrium with the in-situ conditions.
Now, it is prudent to carry out an effective stress analysis using c' and
', where we separate the stresses acting on the pore water (pore water
pressure) and the grains (effective stresses).

Undrained analysis is often much easier to carry out, inexpensive to


get the design parameters, and is necessary to assess the short-term
stability which can be more critical than the long-term stability. For
undrained loading, the failure envelope in terms of total stresses is
horizontal and hence we only need one parameter, undrained cohesion
cu ( = 0). Undrained cohesion can be derived from an unconfined
compression test, UU triaxial, vane shear test (lab or field) or simply
using a pocket penetrometer. Drained analysis needs c' and ' which
are derived from more expensive consolidated drained or undrained
triaxial tests or in situ tests (and estimated using correlations). They
are necessary when working with effective stresses. We generally
charge A$1500-A$2000 (2014) for a CD or CU triaxial test on three
specimens at different confining pressures, while an unconfined
compression test costs less than A$100.

Granular soils drain very quickly, and hence they are always treated
as drained and analysed in terms of effective stresses using ' (c'=0).
For normally consolidated clays c' = 0. Even for other clays
(compacted or overconsolidated), c' is not very large and is in the
order of 0-25 kPa. Danish code suggests that c' can be taken as 0.1Cu.

In summary,

Short-term analysis is carried out in terms of total


stresses, using undrained shear strength parameters
Cu and  = 0.

Long-term analysis is carried out in terms of effective


stresses, using drained shear strength parameters c'
and phi'.