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Soil Nail Walls: A Probabilistic Approach of Global and Sliding Stability

Zisis A. Daffas, Ioannis E. Zevgolis

Department of Civil Engineering, Democritus University of Thrace, Greece

zisis.daffas93@gmail.com zevgolis@civil.duth.gr

1. Introduction safety ratios are perfectly correlated and totally independent,

respectively. The different approach used in the present
Reliability analysis of soil nail walls requires consideration
study is a still approximate, but more direct computation of
of several external and internal failure mechanisms and how
the system reliability using a Monte Carlo simulation
these are affected by various sources of uncertainty. In terms
algorithm. The procedure, through simple computations,
of external stability, these postulated mechanisms are
provides empirical outcomes of numerically simulated
typically the so-called global stability and the sliding failure
random realizations of the safety ratios. Then, statistical
mode. In the present work, a probabilistic model is
estimates can be obtained for the system reliability, safety
formulated in order to assess the reliability of the external
ratios, their coefficients of correlations, or other quantities of
stability of soil nail walls, in terms of these two failure
modes. The model is based on a similar methodology
previously developed for the external stability of reinforced 3. Case Example
soil walls [1].
The type of soil nail wall being considered herein for
2. Method of Reliability Analysis analysis is shown in Fig. 1. Geometric characteristics of the
wall and material properties are considered deterministic
In order to represent limit states of equilibrium, performance
functions are defined as Safety Ratios (SR), by analogy with
safety factors. So, SR with respect to global (G) stability
inadequacy and sliding (SL), are respectively expressed by:

 SRG   
D G

 SRSL   

where R i and D i are the summations of resisting and

driving forces for each failure mode i (where i can be G or
SL), respectively. Based on the above equations, failure for
each mode i is defined as the event where the corresponding
SR is less than one. So, the probability of failure PFi for each
mode is given by:
PF ,i  P  SR i  1 (3) Fig. 1: Schematic representation of the analyzed case example

The external stability of the wall is modeled as a system in Mechanical soil properties (friction angle φ, cohesion c and
series with zero redundancy and failure is defined as the unit weight γ of the retained soil), as well as the ultimate
event in which  SRG  1 and/or  SRSL  1 occurs. So, the bond strength qu that is mobilized along the soil-nail
probability of occurrence PF is given by the union of these interface, are considered random variables following
two events: lognormal distributions with characteristics listed in Table 1.
PF  P  SRG  1   SRSL  1
Monte Carlo simulation were performed for n = 100,000
In general, computation of PF by exact integration of the
involved multivariate functions is impractical. This Table 1. Probabilistic parameters of random variables
difficulty can be overcome by using approximate methods Random Mean value Coefficient of
that have been developed specifically for system reliability Variable (μ) variation (COV)
analysis, such as the system's first-order reliability bounds. φ (◦) 30 0.15
In this case, if the safety ratios are positively correlated, then c (kPa) 5 0.20
the system probability of failure for the two failure modes 3
γ (kN/m ) 18 0.05
can be written as [2]: qu (kPa) 100 0.15
max PF ,G , PF , SL   PF  1  1  PF , G   1  PF , SL  (5)
The terms max PF ,G , PF , SL  and 1  1  PF ,G   1  PF , SL  Based on the data provided on the below tables, the
correspond to the exact system probabilities of failure, when following comments can be made: Sliding computations are
subjected to higher degree of uncertainty (COVSRSL = 0.404), Fig. 3 graphically presents the modal probabilities of failure
compared to global stability (COVSRG = 0.286), although (PFi) with respect to the length of the nails LN, considering
LN as a design variable parameter. It is shown that the modal
global failure is the event with the higher probability of
probabilities of failure are not linear functions of LN. For
occurrence (PF,G = 1.79% and PF,SL= 0.44%).
instance, LN = 6.0m corresponds to PF,G = 14.59% and LN =
6.5m to PF,G = 5.51% . Another observation is the sensitivity
Table 2. Statistical parameters for the external safety ratios
of PF,G with varying LN. Specifically, the probability
Statistics SRG SRSL
Mean (μ) 1.78 2.42
drastically changes within a short range of LN. Opposite to
Coefficient of variation global failure, PF,SL demonstrate a smoother variation with
0.404 0.286 varying length of nails.
Minimum (min) 0.57 0.61
Maximum (max) 6.79 17.13

The coefficient of linear correlation of the two external

safety ratios was computed [ SRG , SRSL ]  0.81 and
indicates the intense tendency of these variables to increase
and decrease simultaneously. This tendency for high degree
of correlation can also be seen in the joint distribution of the
two safety ratios (Fig. 2). In terms of Monte Carlo
realizations, this meant that for the analyzed example most
of the times where global failure occurred, failure by sliding
was also taking place, and vice versa.

Fig. 3: Length of nails vs. modal probabilities of failure

4. Conclusions
In this study, a probabilistic model was developed in order
to assess the reliability of external stability of soil nail walls.
Stability was addressed as a system in series. A case
example was analyzed for illustrative purposes. For this
example, the results indicated that, although global failure
has the higher probability of occurrence, the mode subjected
to higher uncertainty is the sliding. Dependency between the
two external failure modes, analyzed by means of
coefficients of linear correlation between corresponding
safety ratios, was found significant. System probability of
Fig. 2: Joint distribution of SRG - SRSL
failure was computed taking into account this correlation
The system probability of failure is provided οn Table 3, and was compared to probabilities of failure obtained by the
together with the first-order bounds. It is shown that for the first-order system reliability bounds. The comparison
numerical values used in this study, the widely used indicates that commonly accepted simplifications of
assumption of modal independence may overestimate the complete independence or perfect correlation between the
probability of failure, while an assumption of perfect failure modes may not always be appropriate. Finally, modal
correlation underestimates it. Of course, the degree of over- probabilities of failure were found to be non-linear functions
or under-estimation depends on a case by case basis. of the nail length and affected in a different degree by this
However, it is noteworthy to mention that although first- design variable.
order bounds are typically satisfactory in the presence of a
dominant failure mode, this does not seem to be the case in
this example. [1] Zevgolis, I.E., Bourdeau, P.L. (2010). System Reliability
Analysis of the External Stability of Reinforced Soil Structures.
Table 3. System probability of failure and first-order bounds Georisk, 4(3): 148-156.

max PF,G , PF,SL  PF,EXT 1  1  PF,G   1  PF,SL  [2] Ang, A.H.-S., and Tang, W.H. (1984). Probability concepts in
engineering planning and design. Volume II: decision, risk and
1.79% 1.98% 2.23% reliability. John Wiley & Sons, New York.