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The use of soil in civil engineering practice is three fold (i) soil is used as a construction material, ex: earth dam construction, highway and railway embankments (ii) soils are used for manufacture of bricks, tiles and earthenware pipes (iii) soil is also used as a fill material behind retaining walls and bridge abutments. It is appropriate and economical to use soils readily available at site if found suitable, for construction of embankments and to support heavy engineering structures. If not, soil borrowing and soil replacement may become necessary which may be prohibitively costly. Such situations stimulated new thoughts in civil engineering, leading to the development of a number of ground improvement techniques, which can be classified as: (a) Ground improvement by in-situ soil treatment (b) Ground improvement by soil reinforcement

In-situ soil treatment methods include soil stabilisation by chemical additives, precompression with or without sand-drains construction, vibroflotation, dynamic compaction by tamping, etc. Soil reinforcement construction techniques include piles, stone columns and use of metallic or non-metallic elements like rods, flats, strips, etc in the soil. The latter are termed as soil inclusions which are embedded in the soil to improve its strength manifold for making it strong enough to carry out the desired function satisfactorily.

Deep deposits of soft clay are found all along the coastal and delta areas of the country. Major ports of India are located where soft soil deposits abound. Further, in central India, deposits of black cotton soil abounds, which have peculiar behaviour. Structures such as buildings and roads constructed in such areas

have experienced failures. With increasing developmental activities in the country, there has been demand in construction of all types of structures particularly industrial structures and transport corridors. At many places in the delta area, the subsoil is so soft that is unable to support even 1 m height of embankment against design height of 3 4 m or even more. This has lead to a surge in demand for economical and effective methods of ground improvement. Few of the methods commonly used for improvement of soft ground are described below:


Mechanical compaction of shallower strata of soil

This method is the cheapest of the methods and is applicable to both cohesionless and cohesive soils. The procedure is to remove first the weak soil up to the depth required, refill or replace the same in layers with compaction. If the soil excavated is cohesionless or sand-silt-clay mixture, the same can be replaced suitably in layers and compacted. But if the soil excavated is only of fine sand, silt or soft clay soil, it is not advisable to replace the same, as these materials may not give sufficient bearing power for the super structures. It may be required to transport good soil to the site from a long distance. The cost structure of such a project has to be studied carefully before undertaking the same.

The compacting equipments to be used in a project depends upon the size of the project and the availability of the compacting equipments. In projects where excavations and refilling (or replacement) are confined to narrow trenches, only tampers or surface vibrators may be used. On the other hand, if the whole area of the project is to be excavated and refilled/replaced in layers with compaction,

suitable type of heavy rolling equipments can be used. Cohesionless soils can be compacted by using vibratory rollers and cohesive soils by sheep foot rollers.

Precompression technique

The technique of improving soil properties by precompression consists of placing a surcharge load on the ground. The charge is normally a uniformly distributed surface load, which is placed prior to the construction of the intended structure. A part or the entire surcharge may be removed before the construction commences, depending on the requirements.

Dynamic compaction for deeper layers of soil


The vibroflotation is used for compacting granular soil only. The vibrofloat is a cylindrical tube containing water jets at top and bottom and equipped with a rotating eccentric weight, which develops a horizontal vibratory motion as shown in Fig. 1. The vibrofloat is sunk into the soil using the lower jets and is then raised in successive small increments, during which the surrounding material is compacted by the vibration process. The enlarged hole around the vibrofloat is backfilled with suitable granular material. This method is very effective for increasing the density of a sand deposit for depths up to 30 m. Spacings of compaction holes should be on a grid pattern of about 2 m to produce relative densities greater than 70 per cent over the entire area. If the sand is coarse, the spacings may be somewhat larger. In soft cohesive soil and organic soils vibroflotation technique has been used with gravel as the backfill material. The

resulting densified stone column effectively reinforces softer soils and acts as a bearing pile for foundations.

Dynamic compaction

Dynamic compaction (also referred to as heavy tamping or impact compaction) is a technique in which repeated dropping of a concrete, cast iron or steel weight from predetermined height causes deep densification of the deposit being treated. Usually the blows are concentrated at specific locations, the distances between the centres of impact frequently ranging between 4 to 20 m, set out on a grid pattern. The energy per blow is chosen to maximise penetration of the resultant stress impulses. Several passes of tamping are required to achieve the desired results. Dynamic compaction has been used to densify a wide range of cohesionless soils and fills. Historically dynamic compaction started with weights of 8 t and drop heights of 10 m. The general trend since then has been to utilise ever increasing weights and drop heights. Machines with lifting capacity of 200-t and drop height of 30 m have been used to compact thicknesses upto 50 m.

The process of dynamic compaction consists of a series of heavy tamping passes with different combinations of energy levels designed to achieve improvement to specific layers within the depth to be treated. The most common approach is to consider the ground in three layers. The first tamping pass is aimed at treating the deepest layer by adopting a relatively wide grid pattern and a suitable number of drops from the full height capability of the crane. The middle layer is then treated by an intermediate grid, often the mid points of the first pass or half the initial grid, with a lesser number of drops and reduced drop height. The surface layers then receive a continual tamp of a small number of drops from low height on a continuous pattern.

In dry granular materials, physical displacement of the particles and to a lesser extent, low frequency excitation reduces void ratio and increases the relative density to provide improved load bearing and enhanced settlement

characteristics. A feature that is observed in case of coarse fill materials is the formation of hard plug that may be useful in providing superior settlement performance beneath isolated foundation bases. When granular materials extend below water table, a high proportion of dynamic impulse is transferred to the pore water which, after a suitable number of surface impacts, eventually rises in pressure to a sufficient level to induce liquefaction. Dissipation of pore-water pressures, results in further increase in relative density over a period varying from 1-2 days for well-graded sands to 1-2 weeks for sandy silts. In summary, excellent engineering performance can be easily achieved in dry granular soils. However care must be exercised for treatment of soils with significant silt content, particularly below water table.

Menard originally proposed that the effective depth of treatment (D) was related to (WH) where W is the weight in tonnes and H is the drop height in metres. This was modified by a factor of 0.5 by Leonards for relatively coarse,

predominantly granular soils, and factors of 0.375 to 0.7 have been proposed by others for different types of soils. Solcombe suggests that the range of treatment depths varies with initial strength, soil type and energy input as given in Fig .

The degree of densification peaks at a critical depth which is roughly half of the maximum treatment depth obtained from Fig . High drops may densify soil

inadequately at shallow depth. Lower drop heights may be necessary to densify upper layers.

A case study of dynamic compaction was carried out at Barbala, U.P. the soils at the site consisted of a surface layer of a surface layer of loose silty sandy clay 12 m deep underlain by loose fine sand to depths of 10-12 m. This in turn was underlain by silty sandy clay. Dynamic compaction as a method of soil improvement was successfully carried out. The treatment consisted of four

passes. The first pass was with a 10 ton hammer falling 16 m. The second pass was identical to first pass with drop locations staggered from that of the first pass. The third pass consisted of a 15 ton hammer falling 16 m. The final pass was a tamping pass with a 5 ton hammer falling 16 m on a grid of 2.5 m X 2.5 m. Due to dynamic compaction bearing capacity increased from 0.6 to 2 kg/sq.cm.


Blasting through the use of buried, time delayed explosive charges has been used to densify loose granular soils. The sands and gravels must be essentially cohesionless with a maximum of 15 per cent of their particles passing the No. 200 sieve size and 3 per cent passing 0.005 mm size. The moisture condition of the soil is also important, for surface tension forces in the partially saturated state, limit the effectiveness of the technique. Thus the soil, as well as being granular, must be dry or saturated which requires sometimes prewetting the site via construction of a dyke and reservoir system.

Vertical sand drains

Vertical sand drains consist of boreholes 0.4 0.6 m dia, dug through the soft layer and filled with sand. The depth of the bore holes can be 10 to 20 m. The hole spacing varies from 2 6 m centre to centre, transversely and longitudinally. A sand blanket layer, 1 1.5 m is placed at the top of the vertical sand holes, extending across the full width of the embankment A typical cross section of embankment on soft soil improved with sand drains is shown in Fig. 3. The normal embankment with additional berms if deemed necessary is constructed over the sand blanket. The sand drains facilitates quick removal of water from the soft strata as the embankment load squeezes the water. A quick escape path is provided for water. The drainage of water is beneficial in the following ways:


Quick settlement of the embankment is facilitated. It accelerates the primary consolidation of clay since they bring about rapid dissipation of excess pore water pressure. Vertical drains have no direct effect on the rate of secondary compression but the early completion of primary consolidation brings about the earlier onset of secondary settlements. Therfore the structure or embankments can be put to use earlier than it would be possible otherwise.


A rapid increase in the shearing strength of soil takes place as its water content is reduced. This enables the loads to be applied more rapidly than would otherwise be possible. Steep side slopes and avoidance of berms in case of embankments may be possible when sand drains are used.

Construction techniques of sand drains

Sand drains are most commonly installed by closed mandrel methods. In this method, casing pipe of specified diameter to which a detachable concrete shoe is attached is driven down to the firm stratum underlying the soft clay. The casing pipe is usually driven by means of a pile driver. After the hard stratum is reached, the casing pipe is withdrawn in stages and the borehole is backfilled in corresponding stages with sand. One of the common difficulties in vertical sand drain installation arises due to arching of sand inside the mandrel when it is being lifted from the ground. i.e. the sand does not drop out from the mandrel continuously but stays inside the mandrel during withdrawal. This difficulty can be overcome firstly by lifting the mandrel corresponding to the volume of sand in the mandrel and secondly by using saturated sand only.

Characteristics of sand for use in vertical drains

Various researchers, McGown et al (1982), Stamatopoulos (1985) have recommended specifications of sand for use in vertical sand drains. These can be suitably be adopted. McGown et al (1992) recommend that the sand to be used for sand drain should be free from all organic matter, salt and cementitious materials. To ensure good permeability, the grading of sand should conform to zone 2, BS/882/1973 except that the fraction by weight finer than 60 micron should not exceed 2%. The specification for sand is given in Table 1. The gradation characteristics of sand drains which may be adopted is shown in Fig. 4.

Table 1: Specification of sand to be used for sand drains

IS sieve 10.0 mm 5.0 mm 2.36 mm 1.18 mm 600 micron 300 micron 150 micron

Percentage by weight passing 100 90-100 75-100 55-90 35-59 8-30 0-10

Construction sequence


Construction of 1.0 m of granular platform and 1.0 m cinder embankment. Well burnt cinder and well leached by rainwater should be used.

(ii) (iii)

Install sand drains and allow a waiting period of nine months. Construct 1.0 m of embankment thereafter allowing a waiting period of nine months. A waiting period of 9 months is to be allowed after each lift thickness.

(iv) (v)

The side slopes of the embankment may be kept as 1V : 2H Surfacing may be laid after a lapse of 9 months after the completion of the earthwork to the required level.

Effect of peripheral smear

Smear is the term used to define the wiping action caused by the casing or hollow mandrel used to form the well as it is driven down into the soil and then pulled out after it has been filled with sand. The action tends to smear the soil at the well periphery. For a soil originally having a greater permeability in the horizontal than in the vertical direction, the smeared zone forms a barrier to the horizontal flow of water, thereby slowing down considerably the process of consolidation.

Stone column technique

Among the recent developments, which involve strengthening of soft sub-soils, stone column technique has proved to be an effective technique. Stone columns are used to support structures overlying both very soft to firm cohesive soils and also loose silty sands. Stone columns consist of granular material compacted insitu in long cylindrical boreholes. The advantages of stone column are:

(i) (ii) (iii)

It provides a substantial increase in load carrying capacity It provides a significant reduction in total and differential settlements Being granular and free draining, consolidation settlements are

accelerated and residual post construction settlement is minimised. (iv) Installation is relatively simple and involves low energy inputs alternatively manual labour may be used, and it is cost effective.

Construction techniques

Installation of stone columns may be carried out by vibroflotation or rammed stone column technique which are outlined below. A granular platform of coarse to medium sand of 1.0 m thickness shall be constructed on the top of soft soil. This will squeeze the top slush layer and also provide a working space for equipment and personnel.


Vibroflotation technique

In the vibroflotation technique stone columns are constructed using a vibroflot. A vibroflot is essentially a long slender steel tube with two parts viz. The vibrator and the follow up tube. The vibrator is a cylindrical body of 300 400 mm in diameter and 2.0 4.5 m in length. It is connected by means of special elastic coupling to follower tubes. Eccentric weights in the lower part of the vibroflot are driven by an electric motor operating at 1800 rpm in a horizontal plane. About 34 tonnes of centrifugal force can be generated creating amplitudes as great as 23 mm at the tip of an unconstrained vibroflot. The follower tubes carry power and water pipelines. The vibroflot sinks rapidly under its own weight assisted by vibration and jetting action of the water. After forming the hole to the required depth the borehole is flushed out several times by raising and dropping the vibroflot. A continuous flow of water should be maintained in the borehole and a flow rate of 11 15 m3/hr is normally required throughout the construction. This aids in keeping the borehole stable and washing out loose soil from the sides. The borehole so produced is backfilled in stages with granular material.

Rammed stone column techniques

In the rammed stone column technique the borehole is made to the required depth by shell and auger method and is backfilled in stages with granular material. At each stage the granular backfill in the borehole is compacted by ramming till the required compaction is achieved according to specified quality control criteria. Generally a hammer of 15 kN is used for compaction falling through a distance of 1.5 2.5 m to impart an energy of 20-30 kN-m per blow. Equipments commonly used for bored and driven piles are used for rammed stone columns. Quality control in this technique is determined in terms of set criteria. For a weight of rammer of 15 kN falling through a height of 2.5 m a set of 1 cm for 15 blows may be adopted. Rammed stone columns technique may


preferably be adopted as better stone column capacities have been reported, as well because of operational simplicity. The installation of stone columns through this method is shown in Fig. 5.

Backfill material

The backfill material to be used in stone column shall be hard angular stones of sizes varying from 2 mm to 75 mm. The aggregates shall conform to gradation given in Table 2.

Table 2. Gradation of aggregate for stone columns

Size of aggregates 75 mm 50 mm 38 mm 20 mm 12 mm 2 mm

% passing 90-100 80-90 55-75 10-20 5-13 5


Construction schedule

Stage I: The top very soft slush layer of about 1.0 m thickness shall be removed and replaced by granular layer that will serve as a working platform. The granular layer shall be of coarse to medium sand. The suitable range of gradation is given in Fig. 6.

Stage II: Stone columns shall be installed in a triangular pattern. The stone column should be installed at least up to a distance of 5 m beyond the toe of the embankment in the plan area.

Stage III: The embankment shall be constructed in lifts of 1.5 m till the desired height is reached, allowing a waiting period of 6 months after construction of each lift thickness. The side slope of the embankment may be kept at 1V : 2H. Surfacing may be laid after a lapse of 6 months from the time of completion of the earthwork to the required level.

Design of stone columns

The diameter and spacing of stone columns depends primarily upon the undrained shear strength of soft soil. From practical considerations the following typical arrangement of stone columns is proposed: Stone column pattern: Diameter of the stone column: Depth of soft clay: Triangular pattern 0.8 m (finished) 10 m


The final depth of stone column shall be ascertained from bearing and stability considerations. Stone columns are generally constructed in an equilateral triangular pattern. Figure 7 shows various stone column arrangements showing the domain of influence of each column. Fig. 8 shows triangular pattern of stone columns. Typical column spacing is usually 1.2 to 2.5 m. A minimum spacing of 1.5 m spacing is imposed because of potential construction problems.

Lime columns

Soil properties change with the addition of lime. It has been observed that addition of 1-2 per cent lime brings about modifications in the soil by reducing its plasticity and improving its workability through cationic exchange, agglomeration and flocculation. Improvement in shear strength, compressibility and permeability characteristics is brought about by pozzolanic reaction resulting in the formation of cementing compounds. The rate at which the chemical reactions and the formation of compounds take place are dependent on the quality of lime added, the clay minerals present in the soil, and the period of curing. Other factors which contribute to the lime-soil interaction are the degree of pulverisation and compaction. The compounds formed include tobermorite, calcium silicate, calcium hydrate, calcium alluminate hydrate etc.

Lime columns are made by mixing a predetermined quantity of lime (hydrated or unslaked as the case may be) to a mass of soil and compacted in the boreholes at a fixed density. Fig. 9 show the in-situ construction of a lime column. Lime columns have been widely used in Japan and Sweden. A lime column of dia of 0.5 m is standard in Sweden for columns up to 10 m long. Diameters up to 1.75 m and depth up to 60 m, have been used in Japan.


Lime columns are used to support light structures, control differential settlements, and reduce total settlements and to improve the stability of slopes. Laboratory investigations are essential to estimate the amount of lime required to reach a certain strength increase. The amount of lime required for stabilisation of a clay depends mainly on the critical water content of the clay and the organic content. For very soft clays, 5 to 10 per cent of unslaked lime by dry weight is sufficient. A strength increase of 10 to 20 times the original strength is normal. It is always advisable to have a few field installations of lime columns and bearing capacity tested at different intervals of curing period. It is observed that strength gain by using finely powdered lime is more than that from coarse grained lime.

Lime slurry injections

Pressure injection of lime slurry for ground improvement is a new method for ground improvement. Two types of injection methods are in vogue, viz. Injecting lime slurry through boreholes and injecting through hollow rods pushed into the ground. In this method, the slurry is forced into the soil horizontally, rupturing the existing structure and forcing the slurry along fissures cracks and seams. The lime slowly migrates further into subsoil by diffusion.

Lime or lime-fly ash slurry is injected into the soil under pressures of 350 to 1000 kPa. Slurry is injected through 38 to 41 mm diameter nozzles. Equipments capable of pushing the injection pipes to depths of 40 m or more have been developed in recent years. Generally the injection rods are pushed into the soil at about 30 cm intervals.

The application of the method, though limited, has a great scope in India. Normally the village roads, which run on embankments, are seldom compacted and in due course of time and due to ribbon development, these roads have to be


strengthened. Instead of excavating the embankment and compacting the same to allow heavy vehicular traffic, the method of lime slurry injection becomes economical and time saving. The pressure injection of lime slurry compacts the soil at deeper layers, increases the in-sity density and increases the soil strength due to pozzolanic/chemical reactions. Flood protection embankments, which get eroded every year due to floods, can be strengthend by the use of lime slurry injections.

Using jute based geotextiles

Fibre drains made up of jute composites are used for consolidation of soft clays. Jute being 100 per cent biodegradable is the only environmental friendly drain and is acceptable even in the developed countries. These drains are versatile and can be used as: (i) (ii) (iii) Vertical drains for consolidation of clays Horizontal drains for stabilisation of slopes and Horizontal drains to counter the problems arising due to seepage

When jute geotextiles is laid over the subgrade it reduces the possibility of failure by performing the following functions: (i) The fabric acts as a separator between the subgrade and the granular sub base. The fabric prevents the migration of the particles from subgrade to the sub-base material The highly permeable nature of geotextiles helps in rapid removal of water from the road section and thus prevents the pumping action of the pavement .