Direct in-situ evaluation of liquefaction susceptibility



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Earthquake-induced soil liquefaction that occurs within the built environment is responsible for billions of dollars of damage to infrastructure and loss of economic productivity. There is an acute need to accurately predict the risk of soil liquefaction as well as to quantify the effectiveness of soil improvement techniques that are meant to decrease the risk of soil liquefaction. Current methods indirectly measure the risk of soil liquefaction by empirically correlating certain soil characteristics to known instances of surficial evidence of soil liquefaction, but these methods tend to overpredict the risk in sands with silts, to poorly predict instances of soil liquefaction without surface manifestations, and fail to adequately quantify the effectiveness of soil improvement techniques.

Direct in-situ evaluation of liquefaction susceptibility was performed at a single site at the Wildlife Liquefaction Array (WLA) in Imperial Valley, California, in March 2012. The project included a CPT sounding, crosshole testing, and liquefaction testing. The liquefaction testing involved the measurement of water pressure and ground particle motion under earthquake-simulating cyclic loading conditions. The objective of this testing technique is to observe the relationship between shear strain in the soil and the resulting generation of excess pore water pressure. This fundamental relationship dictates whether or not a soil will liquefy during an earthquake event.

The direct in-situ evaluation of liquefaction susceptibility approach provides a more accurate and comprehensive analysis of the risks of soil liquefaction. It also has the ability to test large-scale soil improvements in-situ, providing researchers an accurate representation of how the improved soil will perform during a real earthquake event. The most important results in this thesis include the identification of the cyclic threshold strain around 0.02% for the WLA sand, which is very similar to results achieved by other researchers (Vucetic and Dobry, 1986, and Cox, 2006) and is a characteristic of liquefiable soils. Another key characteristic is the 440 to 480 ft/sec (134 to 146 m/s) shear wave velocity of the soil, which are well below the upper limit 656 ft/sec (200 m/s) and an indication that the soil is loose enough for soil liquefaction to occur. The third significant point is that the compression wave velocity of the sand is greater than 4,500 ft/sec (1,370 m/s), indicating that it is at least 99.9% saturated and capable of generating large pore water pressure due to cyclic loading. These three conditions (cyclic threshold strain, shear wave velocity, and compression wave velocity) are among the most important parameters for characterizing a soil liquefaction risk and must all be met in order for soil liquefaction to occur.