Determining parameters for stiff clays and residual soils using the self-boring pressuremeter

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Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University


As testing stiff soils in the laboratory often leads to information which is not consistent with field performance, research was undertaken to determine in situ the soil properties. Among the devices which generated interest is the self-boring pressuremeter (SBPM).

In this research, two stiff soils of the Commonwealth of Virginia were tested: A residual soil found in Blacksburg and a very stiff, non-fissured, and sensitive clay, of marine origin, known as the Miocene clay of the downtown Richmond area.

Testing the residual soil of Blacksburg with the SBPM led to the following new operational approaches: (1) a systematic use of a steel-sheath known as "Chinese lantern" to protect the membrane of the probe, (2) the development of a loading frame providing adequate reaction when self-boring in stiff soils, (3) the development of a new calibration unit for the SBPM which allows to calibrate the probe under conditions more like those encountered in stiff soils and, (4) the development of a high capacity computerized data acquisition system.

Testing the residual soil also allowed to establish a sound database for this soil.

In the Miocene clay, the laboratory test results indicate that conventional sampling technique which consists in pushing Shelby tubes disturbs significantly the soil and leads to scattered test results. In contrast, tests performed on samples taken from high-quality block samples indicate consistent behavior patterns.

SBPM test results in the Miocene clay indicate that the clay exhibits high lateral stresses. They also indicate the existence of an anisotropic state of lateral stress which can be explained from the regional topography. The soil parameters interpreted from the SBPM test results in the Miocene clay compare well with the soil parameters determined in the laboratory on the block samples.