Collaborative Research: Critical Hydraulic Conditions for Piping in Sandy Soils, Laboratory Measurement and Numerical Simulation

Project: Research project

Project Details


The objective of this project is to provide fundamental understanding of the piping phenomenon and practical solutions to the critical hydraulic conditions for piping that account for: 1) soil properties (e.g., gradation, grain size, and grain shape), 2) direction of flow, 3) stress condition, and 4) exit face conditions. In current geotechnical engineering practice, these factors are generally not considered and the critical hydraulic gradient is assumed to be only a function of the soil buoyant unit weight. However, recent analyses, laboratory experiments, and field observations indicate that piping can be initiated at gradients much lower than the values predicted by the current practice. Therefore, the current practice may be unconservative under certain conditions. The project objectives will be achieved through: 1) experimental measurements of critical hydraulic gradients of soil specimens with varied soil properties, direction of flow, and exit face conditions, using laboratory devices designed specifically for this project, 2) development of a numerical model capable of capturing piping mechanisms in saturated granular soils by coupling the discrete element method and the smoothed particle hydrodynamics method, and 3) integration of the results from experimental testing and validated numerical modeling into current engineering practice by providing an empirical, but mechanism-based, relationship to account for the effects that the factors discussed above have on the magnitude of critical hydraulic gradients. This project will be accomplished through collaborative research between Utah State University and The Pennsylvania State University.

Results of this project have the potential to transform the way that seepage-related erosion is analyzed in practice. The new approach will not only be more accurate than existing analysis methods, but will also have the flexibility to be applied to a vast array of seepage conditions due to its mechanism-based origin. The societal benefits of this improved analysis approach should not be underestimated. Dams and levee systems across the U.S. are aging and, in many cases, in need of retrofitting or repair to bring them up to current standards or meet changing load requirements. The improved analysis approach is expected to vastly improve the accuracy of the assessments of piping potential, increasing public safety and allowing for better utilization of funds available to renovate this critical aspect of our nation?s infrastructure. The project will also provide substantial educational benefits, including training M.S. and Ph.D. students and providing research opportunities for undergraduate students, particularly those from traditionally under-represented groups at both Utah State University and The Pennsylvania State University.

Effective start/end date9/1/118/31/14


  • National Science Foundation: $115,854.00


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