AskDefine | Define seepage

Dictionary Definition

seepage n : the process of seeping [syn: ooze, oozing]

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. the process by which a liquid leaks through a porous substance; the process of seeping


the process by which a liquid leaks through a porous substance; the process of seeping
  • Czech: průsak
  • Spanish: filtración

See also

Extensive Definition

Soil mechanics is a discipline that applies principles of engineering mechanics, e.g. kinematics, dynamics, fluid mechanics, and mechanics of material, to predict the mechanical behavior of soils. Together with Rock mechanics, it is the basis for solving many engineering problems in civil engineering (geotechnical engineering), geophysical engineering and engineering geology. Some of the basic theories of soil mechanics are the basic description and classification of soil, effective stress, shear strength, consolidation, lateral earth pressure, bearing capacity, slope stability, and permeability. Foundations, embankments, retaining walls, earthworks and underground openings are all designed in part with theories from soil mechanics.

Basic characteristics of soils

Soil is usually composed of three phases: solid, liquid, and gas. The mechanical properties of soils depend directly on the interactions of these phases with each other and with applied potentials (e.g., stress, hydraulic head, electrical potential, and temperature difference).
The solid phase of soils contains various amounts of crystalline clay and non-clay minerals, noncrystalline clay material, organic matter, and precipitated salts . These minerals are commonly formed by atoms of elements such as oxygen, silicon, hydrogen, and aluminum, organized in various crystalline forms. These elements along with calcium, sodium, potassium, magnesium, and carbon comprise over 99% of the solid mass of soils.
Different criteria can be used to define the point of "failure" in a stress-strain curve of a particular material. Failure and yield should not be confused. There is no unique way of defining failure. For some material failure can be assumed to be the yield point. For soils, "failure" is usually considered occurring at 15% to 20% strain . This deformation usually implies that the function of a particular structure, e.g. a building foundation, might be impaired but not have failed. Failure of the soil does not imply failure of the system. In this sense, the shear strength of soils can be defined as the maximum stress applied on any plane in a soil mass at some strain considered as "failure".
There are different failure criteria that define failure. The Mohr-Coulomb failure criterion is the most common empirical failure criterion used in soil mechanics. In terms of effective stress the Mohr-Coulomb criterion is defined as:
\tau_f = c' + \sigma_f ' \tan \phi '\,
where \tau_f \, is shear strength at failure, c' \, is effective cohesion, \sigma_f '\, is effective stress at failure, and \phi '\, is the effective angle of friction, a parametrization of the average coefficient of friction \mu \, on the sliding plane, where \mu = tan \phi '\,.
The stress-strain relationship of soils, and therefore the shearing strength, is affected by :
  1. soil composition (basic soil material): mineralogy, grain size and grain size distribution, shape of particles, pore fluid type and content, ions on grain and in pore fluid.
  2. state (initial): Define by the initial void ratio, effective normal stress and shear stress (stress history). State can be describe by terms such as: loose, dense, overconsolidated, normally consolidated, stiff, soft, contractive, dilative, etc.
  3. structure: Refers to the arrangement of particles within the soil mass; the manner in which the particles are packed or distributed. Features such as layers, joints, fissures, slickensides, voids, pockets, cementation, etc, are part of the structure. Structure of soils is described by terms such as: undisturbed, disturbed, remolded, compacted, cemented; flocculent, honey-combed, single-grained; flocculated, deflocculated; stratified, layered, laminated; isotropic and anisotropic.
  4. Loading conditions: Effective stress path -drained, undrained, and type of loading -magnitude, rate (static, dynamic), and time history (monotonic, cyclic).
In reality, a complete shear strength formulation would account for all these factors.
Laboratory tests, e.g. direct shear test, Triaxial shear test, simple shear test, using different drainage conditions (drained or undrained), rate of loading, range of confining pressures, and stress history, are used for determining values of shear strength: unconfined compressive strength, drained shear strength, undrained shear strength, peak strength, critical state shear strength, and residual strength.


Consolidation is a process by which soils decrease in volume. It occurs when stress is applied to a soil that causes the soil particles to pack together more tightly, therefore reducing volume. When this occurs in a soil that is saturated with water, water will be squeezed out of the soil. The magnitude of consolidation can be predicted by many different methods. In the Classical Method, developed by Karl Terzaghi, soils are tested with an oedometer test to determine their compression index. This can be used to predict the amount of consolidation.
When stress is removed from a consolidated soil, the soil will rebound, regaining some of the volume it had lost in the consolidation process. If the stress is reapplied, the soil will consolidate again along a recompression curve, defined by the recompression index. The soil which had its load removed is considered to be overconsolidated. This is the case for soils which have previously had glaciers on them. The highest stress that it has been subjected to is termed the preconsolidation stress. A soil which is currently experiencing its highest stress is said to be normally consolidated.

Lateral earth pressure

Lateral earth stress theory is used to estimate the amount of stress soil can exert perpendicular to gravity. This is the stress exerted on retaining walls. A lateral earth stress coefficient, K, is defined as the ratio of lateral (horizontal) stress to vertical stress for cohesionless soils (K=σh/σv). There are three coefficients: at-rest, active, and passive. At-rest stress is the lateral stress in the ground before any disturbance takes place. The active stress state is reached when a wall moves away from the soil under the influence of lateral stress, and results from shear failure due to reduction of lateral stress. The passive stress state is reached when a wall is pushed into the soil far enough to cause shear failure within the mass due to increase of lateral stress. There are many theories for estimating lateral earth stress; some are empirically based, and some are analytically derived.

Bearing capacity

The bearing capacity of soil is the average contact stress between a foundation and the soil which will cause shear failure in the soil. Allowable bearing stress is the bearing capacity divided by a factor of safety. Sometimes, on soft soil sites, large settlements may occur under loaded foundations without actual shear failure occurring; in such cases, the allowable bearing stress is determined with regard to the maximum allowable settlement.
Three modes of failure are possible in soil: general shear failure, local shear failure, and punching shear failure.

Slope stability

The field of slope stability encompasses the analysis of static and dynamic stability of slopes of earth and rock-fill dams, slopes of other types of embankments, excavated slopes, and natural slopes in soil and soft rock.
As seen to the right, earthen slopes can develop a cut-spherical weakness zone. The probability of this happening can be calculated in advance using a simple 2-D circular analysis package. A primary difficulty with analysis is locating the most-probable slip plane for any given situation. Many landslides have only been analyzed after the fact.

Permeability and seepage

Seepage is the flow of a fluid through soil pores. After measuring or estimating the intrinsic permeability (κi), one can calculate the hydraulic conductivity (K) of a soil, and the rate of seepage can be estimated. K has the units m/s and is the average velocity of water passing through a porous medium under a unit hydraulic gradient. It is the proportionality constant between average velocity and hydraulic gradient in Darcy's Law. In most natural and engineering situations the hydraulic gradient is less than one, so the value of K for a soil generally represents the maximum likely velocity of seepage. A typical value of hydraulic conductivity for natural sands is around 1x10-3m/s, while K for clays is similar to that of concrete. The quantity of seepage under dams and sheet piling can be estimated using the graphical construction known as a flownet.
When the seepage velocity is great enough, erosion can occur because of the frictional drag exerted on the soil particles. Vertically upwards seepage is a source of danger on the downstream side of sheet piling and beneath the toe of a dam or levee. Erosion of the soil, known as "piping", can lead to failure of the structure and to sinkhole formation. Seeping water removes soil, starting from the exit point of the seepage, and erosion advances upgradient. The term sand boil is used to describe the appearance of the discharging end of an active soil pipe.
Seepage in an upward direction reduces the effective stress within soil. In cases where the hydraulic gradient is equal to or greater than the critical gradient (i.e. when the water pressure in the soil is equal to the total vertical stress at a point), effective stress is reduced to zero. When this occurs in a non-cohesive soil, a "quick" condition is reached and the soil becomes a heavy fluid (i.e. liquefaction has occurred). Quicksand was so named because the soil particles move around and appear to be 'alive' (the biblical meaning of 'quick' - as opposed to 'dead'). (Note that it is not possible to be 'sucked down' into quicksand. On the contrary, you would float with about half your body out of the water.)

See also



  • Das, Braja, Advanced Soil Mechanics ISBN 1-56032-562-3
  • Terzaghi, K., 1943, Theoretical Soil Mechanics, John Wiley and Sons, New York
  • Craig, R.F., 1974, Soil Mechanics, ISBN 0-419-22450-5
  • Powrie, W., Soil Mechanics, (1997), ISBN 0-415-31156-X
seepage in Arabic: ميكانيكا التربة
seepage in German: Bodenmechanik
seepage in Spanish: Mecánica de suelos
seepage in French: Mécanique des sols
seepage in Croatian: Mehanika tla
seepage in Indonesian: Mekanika tanah
seepage in Dutch: Grondmechanica
seepage in Polish: Mechanika gruntów
seepage in Portuguese: Mecânica dos solos
seepage in Serbian: Механика тла
seepage in Sundanese: Mékanika taneuh
seepage in Vietnamese: Cơ học đất
seepage in Ukrainian: Механіка ґрунтів
seepage in Chinese: 土力学

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