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    Relevance of Atterberg Limits in Evaluating Piping and Breaching Potential

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    In the last ten years, several researchers have contended that methods in use in soil mechanics do not permit identification of so-called dispersive clays, which are highly susceptible to piping and breaching. They also claim that current design criteria are unreliable for preventing piping and breaching in dam embankments and foundations.

    On the basis of available information, the paper reanalyzes whether or not Atterberg limits as used in soil mechanics provide a means to predict piping and breaching potential. To that end, a critical review is made of relevant theoretical knowledge and empirical information regarding the effects of soil properties, compaction, and environment conditions on soil susceptibility to dispersion and erosion.

    It is concluded that Skempton's activity, an index derived directly from Atterberg limits, is an excellent indicator of the piping and breaching potential of soils, though compaction water content and salinity of the percolating water should be accounted for as well. The implications of this conclusion on design criteria for water-retaining structures is also discussed.


    clays, dispersions, deflocculation, Atterberg limits, activity, dams, piping, breaching, erosion

    Author Information:

    Reséndiz, D
    Research professor and director, Instituto de Ingeniería, National University of Mexico, Mexico City,

    Committee/Subcommittee: D18.01

    DOI: 10.1520/STP26998S