Foundation, Concrete and Earthquake Engineering

Different Types of Earth Pressure Cells, Their Applications and Construction of Isobar Diagram Using Them-8

2.1 Theory of Operation

Earth Pressure Cells, sometimes called Total Pressure Cells or Total Stress Cells are designed to measure stresses in soil or the pressure of soil on structures. Cells will respond not only to soil pressures but also to ground water pressures or to pore water pressure, hence the term total pressure or total stress. A simultaneous measurement of pore water pressure (μ), using a piezometer, is necessary to separate the effective stress (σ) from the total stress (σ') as defined by

Terzaghi's principle of effective stresses where;

σ = σ' + μ

These parameters coupled with the soil strength characteristics will determine soil behavior under loads.

Earth pressure cells of the type described here are the hydraulic type; two flat plates are welded together at their periphery and are separated by a small gap filled with a hydraulic fluid. The earth pressure acts to squeeze the two plates together thus building up a pressure inside the fluid. If the plates are flexible enough, i.e. if they are thin enough relative to their lateral extent, then at the center of the plate the supporting effect of the welded periphery is negligible and it can be stated that at the center of the cell the external soil pressure is exactly balanced by the internal fluid pressure.

This is true only if the deflection of the plates is kept to a minimum and thus it is important that the cell be stiff. This in a practical sense means that the fluid inside the cell should be as incompressible as possible and that the pressure transducer required measuring the fluid pressure should also be stiff having very little volume change under increasing pressure. The introduction of a flat stress cell into a soil mass will alter the stress field in a way dependent on the relative stiffness of the cell with respect to the soil and also with respect to the aspect ratio of the cell, i.e. the ratio of the width of the cell to its thickness. A thick cell will alter the stress more than a thin cell. Hence, for these reasons, a thin, stiff cell is best and studies have shown an aspect ration of at least 20 to 1 to be desirable.'

Ideally, the cell ought to be as stiff (compressible) as the soil. But in practice this is difficult to achieve. If the cell is stiffer (less compressible) than the soil then it will over-register the soil pressure because of a zone of soil immediately around the cell which is "sheltered" by the cell so that it does not experience the full soil pressure. This can be represented schematically as shown in Figure.2.1.

Stress Redistribution, Weak Soil with Stiff Cell
Fig. 2.1: Stress Redistribution, Weak Soil with Stiff Cell

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