# Retaining Wall: Saturated Soil & Hydrostatic Pressure

I understand that Hydrostatic pressure and Soil pressure exist concurrently. I'm curious how these separate loads interact with each other.

Full disclaimer: I am not an engineer nor do I pretend to be one. I recognize that these are very broad & elementary questions; I am at the early stages of my understanding. Please be assured I am not, and will not, attempt to engineer actual structures.

1. Does the pore size limit, in any way, the surface area available for hydrostatic loading on the back of a retaining wall? I assume it does not. It would stand to reason that water under pressure would suspend the soil particles and push its way to the point where most of the surface area on the back of the wall was under a hydrostatic load?
2. Soil particules become suspended in water while a hydrostaic load is present. Does this (or any other water related factor) affect the overall soil load or does it remain the same?
3. Is the total load on the wall simply $\frac{H^2}{2}(\gamma_s K_a + \gamma_w)$ (Where $\gamma_s$ and $\gamma_w$ are the soil and water densities, respectively)?
• pore size and soil type will have large effects - a clay type soil can provide a water seal etc. Aug 20, 2017 at 19:36
• If clay forms a water seal, with hydrostatic pressure behind it does the pressure get through to the wall by placing those clays under pressure? I understand clay certainly can affect the flow of water, and lead to hydrostatic pressure developing, but once present how does it interact with the soil load? Does the hydrostatic load increase linearly or as more water is added does some type of liquefaction occur that drastically changes the soil load? Aug 20, 2017 at 19:52 Have a look on above photo (on your right hand side).

You will see how the loads are distributed if the water level is less the the retaining wall height. The area of the green surface will be the lateral loads on the wall. Hope this will give you a basic understanding about distribution of loads.

1. Does the pore size limit, in any way, the surface area available for hydrostatic loading on the back of a retaining wall? ...

It does not limit the surface contact area. The hydrostatic pressure and the soil load act on the wall concurrently. However, as you noted, the soil load is reduced because the effective weight of the soil is reduced due to buoyant forces. See below answer for more about that.

What the pore-size does do is potentially control other aspects of design- namely, whether the design should consider drained or undrained conditions. A small pore size should consider undrained conditions. Undrained conditions may not need to be considered for granular soils with proper draining, depending on the assumed location of the water table.

1. Soil particules become suspended in water while a hydrostaic load is present. Does this (or any other water related factor) affect the overall soil load or does it remain the same?

The presence of water impacts the soil load, as does movement of the wall away from the wall (active soil pressure) or toward the soil (passive soil pressure), or nonmovement of the wall (at-rest soil pressure).

1. Is the total load on the wall simply $\frac{H^2}{2}(\gamma_s K_a + \gamma_w)$ (Where $\gamma_s$ and $\gamma_w$ are the soil and water densities, respectively)?

If the effective unit soil weight is multiplied by the lateral pressure coefficient ($K_0$ which denotes at-rest, $K_a$, or $K_p$, depending on whether the wall is moving and what direction it is moving), it can be combined with the unit weight of water to determine an equivalent fluid pressure (EFP). The effective soil unit weight $\gamma'$ is the saturated weight $\gamma_{sat}$ minus the unit weight of water, $\gamma_W$.

Therefore:

$$\gamma_{EFP}=K\gamma'+\gamma_W$$

$$\frac{1}{2}H^2\gamma_{EFP}$$