Sinking during earthquakes: Critical acceleration criteria control drained soil liquefaction

C. Clément, R. Toussaint*, M. Stojanova, E. Aharonov

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


This article focuses on liquefaction of saturated granular soils, triggered by earthquakes. Liquefaction is defined here as the transition from a rigid state, in which the granular soil layer supports structures placed on its surface, to a fluidlike state, in which structures placed initially on the surface sink to their isostatic depth within the granular layer. We suggest a simple theoretical model for soil liquefaction and show that buoyancy caused by the presence of water inside a granular medium has a dramatic influence on the stability of an intruder resting at the surface of the medium. We confirm this hypothesis by comparison with laboratory experiments and discrete-element numerical simulations. The external excitation representing ground motion during earthquakes is simulated via horizontal sinusoidal oscillations of controlled frequency and amplitude. In the experiments, we use particles only slightly denser than water, which as predicted theoretically increases the effect of liquefaction and allows clear depth-of-sinking measurements. In the simulations, a micromechanical model simulates grains using molecular dynamics with friction between neighbors. The effect of the fluid is captured by taking into account buoyancy effects on the grains when they are immersed. We show that the motion of an intruder inside a granular medium is mainly dependent on the peak acceleration of the ground motion and establish a phase diagram for the conditions under which liquefaction happens, depending on the soil bulk density, friction properties, presence of water, and peak acceleration of the imposed large-scale soil vibrations. We establish that in liquefaction conditions, most cases relax toward an equilibrium position following an exponential in time. We also show that the equilibrium position itself, for most liquefaction regimes, corresponds to the isostatic equilibrium of the intruder inside a medium of effective density. The characteristic time to relaxation is shown to be essentially a function of the peak ground velocity.

Original languageAmerican English
Article number022905
JournalPhysical Review E
Issue number2
StatePublished - 21 Feb 2018

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018 American Physical Society.


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