American Society of Civil Engineers

The Arch in Soil Arching

by Richard L. Handy, M.ASCE, (Prof. of Civ. Engrg., Iowa State Univ., Ames, Iowa 50011)

Journal of Geotechnical Engineering
, Vol. 111, No. 3, March 1985, pp. 302-318, (doi:

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Document type: Journal Paper
Award Title: Thomas A. Middlebrooks Award, 1986
Discussion: by C. Gary Kellogg    (See full record)
Discussion: by James F. Quinlan    (See full record)
Closure:(See full record)
Abstract: Soil arching action or “bin effect” is usually quantified by use of a horizontal differential element whose support derives in part from Rankine theory. In the 1940’s, Krynine mathematically proved this incorrect. The present analysis substitutes a catenary arch describing the path of the minor principal stress, which thus is complementary to a structural arch, and dips downward instead of upward if supportive. Soil arching action develops in two stages: The first involves rotation of the principal stresses adjacent to a rough wall and causes horizontal wall pressures to significantly exceed those from classical theory, simulating a Ko pressure distribution even in loose backfill soil. The second stage reduces pressures on the lower wall to give a curvilinear distribution typically centered at a height 0.42 times the height of the wall and in close agreement with published data.

ASCE Subject Headings:
ASCE awards & prizes
Earth pressure
Retaining structures