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Concept# Lateral earth pressure

Summary

Lateral earth pressure is the pressure that soil exerts in the horizontal direction. The lateral earth pressure is important because it affects the consolidation behavior and strength of the soil and because it is considered in the design of geotechnical engineering structures such as retaining walls, basements, tunnels, deep foundations and braced excavations.
The earth pressure problem dates from the beginning of the 18th century, when Gautier listed five areas requiring research, one of which was the dimensions of gravity-retaining walls needed to hold back soil. However, the first major contribution to the field of earth pressures was made several decades later by Coulomb, who considered a rigid mass of soil sliding upon a shear surface. Rankine extended earth pressure theory by deriving a solution for a complete soil mass in a state of failure, as compared with Coulomb's solution which had considered a soil mass bounded by a single failure surface. Originally, the Rankine's theory considered the case of only cohesionless soils. However, this theory has subsequently been extended by Bell to cover the case of soils possessing both cohesion and friction. Caquot and Kerisel modified Muller-Breslau's equations to account for a nonplanar rupture surface.
The coefficient of lateral earth pressure, K, is defined as the ratio of the horizontal effective stress, σ’h, to the vertical effective stress, σ’v. The effective stress is the intergranular stress calculated by subtracting the pore pressure from the total stress as described in soil mechanics. K for a particular soil deposit is a function of the soil properties and the stress history. The minimum stable value of K is called the active earth pressure coefficient, Ka; the active earth pressure is obtained, for example, when a retaining wall moves away from the soil. The maximum stable value of K is called the passive earth pressure coefficient, Kp; the passive earth pressure would develop, for example against a vertical plow that is pushing soil horizontally.

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