Seismic testing of model-scale geosynthetic-reinforced soil walls


This paper presents an experimental study on a series of reduced-scale model GRS walls with Full-Height-Rigid facings conducted on a shake-table at the University of Canterbury. Each model was 900 mm high, reinforced by five layers of stiff Microgrid reinforcement and constructed of dry dense Albany sand. The ratio of geogrid length L to wall height H, L/H, was varied from 0.6 to 0.9, while the wall inclination was generally vertical (90° to horizontal) with 70° for one test. During sinusoidal shaking, facing displacements and accelerations within the backfill were recorded. Failure for all models was predominantly by overturning, with some small sliding component generated in the final shaking step. An increase in L/H resulted in a decrease in wall displacement, while a decrease in wall inclination from the vertical resulted in similar benefits. Detailed analysis of the deformation of one of the tests is presented. During testing, global and local deformations within the backfill were investigated using two methods: the first utilised coloured horizontal and vertical sand markers placed within the backfill; the second utilised high-speed camera imaging for subsequent analysis using Geotechnical Particle Image Velocimetry (GeoPIV) software. GeoPIV enabled strains to be identified within the soil at far smaller strain levels than that rendered visible using the coloured sand markers. These complementary methods allowed the spatial and temporal progressive development of deformation within the reinforced and retained backfill to be examined.


Tatsuoka, F. (2008). “Geosynthetic-reinforced soil structures: A cost-effective solution combining two engineering disciplines”, 19th Carillo Lecture - Mexican Society for Soil Mechanics, Aguascalientes, Mexico.

Federal Highways Administration (FHWA) (2001). “Mechancially Stabilized Earth Walls and Reinforced Soil Slopes Design and Construction Guidelines”.

El-Emam, M.M. and Bathurst, R.J. (2004). "Experimental Design, Instrumentation and Interpretation of Reinforced Soil Wall Response Using A Shaking Table", International Journal of Physical Modelling in Geotechnics, 4, 13-32. DOI:

Fairless, G.J. (1989). “Seismic Performance of Reinforced Earth Walls,” Department of Civil Engineering, University of Canterbury, Christchurch.

Jones, C.J.F.P. (1996). “Earth reinforcement and soil structures”, Thomas Telford, London. DOI:

White, D.J. and Take, W.A. (2002). “GeoPIV: Particle Image Velocimetry for use in geotechnical engineering”, Cambridge University Engineering Department, Cambridge.

Murashev, A.K. (2003). “Guidelines for Design and Construction of Geosynthetic-Reinforced Soil Structures”, Transfund New Zealand.

Murashev, A.K. (1998). “Design and construction of geosynthetic-reinforced soil structures in New Zealand”, Transfund New Zealand.

Sandri, D. (1997). “Performance summary of reinforced soil structures in the Greater Los Angeles area after the Northridge earthquake”, Geotextiles and Geomembranes, 15(4-6), 235-253. DOI:

Ling, H.I., Leshchinsky, D. and Chou, N.N.S. (2001). "Post-earthquake investigation on several geosynthetic-reinforced soil retaining walls and slopes during the Ji-ji earthquake of Taiwan. Soil Dynamics Earthquake Engineering 21, 297-313. DOI:

Stevens, G. (2011). “Observations on the effects of the Christchurch Earthquake on structures incorporating Geosynthetic and Mesh Reinforcement”, New Zealand Geomechanics News, 81, 68 - 72.

Cubrinovski, M., Bradley, B., Wotherspoon, L., Green, R., Bray, J., Wood, C., Pender, M., Allen, J., Bradshaw, A., Rix, G., Taylor, M., Robinson, K., Henderson, D., Giorgini, S., Ma, K., Winkley, A., Zupan, J., O'Rourke, T., DePascale, G. and Wells, D. (2011). “Geotechnical Aspects of the 22 February 2011 Christchurch earthquake”, Bulletin of the New Zealand Society of Earthquake Engineering, 44(4), 205-226.

El-Emam, M.M. and Bathurst, R.J. (2005). "Erratum: Facing contribution to seismic response of reduced-scale reinforced soil walls”, Geosynthetics International 12(5), 215-238. DOI:

El-Emam, M.M. and Bathurst, R.J. (2007). "Influence of reinforcement parameters on the seismic response of reduced-scale reinforced soil retaining walls", Geotextiles and Geomembranes, 25(1), 33-49. DOI:

Watanabe, K., Munaf, Y., Koseki, J., Tateyama, M. and Kojima, K. (2003). "Behaviors of several types of model retaining walls subjected to irregular excitation", Soils and Foundations, 43(5), 13-27. DOI:

Sabermahani, M., Ghalandarzadeh, A. and Fakher, A. (2009). "Experimental study on seismic deformation modes of reinforced soil-walls", Geotextiles and Geomembranes, 27, 121-136. DOI:

Nova-Roessig, L. and Sitar, N. (2006). "Centrifuge model studies of the seismic response of reinforced soil slopes", Journal of Geotechnical and Geoenvironmental Engineering, 132(3), 388-400. DOI:

Izawa, J. and Kuwano, J. (2008). “Centrifuge shaking table tests on saturated reinforced soil walls”, Proceeding of the 4th Asian Regional Conference on Geosynthetics 1:191-196.

Howard, R., Kutter, B. and Siddharthan, R. “Seismic deformation of reinforced soil centrifuge models”, Geotechnical Earthquake Engineering and Soil Dynamics III, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington, USA.

Zornberg, J. G. and Arriaga, F. (2003). “Strain distribution within geosynthetic-reinforced slopes”, Journal of Geotechnical and Geoenvironmental Engineering, 129(1), 32-45. DOI:

Watanabe, K., Koseki,J. and Tateyama M. (2005). “Application of High-Speed Digital CCD Cameras to Observe Static and Dynamic Deformation Characteristics of Sand”, Geotechnical Testing Journal, Vol. 28, No. 5.

Marketos, G. and Madabhushi, S.P.G. (2004). “An investigation of the failure mechanism of a cantilever retaining wall under earthquake loading”, International Journal of Physical Modelling in Geotechnics, 4, 33-44. DOI:

White, D.J., Take, W.A. and Bolton, M.D. (2003). “Soil Deformation measurement using particle image velocimetry (PIV) and photogrammetry”, Geotechnique, 3(7), 619 - 631. DOI:

Iai, S. (1989). “Similitude for shaking table tests on soil-structure-fluid model in 1g gravitational field”, Soils and Foundations, 29(1), 105-118. DOI:

Jackson, P. (2010). “An Investigation into the deformation behaviour of geosynthetic reinforced soil walls under seismic loading”, ME thesis, University of Canterbury, Christchurch.

Matsuo, O., Yokoyama, K. and Saito, Y. (1998). “Shaking table tests and analyses of geosynthetic-reinforced soil retaining walls”, Geosynthetics International, 5, 97 - 126. DOI:

Bowman, E.T., Jackson, P., Cubrinovski, M., Fannin, R.J., (2011). “Progressive failure and shear band development within model-scale reinforced soil walls subject to seismic shaking”, Géotechnique Letters, 1, 53 - 57. DOI:

Richards, R., Jr. and Elms, D. G. (1979). “Seismic behaviour of gravity retaining walls”, J. Geotechnical Engineering. Div., 105(4), 449–469.

Newmark, N.M., (1965). Effects of Earthquakes on Dams and Embankments”, Géotechnique, Vol. 15, No. 2, pp. 139-160.

How to Cite
Jackson, P., Bowman, E. T., & Cubrinovski, M. (2012). Seismic testing of model-scale geosynthetic-reinforced soil walls. Bulletin of the New Zealand Society for Earthquake Engineering, 45(4), 171-183.

Most read articles by the same author(s)