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STIFFNESS OF SAND

D Kallehave, C LeBlanc Thilsted and MA Liingaard

DONG Energy A/S, Fredericia, Denmark

Abstract

Monopiles are currently the preferred concept of support structures for offshore wind turbines. However, experiences from operating offshore wind farms indicate that the current design guidelines (e.g. American Petroleum Institute (API)) under-predict the soil stiffness for large-diameter monopiles. Due to the structural

dynamic of a wind turbine, it is unconservative to both over-predict and under-predict the soil stiffness. Only

an exact prediction is conservative. The objective with this paper is to introduce an approximate method for

determining the soil stiffness of sand regarding large-diameter monopiles by modifying the initial stiffness of

the API p-y formulation. The modification introduces both a stress level and a strain level correction derived

on basis of sound theoretical considerations without introducing new empirical parameters. It has been shown

by benchmarking with full-scale measurements from Walney offshore wind farm that the modified approach

provides a more accurate determination of the total soil stiffness, although it is still under-predicted.

1. Introduction

Walney offshore wind farm (see Figure 1) reveal an

under-prediction of the wind turbine structures fundamental frequency of ~57%. Figure 1 shows the

relative frequency deviation (fRel) being the difference between the measured and predicted frequency

relative to the predicted frequency. Each dot represents a 10min average measured value in the period

15 August 2011 to 26 September 2011. The measured frequencies are seen to drop slightly at high

wind speeds, which is most likely due to an increased load cycle amplitude at such wind speeds.

the oil and gas industry, as the demand for large

pile-supported offshore structures increased during

the 1970s and 1980s. Research has included testing

of full-sized piles in sand under both static and cyclic loading conditions. The p-y curves for piles in

sand described by Reese et al. (1974) and ONeill

and Murchison (1983) led to recommendations in

the American Petroleum Institute (API) standards

for oil and gas installations (2011). In 2004 these

recommendations were adopted in the Det Norske

Veritas (DNV) standard (2004), which represents the

current state of the art for design of monopiles in the

offshore wind industry. The p-y curves for piles in

sand were developed based on full-scale load tests

on long, slender and flexible piles with a diameter of

0.61m (Reese et al., 1974). In addition, they have

been widely applied to relatively shorter and stiffer

piles with diameters up to 6.0m in the offshore wind

turbine industry.

structures, under-predicting the stiffness is conservative. However, because of the structural dynamic of

a wind turbine, both over-predicting and underpredicting the soil stiffness is unconservative. Only

an exact prediction is conservative. It must be emphasised that the p-y curves have never been developed with the objective to accurately predict the soil

stiffness for large-diameter piles.

The objective of this paper is therefore to present

modifications to the current p-y curves that result in

a better prediction of the soil stiffness. From a commercial point of view, under-predicting the soil

stiffness increases uncertainties, adds additional but

unnecessary costs to the industry and decreases the

feasibility of the monopile foundation. Moreover, in

the worst case it could have a negative influence on

the structural lifetime.

The impacts of applying p-y curves empirically developed outside the verified range can now be observed. Nacelle measurements from DONG Energys offshore wind turbines show that the fundamental frequencies are much higher than bestestimate predictions using the API p-y formulation

for piles in sand. This may be due to an underprediction of the soil stiffness. For example, fullscale measurements for three randomly chosen off-

465

where A = 0.9 is a factor to account for cyclic loading; k is the initial modulus of sub-grade reaction according to Reese et al. (1974); z is the depth; and pu

is the modified ultimate soil resistance, according to

Bogard and Matlock (1980). It is given by:

(2)

where c1, c2 and c3 are factors depending on the internal friction angle of the sand; D is the diameter of

the pile; and is the effective soil weight. In the current formulation, the initial slope of the p-y curve is

assumed to be:

(3)

was first suggested by Parker and Reese (1970) as

the best fit of p-y curves to be described as a continuous function providing a smooth transition between the initial slope of the curve and the ultimate

soil resistance. This shape then assumes that the degradation of stiffness as a function of increasing deformation can be represented by the tangent hyperbolic function. In addition, it can be assumed that the

shape of the curve is scaled mainly through the ultimate soil resistance.

ONeill and Murchison (1983) show that the currently applied method is a best estimate after reviewing a database of full-scale load tests with diameters

in the range of 51mm to 1.22m. They concluded that

it could not reasonably be expected to under-predict

static pile-head displacement by more than about

70%, or static maximum moment by more than

about 20%, although over-predictions in both cases

can be higher. Over-predicting the pile-head displacement is equivalent to under-predicting the soil

stiffness and would result in an under-prediction of

the fundamental frequency of the wind turbine structure, as shown in Figure 1.

The API p-y curves for two different pile diameters

is shown in Figure 2. They are D = 0.61m, which is

equivalent to the pile diameter in the Mustang Island

tests reported by Reese et al. (1974), and D = 6m,

which is a typical pile diameter for offshore wind

turbine monopile foundations. The p-y curves are

shown plotted for a depth of 8m and for an internal

friction angle of 39 equivalent to the Mustang Island test site. The considerations shown in Equations

2 and 3 are directly observed in the figure.

wind turbines in the Walney offshore wind farm

The API p-y formulation for piles in sand (API,

2011), are based upon the recommendations from

ONeill and Murchison (1983) and Reese et al.

(1974). The lateral soil resistance (p) as a function of

the lateral deflection (y) are then assumed as:

A review of input parameters and the chosen shape of

the API p-y curve is needed to identify short-comings

that could potentially explain why a larger soil stiffness is observed for large diameter piles, as shown in

Figure 1. The governing parameters are the ultimate

soil resistance, the initial modulus of subgrade reac-

(1)

466

pile than a 0.61m diameter pile for a deformation

level of 1mm. It is easily observed form Figure 2

that the API p-y formulation do not properly account

for changes in strain levels in the soil as a result of

diameter variations.

finally the representation of the strain level.

D = 0.61m and (dashed line) D = 6m, with z = 8m

Considering the ultimate soil resistance obtained

from Equation 2, the expression represents the failure mode of shallow and deep soil layers. It is also a

slight simplification of the ultimate soil resistance by

Reese et al. (1974), which used large efforts to derive a rigorous theoretical basis for ultimate soil resistance. This basis accounts for the pile diameter,

and it is currently assumed to be equally applicable

to large-diameter piles. The formulations were

adopted by API and have long, proven track records

from the oil and gas industry. Thus, in respect of ultimate soil resistance, the formulation by Reese et al.

(1974) is considered adequate in this paper for the

design of large-diameter piles, although they might

turn out to be over-conservative.

strain: (hollow markers) D = 0.61m; (solid markers) D = 6m;

() y = 0.02mm; () y = 1mm; () y = 5mm

is supported by the diameter effects included in the

p-y formulation for piles in clay (Stevens and Audibert, 1979). Stevens and Audibert recasted existing

p-y formulations for piles in clay with a dependency

on pile diameter. After reviewing a broader database

of load tests, including large-diameter piles, they

were able to derive an expression for the initial p-y

slope increasing with the square root of pile diameter. Later research has revealed that a gradual transition between the modulus reduction behaviour of

sand and clay (e.g. Ishibashi and Zhang (1993) supporting that a formulation similar to that of Stevens

and Audibert) could potentially be equally applicable for piles in sand.

First, a lateral depth related to the diameter of the

pile, in which strains are mobilised as, for example,

the concept in Terzaghi (1955) of bulb of pressure,

is assumed. The average shear strain () mobilised

for a lateral pile movement (y) in the soil around the

pile are given by Kagawa and Kraft (1980), after

Matlock (1970):

The applied initial sub-grade reaction modulus (k) is

obtained from Meyer and Reese (1979) and is directly evaluated from Reese et al. (1974). The initial

sub-grade reaction modulus is defined from the theory of linear elasticity (Terzaghi, 1955). Therefore,

when considering the behaviour of sand, it is applicable for very small strain levels (<105). This suggests that in general the initial sub-grade reaction

modulus should be applied when determining the

initial slope of the p-y curve. As shown in Figure 3,

the soil modulus is already affected for deformations

larger than 0.02mm for the Mustang Island test setup

and reduced to ~50% for a deflection of 1mm. A linearisation of this part of the curve would therefore

seem logical, although it would result in k being a

(4)

then follows that the shear strain decreases as the diameter increases. Decreased shear strains yield an

increase of soil shear modulus, which will effectively increase the p-y stiffness as the diameter increases. This is shown in Figure 3 following the

stiffness degradation approach given in Khouri

(1984). The markers illustrate the concept for lateral

deformations for a 0.61m and a 6m diameter pile, respectively. Following the results of Figure 3, the

slope of the p-y curve should theoretically be ap467

It is the opinion of the authors that k should be considered as the initial modulus of sub-grade reaction

and hence a constant. However, the soil modulus

should be evaluated based on the correct strain level.

It is therefore questionable if the API p-y formulation

is the best estimate for evaluating deformations of

large-diameter piles when the choice of the shape of

the curve and n depends on a particular deflected

shape of the pile.

initial sub-grade reaction modulus is not investigated

even though it could be subjected to variations not

accounted for in the API approach. In general an in

situ evaluation of k would yield more accurate results.

2.1.4 Initial stiffness profile

The current p-y formulation assumes the initial stiffness to increase linearly with depth, however, as is

well recognised for sand, the response is governed

by the isotropic stress level. A common attempt to

account for the influence of isotropic stress level can

be made by expressing the soil modulus (E) as:

Based on this review of the governing parameters, the

API p-y formulation seems to provide a poor representation of the small strain stiffness variation with

depth and the rate of stiffness degradation with increasing shear strain. Considering the behaviour of

other geotechnical structures, Clayton (2011) analysed the deformation of a retaining wall by a range

of constitutive models. He concluded that high initial

stiffness, coupled with stiffness degradation with increasing strain, is needed to mimic the pattern of observed ground surface movements for structures that

take the soil to intermediate strain levels. Clayton also

states that predicted displacement patterns are sensitive to most parameters, including very small strain

stiffness, rate of stiffness degradation, and anisotropy.

(5)

is a reference

effective stress level for which . This formulation is equally applicable to the shear modulus of

the sand (G).

Much research has been carried out to determine the

variation of the small strain soil moduli E and G as a

function of the confining pressure. Hertz (1881)

found that n = 0.33 for uniform spheres by applying

contact theory, and Goddard (1990) reported n = 0.5

for conical asperities. Based on measurements on real

soil Hardin and Richart (1963), Hardin and Black

(1968) and Drnevich and Richart (1970) all suggested

applying n = 0.5 as a representative value. Considering the range of values reported in the literature, Hryciw and Thomann (1993) reported values of n ranging

from 0.39 to 0.72 based on bender element tests on

various sands. Wichtmann and Triantafyllidis (2009)

carried out 163 resonant column tests on 25 different

grain size distributions of quartz sand with subangular grain shape. They found n ranging from 0.41

to 0.58, increasing with decreasing uniformity of the

sand grains. Furthermore, Wroth et al. (1979) reported values of n to vary from 0.435 at very small

strains, to 0.765 at very large strains.

strain stiffness variation with depth and the rate of

stiffness degradation with increasing shear strain

could be justified to obtain a more accurate determination of the soil stiffness for large-diameter piles.

This justification could be based on the strain levels

observed in Figure 3 and the fact that the API approach has been fitted to a particular deformation

shape (Parker and Reese, 1970). As a matter of

choice, it is proposed to maintain the overall format

of the API p-y formulation, but include an isotropic

stress level correction for the small strain soil

modulus. In addition, a strain level correction is to

be included to account for the rate of stiffness degradation with increasing strain in the formulation of

the initial stiffness. The proposed modifications take

their set-point from the Mustang Island tests (Reese

et al., 1974).

3.1 Depth effects

On basis of fundamental behaviour of sand, and using

that is approximately proportional to z, it is reasonable to assume that the formulation could be

extended to account for the effective stress level by:

Parker and Reese (1970) discussed the representation of the initial stiffness of the p-y curve in a format equivalent to Equation 5. They concluded that

for a realistic problem, k and n may not be constants,

but may be functions of a number of parameters, one

of which is the deflection of the pile. Since the variation in soil modulus with depth may be approximated by a straight line for a particular deflected

shape, the use of Equation 3 as a computational

technique is valid.

(6)

original formulation and n is a site specific parameter expected to be in the range of 0.40.7.

468

pile diameter used to derive the original formulation

a diameter exponent. Stevens and Audibert suggest

applying m = 0.5 for clay. Tabulated values for m(y)

have been included in Table 1 for realistic values of

y after the stiffness degradation approach by Khouri

(1984) and for a pile diameter of 6m.

al., 1974) were primarily in the upper 5m (200

inches) of the soil, and the moment peak was ~2.5m

(100 inches) below the seabed. Thus, if = 2.5m is

used, then the modified formulation should remain

consistent with the Mustang Island tests. This modification causes a slightly higher stiffness above z =

2.5m and a slightly lower stiffness below z = 2.5m.

The curves fitted for the Mustang Island tests in

Reese et al. (1974) are reproduced in Figures 4 and

5. It is seen that the measured moment peaks were

actually above the predicted moment peaks. This

supports the conclusion that the soil stiffness must

have been higher above =2.5m and lower below z

= 2.5m. While this correction may have a small effect on the Mustang Island results, the effective

stress correction is important when scaling to larger

and stiffer piles, where layers of higher stress level

are mobilised.

y [mm]

M

1.0

2.5

5.0

7.5

10.0

0.29

0.41

0.52

0.58

0.63

degradation, m is a function of the deformation

shape of the pile. Therefore, the highest values of m

are applied for the top soil layers in which the pile

deformations are largest, and conversely, the smaller

values are applied for lower soil layers. However, as

a first approximation a constant value of m is assumed. By choosing m = 0.5, the stiffness of the top

soil layers will be under-predicted while the stiffness

of the lower layers will be over-predicted. It is therefore estimated that this will be a representative value

when evaluating the total soil stiffness.

3.3 Modified formulation

A modified formulation of the initial stiffness of the

p-y curve therefore applies. Combining Equations 6

and 7 gives:

Figure 4: Static Mustang Island test (Reese et al., 1974)

For completeness, the unmodified API p-y curve illustrated in Figure 2 is reproduced and plotted together with the modified p-y curves in Figure 7.

They are plotted in a depth of 8m, which is below

the reference depth. Hence the initial stiffness of the

p-y curve for the D = 0.61m pile decreases, whereas

the initial stiffness of the D = 6m pile increases. Applying Equation 8 instead of Equation 3 is therefore

expected to give a more accurate evaluation of the

soil stiffness, and hence the fundamental frequency

of wind turbine structures supported by monopile

foundations.

The approach by Stevens and Audibert (1979) suggest the diameter to be included in the formulation as:

(8)

formulation is consistent with the Mustang Island

tests. The modified formulation accounting both for

strain and stress level dependency is illustrated in

Figure 6 for a pile with D = 6m, together with the

individual contributions to the modified stiffness.

The figure is plotted for m = 0.6, as this value has

been used in the benchmark study in section 4.

(7)

469

modifications provide a better prediction of the fundamental frequency, although they have only been

verified for structures within one wind farm.

Equation 3; (dotted-dashed line) Equation 6; (dashed line)

Equation 7; (thick solid line) Equation 8, m = 0.6.

0.61m; (dashed lines) D = 6m and X= 8m; (thin lines) unmodified API p-y curve; (thick lines) modified API p-y curve

To validate Equation 8, the modification of the API

p-y formulation has been benchmarked against fullscale measurements from the same three wind turbines in the Walney offshore wind farm (see Figure

1). The results are shown in Figure 8 assuming m =

0.6. In general, the modified p-y formulation gives a

better prediction of the fundamental frequency and

hence the total soil stiffness, although it still underestimates the fundamental frequency with ~24%.

Based on the current level of knowledge, it is unwise

to assign the evaluated effects in the modified approach higher importance. More detailed analysis

and in situ measurements are needed to determine

and understand the complexity in the results and the

effects causing the remaining stiffness.

Equation 8 with full-scale measurements

A site-specific evaluation of the governing parameters k, m and n might therefore be required when

considering other structures. The current tuning has

only been made considering the total soil stiffness

and a constant strain level correction has been as-

The proposed modifications to the API p-y formulation have been derived on basis of theoretical considerations without the introduction of new empiri470

level correction depending on the deflection of the

pile would be more accurate. The resultant p-y

curves have not been compared to experimental determined p-y curves for large-diameter piles. This is

necessary to increase robustness of the proposed

modification. Therefore it is only recommended to

extend the formulation to other sites if more detailed

investigations and site-specific parameters are taken

into account.

During periods with high mean wind speed, a decrease of the fundamental frequency is observed. As

soon as the wind speed decreases, the fundamental

frequency increases to the same value as previously

observed for similar wind speed. This is expected to

be directly related to the variations of soil stiffness.

Based on this consideration and the current level of

knowledge, degradation of soil stiffness has not been

observed.

Therefore, the proposed modifications of the API py formulation provide a more accurate yet conservative approach in the determination of the total soil

stiffness than the unmodified approach. It is also believed that the soil stiffness will not degrade with

time. This hypothesis will need to be verified by

longer data records.

a period of one and a half months within the first

years of the Walney offshore wind farm lifetime. It

could therefore easily be argued that the fundamental frequency of the wind turbine structures would

decrease over time due to cyclic degradation of the

soil. This is why application of a stiffer soil response

should only be done with great caution. Although

based on a five-month long record of the fundamental frequency for more wind turbines and corresponding wind speeds, it has been found that variations in the fundamental frequency are due to

variations in the wind speed, as illustrated in Figure

9.

4. Conclusion

The current API p-y formulation was found to significantly underestimate the stiffness of sand. An attempt was made to derive corrections to the initial

stiffness of the API p-y curve by adding both a

stress-level and a diameter correction. These corrections were derived on basis of sound theoretical considerations without the introduction of new empirical parameters.

The modified p-y formulations were benchmarked

against three randomly chosen wind turbine structures on the Walney offshore wind farm. Measurements of the fundamental frequency showed that

they provide a better estimate of the total soil stiffness, although the best-estimate fundamental frequency still under-predicts the actual frequency of

the structures.

Benchmarking with full-scale measurements for

large-diameter piles is found to be the best approach

for a possible reformulation of the currently applied

API p-y formulation. However, the proposed modifications must be benchmarked with full-scale

measurements from structures within more offshore

wind farms. In addition, the theoretical p-y curves

must be compared with experimental p-y curves obtained from large-diameter piles before a complete

and rigorous p-y formulation can be obtained. Nevertheless, it is a fact that the actual soil stiffness is

under-predicted by the actual approach and that the

modified formulation provides a better prediction of

the measured fundamental frequency of the structures.

Finally, long-term effects were considered based on

the currently available data covering a five-month

period. It was concluded that the soil stiffness is not

expected to degrade over time, although longer timeseries is needed to verify this.

Figure 9: (Top) Evaluation of long-term variation of the relative 1hr average fundamental frequency for one offshore wind

turbine; (bottom) corresponding wind speed

471

Research, The University of Texas at Austin.

Reese L, Cox WR and Koop FD. (1974). Analysis of

laterally loaded piles in sand. OTC 2079. Proc.

Offshore Tech. Conf., Houston, USA.

Stevens JB and Audibert JME. (1979). Reexamination of p-y curve formulations. 11th Annual Offshore Technology Conference, Houston,

USA.

Terzaghi K. (1955). Evaluation of coefficients of

subgrade reaction. Gotechnique 5: 297326.

Wichtmann T and Triantafyllidis T. (2009). Influence of the grain-size distribution curve of quartz

sand on the small strain shear modulus Gmax.

Journal of Geotechnical and Geoenvironmental

Engineering 135: 14041418.

Wroth CP, Randolph MF, Houlsby GT and Fahey

M. (1979). A review of the engineering properties

of soils with particular reference to the shear

modulus, Report CUED/D-SOILS TR75. Cambridge: University of Cambridge.

References

American Petroleum Institute (API) and International Organization for Standardization (ISO). (2011).

ANSI/API Specification RP 2GEO. Geotechnical

and Foundation Design Considerations for Offshore Structures. Washington, DC: API.

Bogard D and Matlock H. (1980). Simplified calculation of p-y curves for laterally loaded piles in

sand. Unpublished Report. Houston: The Earth

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Offshore standard: Design of offshore wind turbine structures. Hellerup, Denmark: DNV.

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prestraining of dry sand. Journal of Soil

Mechanics and Foundations Div 96: 453467.

Goddard JD. (1990). Nonlinear elasticity and

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elastischer Krper. Journal fr reine und

angewandte Mathematik 92: 156171.

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