Kinematic framework for evaluating seismic earth pressures on retaining walls

Scott J. Brandenberg, George Mylonakis, Jonathan P. Stewart

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

60 Scopus citations


During earthquake ground shaking earth pressures on retaining structures can cyclically increase and decrease as a result of inertial forces applied to the walls and kinematic interactions between the stiff wall elements and surrounding soil. The application, based on limit equilibrium analysis, of a pseudostatic inertial force to a soil wedge behind the wall [the mechanism behind the widely-used Mononobe- Okabe (M-O) method] is a poor analogy for either inertial or kinematic wall-soil interaction. This paper demonstrates that the kinematic component of interaction varies strongly with the ratio of wavelength to wall height (λ/H), asymptotically approaching zero for large λ/H, and oscillating between the peak value and zero for λ/H < 2.3. Base compliance, represented in the form of translational and rotational stiffness, reduces seismic earth pressure by permitting the walls to conform more closely to the free-field soil displacement profile. This framework can explain both relatively low seismic pressures relative to M-O predictions observed in recent experiments with λ/H > ~10, and relatively high seismic earth pressures relative to M-O from numerical analyses in the literature with λ/H = 4.

Original languageBritish English
Article number04015031
JournalJournal of Geotechnical and Geoenvironmental Engineering
Issue number7
StatePublished - 1 Jul 2015


  • Analysis
  • Dynamic testing
  • Seismic earth pressure
  • Wall
  • Wave


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