Soil stiffness can vary over several orders of magnitude depending on the actual range of strain imposed by testing, or as a result of operational strains in geotechnical structures. Soil stiffness changes rapidly with strain level at low strain levels (0.01–0.1%) and the variation with strain is not linear. Characterization of the in situ small strain stiffness of stiff soils is important in geotechnical design; however, analyses of the mechanical behaviour of these soils is confounded by stiffness values that vary with strain level.
Stiff till cuttings are susceptible to progressive failure as a result of strain softening. As a consequence, the evolution of stiffness during progressive failure is both a key parameter in characterizing pre-failure slope deformations and a key diagnostic of softening. Changes in strength (due to softening) should be reflected in commensurate temporal and spatial changes in stiffness; consequently, real-time, in situ measurements of stiffness would better define the progression of softening.
Seismic surveys, which create small compression and shear strains, have been used to estimate in situ small strain elastic moduli. These spatially extensive measurements can be correlated to temporal variations in stiffness from the monitoring of barometric loading efficiency. In this latter method, the pore pressure response of a grouted (sealed) piezometer to barometric pressure fluctuations is used to measure the compressibility (stiffness) of the formation. This article summarizes the results of field trials within a cutting in stiff till in Northern Ireland in which these two techniques were used to characterize small strain stiffness.