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The University of Southampton

CENV2006 Soil Mechanics

Module Overview

This module provides an introduction to the principles of soil mechanics – how soil behaves when subject to engineering loads and construction processes. It also provides knowledge of simple analysis methods that are appropriate for assessment of geotechnical structures – foundations, slopes and retaining walls – and groundwater control problems. At the end of the module the students should be able to understand soil behaviour and apply their knowledge to straightforward engineering structures. The modules builds on the introduction to geological materials given in Part 1 Civil and Environmental Engineering Fundamentals (CENV1025) and provides a foundation for more detailed analysis of geotechnical structures which will be covered in Part 3 Geotechnical Engineering (CENV3020).

Aims and Objectives

Learning Outcomes

Knowledge and Understanding

Having successfully completed this module, you will be able to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of:

  • Effective stress.
  • Groundwater flow and soil permeability.
  • One dimensional consolidation and compression of soils.
  • The shear strength of soils included critical states and undrained shear strength.
  • Ground settlement.
  • Analysis methods for the simple design of slopes, foundations and retaining walls.
Subject Specific Intellectual and Research Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Determine the behaviour of soil based on its properties, history, applied loads and the groundwater regime.
  • Analyse groundwater flow around excavations.
  • Calculate flow rates and pore pressures associated with groundwater control.
  • Calculate stress changes and associated settlements below or near shallow raft foundations.
  • Analyse retaining walls and shallow strip foundations at failure, using simple methods.
  • Discuss the limitations of the methods used to analyse retaining walls and strip foundations.
  • Assess the stability of slopes.
Transferable and Generic Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Ability to learn
  • Problem analysis and problem solving
  • Information handling
  • Self-management (e.g. time management)
  • Oral and written communication
  • Critical Analysis
  • Group work/team work
  • Numeracy
Subject Specific Practical Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Carry out and interpret a standard oedometer test
  • Carry out and interpret a standard triaxial test
  • Analyse groundwater flow by sketching flownets
  • Analyse the stability of simple geotechnical structures


• General introduction: revision and application of basic concepts such as phase relationships and effective stress. • Groundwater, permeability and seepage: Darcy’s law and concept of permeability; permeability measurement; flownet sketching, application of flownets. • Compression and Consolidation: the oedometer test; one-dimensional compression and consolidation; application to field problems. • Soil Strength and Soil Behaviour: soil as a frictional material; shear box tests; critical states; peak strengths and dilation; undrained shear strength of clay soils; the triaxial test apparatus; stress parameters; isotropic compression and swelling; shear tests; the Cam Clay model framework. • Calculation of Soil Settlement: selection of “elastic” parameters, Newmark’s chart. • Retaining Walls: concepts of engineering plasticity; active and passive pressures; stress field (Rankine) solutions for embedded walls; limit equilibrium (Coulomb) solutions for gravity walls; simple practical applications assuming frictionless and dry (no porewater pressures) conditions. • Foundations: stress field and mechanism solutions for idealised strip footings; bearing capacity factors for simple strip footing. • Slopes: the infinite slope; Taylor’s charts.

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

Teaching methods are by: • Lectures, which include presentations, demonstrations and practical problems. • Lab sessions, each of three hours, on which the two assessed reports are based. • Completion of example problems in the students own time.

Preparation for scheduled sessions18
Practical classes and workshops6
Follow-up work24
Wider reading or practice24
Completion of assessment task18
Total study time150

Resources & Reading list

lecture notes and module online resources. 


Assessment Strategy

Repeat year externally (assessment via coursework resubmission and examination).


MethodPercentage contribution
Continuous Assessment 50%
Final Assessment  50%


MethodPercentage contribution
Set Task 100%


MethodPercentage contribution
Set Task 100%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External

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