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Module title Soil Mechanics
Module code CENV2006
Module lead

Margarida Fernandes De Pinho Lopes

Module lead profile url:
External Examiner: Prof Zoran Kapelan, University of Exeter
Faculty Engineering & the Environment
Academic unit CivEng and the Env
Academic session first offered 201213
Credit Points ECTS 7.5
Level Undergraduate
When will the module be taught Semester 2
Pre-requisite and/or co-requisite modules
Programmes in which the module is core
Programmes in which the module is compulsory BEng Civil Eng with Architect (year 2)
BEng Civil Engineering (year 2)
MEng Civil Eng w Placement (year 2)
MEng Civ Env Eng w Placement (year 2)
MEng Civil & Environmental Eng (year 2)
MEng Civil Eng w Yr in Indust (year 2)
MEng Civil Engineering (year 2)
MEng Civil Eng & Architecture (year 2)
MEng Civ Eng Arch w Placement (year 2)
Programmes in which the module is optional
Date of last edit 3rd Oct 2016 - 2:15pm

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 learning outcomes


Having successfully completed this module, you will be able to:

  • Give students an introduction to the principles of Soil Mechanics
  • Introduce students to the behaviour of soils as engineering materials
  • Acquaint them with the approaches that allow us to quantify and predict the behaviour of different types of soils in a variety of loading conditions.
  • Give them the basic analytical methods that apply the concepts introduced to standard engineering problems, like foundations, retaining walls, groundwater flow and ground settlement calculations.

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

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

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

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

Graduate Attributes

Graduate Attributes are the personal qualities, skills and understandings that University of Southampton students have the opportunity to develop. They include but extend beyond subject-specific knowledge of an academic discipline and its technical proficiencies. The Graduate Attributes are achieved through the successful attainment of the learning outcomes of the programmes, and successful engagement with the University’s co-curriculum e.g. the Graduate Passport.

A checklist for embedding the graduate attributes is available at:

Summary of syllabus content



  • 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.


Summary of teaching and learning methods

Teaching methods are by:

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

 Study Time allocation:

Contact hours: 42 hours

Private study hours: 108 hours

Total study time: 150 hours


Summary of assessment and Feedback methods

Assessment Method Number % contribution to final mark Final assessment (✔)
Oedometer test report 10%
Triaxial test report 10%
Exam      (Duration:2 hours) 80%

Other Assessment Notes

Repeat Year externally (assessment via coursework resubmission and examination  )

Referral Method

By examination

Examination = 100%


Method of Repeat Year

Repeat year internally

Repeat year externally

Learning Resources

Resource type: Core textbook
ISBN: 978-1-4665-5209-8

Powrie, W. (2014) Soil Mechanics: Concepts and Applications. (Third Edition) CRC Press

Resource type: On-line resources

Lecture notes and module online resources.

Resource type: Background textbook

Bolton, M (1988) A Guide to Soil Mechanics, third edition.

Health and Safety

Key considerations are:

  • University standard risk assessments required for laboratory access and activities (Geotechnical Laboratories Area Risk Assessment GEO_ARA_V3).
  • Detailed method statement (instructions to students) given in course laboratory sheets held on Blackboard and in the course handbook.

Cost Implications


Appendix: KIS hours

Contact hours for Teaching:Hours
Seminars (including sessions with outside speakers)0
Practical Classes and Workshops (including Boat work)0
Project supervision0
Demonstration Sessions0
Supervised time in studios/workshops/laboratories0
External Visits0
Summer Workshops0
Work Based Learning0
Independent studyHours
Preparation for scheduled sessions18
Follow-up work18
Wider reading or practice56
Completion of assessment task12
Placement Hours0
Year Placement0
6 Month Placement0