2018 – Numerical modelling of embankments built on tailings with advanced soil models

Simon Tan

Two tailings storage cells were raised by constructing new embankments upstream of the existing
embankment walls. The performance of the new embankments was mainly dictated by the underlying tailings that consisted of a thick layer of very soft to soft fine tailings. The fine tailings in one cell was capped by a layer of sand for more than 30 years hence the tailings had mostly consolidated under the load of the capping. The fine tailings in the other cell was under consolidated because the cell had only been capped for about 18 months before the construction of the new embankment. The capping material was sand extracted from the tailings.

Stratification of the tailings was determined by CPT. Undisturbed samples of fine tailings were obtained by a piston sampler for CIU and oedometer testing to obtain parameters required for advanced soil models SHANSEP and Soft Soil (SS) models. These models were incorporated in full 2-D FE models to analyse the stability and settlement of the new embankments at various locations.
The application of advanced soil models such as SHANSEP and Soft Soil by hand calculation and
conventional slope stability analysis is considered cumbersome and labour intensive. This paper
demonstrates that with the help of FE software (PLAXIS in this case), it is practical to implement such advanced soil models to simulate the behaviours of soft fine tailings with reasonable accuracy. A similar approach could be used to model other fine tailings and soft clays. One should be reminded that the reliability of any analysis method relies on validation of the analysis model and parameters adopted.

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