Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation




Civil Engineering

First Advisor

Dr. Michael E. Kalinski


This study is focused on developing a method to predict the dynamic behavior of mine tailings dams under earthquake loading. Tailings dams are a by-product of coal mining and processing activities. Mine tailings impoundments are prone to instability and failure under seismic loading as a result of the mechanical behavior of the tailings. Due to the existence of potential seismic sources in close proximity to the coal mining regions in the United States, it is necessary to assess the post-earthquake stability of these tailings dams.

To develop the aforementioned methodology, 34 cyclic triaxial tests along with vane shear tests were performed on undisturbed mine tailings specimens from two impoundments in Kentucky. Therefore, the liquefaction resistance and the residual shear strength of the specimens were measured. The laboratory cyclic strength curves for the coal mine specimens were produced, and the relationship between plasticity, density, cyclic stress ratio, and number of cycles to liquefaction were identified.

The samples from the Big Branch impoundment were generally loose samples, while the Abner Fork specimens were dense samples, older and slightly cemented. The data suggest that the number of loading cycles required to initiate liquefaction in mine tailings, NL, decreases with increasing CSR and with decreasing density. This trend is similar to what is typically observed in soil. For a number of selected specimens, using the results of a series of small-strain cyclic triaxial tests, the shear modulus reduction curves and damping ratio plots were created.

The data obtained from laboratory experiments were correlated to the previously recorded geotechnical field data from the two impoundments. The field parameters including the SPT blow counts (N1)60, corrected CPT cone tip resistance (qt), and shear wave velocity (vs), were correlated to the laboratory measured cyclic resistance ratio (CRR). The results indicate that in general, the higher the (N1)60 and the tip resistance (qt), the higher the CSR was.

Ultimately, practitioners will be able to use these correlations along with common state-of-practice geotechnical field methods to predict cyclic resistance in fine tailings to assess the liquefaction potential and post-earthquake stability of the impoundment structures.