Vertical Stress Distribution in Soil

By Shreya Laddha|Updated : November 29th, 2021

Through Champion Study Plan for GATE Civil Engineering (CE) 2022, we are providing Vertical Stress Distribution in Soil study notes and other important materials on every topic of each subject.

These topic-wise study notes are useful for the preparation of various upcoming exams like GATE CivilIESBARCISROSSC-JEState Engineering Services examinations and other important upcoming competitive exams.

The article contains fundamental notes on the "Vertical Stress Distribution in Soil"  topic of the "Geotechnical Engineering" subject.

Table of Content

Vertical Stress Distribution in Soil

At a point within a soil mass, stresses will be developed due to the soil lying above the point and by any structural or other loading imposed onto that soil mass.

Stress in the soil may be caused by the following:

  1. Self weight of soil
  2. Applied load on the soil


Finitely loaded area

If the surface loading area is finite (point, circular, strip, rectangular, square), the vertical stress increment in the subsoil decreases with an increase in the depth and the distance from the surface loading area.


Methods have been developed to estimate the vertical stress increment in sub-soil considering the shape of the surface loading area.

Boussinesq's Theory

Point Load

A point load or a Concentrated load is, strictly speaking, hypothetical in nature; consideration of it serves a useful purpose in arriving at the solutions for more complex loadings in practice.

Assumptions made by Boussinesq.

(i) The soil medium is an elastic, homogeneous, isotropic and semi-infinite medium, which is infinitely in all directions from a level surface.
(ii) The medium obeys Hookes law.
(iii) The self-weight of the soil is ignored.
(iv) The soil is initially unstressed
(v) The soil's volume change upon application of the loads onto it is neglected.
(vi) The top surface of the medium is free of shear stress and is subjected to only the point load at a specified location.
(vii) Continuity of stress is considered to exist in the medium.
(viii) The stresses are distributed symmetrically with respect to the z-axis.


The Boussinesq equations are as follows :



This intensity of vertical stress directly below the point load, on its axis of loading (r=0), is given by:


The vertical stress on a horizontal plane at depth „Z‟ is given by


Z is a specified depth.





Boussinesq's Result




Westergaard's Theory

(i) image008

(ii) image009

(iii) image010


Westergaard's Results

(i) Vertical Stresss due to Live Loads


where, σz = Vertical stress of any point having coordinate (x, z)

Load intensity = q'/m

at X = 0 



(ii) Vertical Stress due to Strip Loading


where σz = Vertical stress at point 'p'


(iii) image019


(iv) Vertical stress below uniform load acting on a circular area.

σz = q(1-cos3 θ)

where, image021


Newmark's Chart Method (Uniform Load on irregular Areas)

  • Newmark (1942) constructed an influence chart based on the Boussinesq solution to determine the vertical stress increase at any point below an area of any shape carrying uniform pressure.
  • This method applies to semi-infinite, homogeneous, isotropic and elastic soil mass. It does not apply to layered structures.
  • The greatest advantage of this method is that it can be applied to a uniformly distributed area of an irregular shape.
  • Chart consists of influence areas with an influence value of 0.005 per unit pressure.
  • Position the loaded area on the chart such that the point at which the vertical stress is required is at the centre of the chart.
  • Newmark's chart is made of concentric circles and radial lines. Normally there are 10 concentric circles and 20 radial lines.

No. of concentric circle = 10

No. of radial lines = 20

Influence of area (1) = Influence of area (2) = Influence of area (3)

Influence of each area


σz = 0.005qNA

where NA = Total number of sectorial area of Newmark's chart.


Approximate method

(i) Equivalent Load Method





(ii) Trapezoidal Method

σz at depth image028

For 1H : 1 V




(iii) Stress Isobar Method:

An area bounded by 0.2q stress isobar is considered to be stressed by vertical stress on loading.

0.2q = 20% Stress Isobar



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