Dock and Retaining Walls

Dock and retaining walls usually receive little routine maintenance until the passage of time allows problems to develop, often in the form of voiding or subsidence created by material wash out. When this occurs, the wall can fail.


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What is a retaining wall?

A retaining wall is a wall that holds back material, such as soil, and stabilises the ground. For example, a retaining wall would be used where a road or railway line has cut into the hillside and the slope needs to be stabilised to stop material falling into the road.

Why do retaining walls fail?

A common cause of retaining wall failure is poor drainage, in which hydrostatic pressure builds up in oversaturated soil behind the wall, causing it to break. Retaining walls also fail due to voiding or subsidence created as a result of material wash-out which causes the wall to become structurally unsound.

GPR surveys of dock and retaining walls

A GPR (Ground Penetrating Radar) survey is a low impact and fully non-intrusive method to survey a retaining wall and/or the adjacent land and identify areas which require maintenance. A GPR survey will be able to determine structural information including construction details such as the thickness of the wall and changes in its thickness vertically or along its length, as well as any other features within the wall itself, GPR is also an ideal technique to detect voids and subsidence.

GPR survey of King Henry VIII’s Dock

We were asked to perform a GPR survey King Henry the VIII’s dock along the vertical face of the wall and on the footpath above, to detect potential subsidence and voiding caused by fill material being washed out of the wall. The survey of the face of the wall was conducted by lowering our equipment on chains to make vertical and horizontal scans, on the footpath, we used the GPR in its typical configuration mounted on a trolley.

How much does it cost to repair a retaining wall?

The cost to repair a retaining wall differs between contractors. How much it costs to repair the wall will depend on its size, the extent of repairs required, which material the wall is built from, the location of the retaining wall, and the amount of labour required to fix it.

It is possible to reduce the repair cost by finding structural weaknesses via a GPR Survey.

Fortunately the wall surface was slightly inclined and flat, so although labour intensive the survey was quite straightforward. We were able to verify to the dock owner that there were no significant voids detected by the GPR, enabling them to receive permission to continue their planned development.

GPR surveys at Oceans Wharf

On another dock/retaining wall adjacent to the river Thames in London the surface of the wall was so irregular and damaged that it was possible to complete vertical scans only, and those with difficulty. The results were poor, but we identified several voids which were opened and filled as part of remediation works.

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