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Relationship between RMRb and GSI based on

in situ data

Conference Paper May 2014

DOI: 10.13140/2.1.1813.3768


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3 authors, including:

Fernando Ceballos C. Olalla

Universidad Politcnica de Madrid Universidad Politcnica de Madrid


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Relationship between RMRb and GSI based on in situ data
F. Ceballos
Civil Engineer, Tcnicas y Proyectos S.A. (TYPSA), Madrid, Spain.
C. Olalla, R. Jimnez
Professors, Technical University of Madrid, Spain.

ABSTRACT: Due to the large experience accumulated in the use of the RMRb (Rock Mass Rating), as well
as to the simplicity of the estimation of the GSI (Geological Strength Index) and to the importance of GSI as
input data in the Hoek&Brown failure criteria, both the RMRb and GSI are widely used in geotechnical engi-
neering practice. This article analyzes the relationship between both classifications using in situ data corres-
ponding to different types of rocks collected from different outcrops in Spain. Currently available correlations
between RMRb and GSI have been compiled and analyzed in order to compare them with the results of the
analysis conducted in this study. Finally, the best (most suitable) statistical relations between RMRb and GSI,
depending on the type and quality of rock media, are shown and they are used to establish general correla-
tions. To conclude recommendations are presented, suggesting the use of a particular expression and its limits
of applicability.

1 INTRODUCTION Therefore, and despite the fact that the goal of

Rock masses are generally an inhomogeneous, RMR and GSI in rock engineering design is signifi-
inelastic, discontinuous, and anisotropic medium; cantly different, a campaign of field data collection
such properties make its characterization rather has been carried out, in several locations within
complex and difficult. Geomechanical classifica- Spain, to develop recommendations for the correla-
tions, such as the Q index (Barton, 1974), the Rock tion of these two parameters.
Mass Rating (Bieniawski, 1973/1979), and the Geo- This will allow the use of experimental data ob-
logical Strength Index (Hoek, 1994) are a common tained with the RMRb in the contrast of the results of
way of defining rock mass behavior, especially in the numerical calculations based on the GSI, and
the early stages of a project and for tunnels. vice versa.
These ratings are computed using several observ-
able and measurable characteristics of the rock mass.
The most common geomechanical classifications are 2 DESCRIPTION OF THE GEOMECHANICAL
the one mentioned before (Q index, the Rock Mass CLASSIFICATIONS EMPLOYED
Rating and the Geological Strength Index). They use
2.1 Rock Mass Rating (RMR)
several parameters (type and spacing of joints, un-
confined compressive strength, etc.) to provide a This index of rock mass quality was originally
single value that serves as a measure of the quality developed between 1972 and 1973 by Z.T. Bi-
of the rock mass. eniawski; it was based on 8 measurable parameters.
To be able to use them in practice, it seemed in- Then, in a subsequent review in1979, the number of
teresting to correlate them using the same rock mass input data was reduced to 5. In this work, the 1989
as reference. In this sense, the relation between Q version ---which introduced slight changes with re-
index and the Rock Mass Rating has been widely spect to the 1979 alternative (see Table 1)--- has
discussed in the literature, based on extensive expe- been employed.
rimental campaigns (including as well those pro- Although the RMR was originally intended for its
posed by their authors). application in tunnel design only, its use has become
However, the relationships between GSI and common in civil engineering applications, such as
RMR or Q are still not so widely accepted and, even the characterization of rock mass strength and de-
more importantly, they have not been tested by ex- formability and the design of foundations and
tensive experimental campaigns that confirm their slopes.
The method requires five input data. Four of them
are intrinsic to the rock mass, and the fifth is related Fieldwork was conducted to develop a representa-
to the hydraulic conditions. These are: unconfined tive database of rock mass parameters. In this cam-
compressive strength, the RQD, spacing of disconti- paign two kinds of data were measured for each rock
nuities, their state, and presence of water. mass: those related to the discontinuities and those
For its application, the rock mass is divided into related to the (intact) rock matrix.
several regions with similar characteristics, and
these five parameters are quantified separately in all
of them (where each parameter has a different 3.1 Properties of the discontinuities
weight). Then, the RMR is computed as the sum of
their marks, obtaining a final value that ranges be- For discontinuities, the following parameters were
tween 0 and 100. measured:
A correction, which depends on the orientation of -Spacing
the joints with respect to the construction, is needed -Roughness
in certain applications. In this study, however, the -Opening
uncorrected value was used, because it is indepen- -Persistence
dent of the actual construction, hence making it easi- -Filler
er to correlate with the GSI. Following the common -Water (leaks)
rock mechanics nomenclature, this uncorrected All these measurements were made according to
value is herein referred to as the basic RMR, or the recommendations given by the International So-
RMRb. ciety for Rock Mechanics (ISRM; Brown, 1981)

Table 1. Rating of parameters in different versions

___________________________________________________ 3.2 Properties of the rock matrix
Min Max Min Max For the rock matrix, the following parameters were
RQD and spacing 8 50 8 40 measured or estimated:
of discontinuities -Uniaxial compressive strength: It was estimated
Condition of the 0 25 0 30 using the point load test (PLT). Because of the dis-
discontinuities persion of the values associated to this test, the ad-
Presence of 0 10 0 15 justment ratio (c/Is), was selected according to the
___________________________________________________ type of rock, as listed in Table 2.

Table 2. (c/Is) ratios for different rock types

2.2 Geological Strength Index (GSI)
Interval Adopted value
The Geological Strength Index was developed by Igneous 20-25 20
Evert Hoek in 1994, and was slightly but conti- Metamorphic (high 16-22 17
nuously modified throughout the years. strength)
This index, which was mainly developed to rate Metamorphic (low 12-16 12
the rock mass in a quick and simple way, and to es- strength)
timate its strength in the context of the Hoek & Calcareous 18-24 20
Brown failure criterion, (1980, 2002 and 2007) is Sedimentary (Good 10-15 12
based on the qualitative description of two elements: cemented)
the structure of the rock (i.e., the number and the po- Sedimentary (Good 6-10 10
sition of discontinuities), and the condition of the
surface of the discontinuities. From these descrip-
tions, and using visual charts for reference, the GSI - Surface Hardness: It was measured using the
score for the rock mass can be obtained. Schmidt hammer (esclerometer), following the in-
Hoek and Marinos (2001) have proposed GSI structions provided by the manufacturer.
charts for heterogeneous rocks. They also indicate - Weathering: The recommendations given by the
that GSI must only be used with isotropic media. (In ISRM (Brown 1981) were followed.
rock masses with few discontinuities, whose magni-
tude is similar to the size of the construction, the
rock mass behavior would heavily depend on the tri-
dimensional behavior of individual blocks, and then
estimations based on GSI are not valid.)
4 BACKGROUND 4.2 Existing correlations
The possibility of benefiting from the great amount
Before correlating RMRb and GSI, both classifica- of RMRb data available from real projects, as well
tions were compared with the intention of obtaining as taking advantage of the simplicity of the methods
conceptual similarities and differences between to estimate GSI, makes it worthwhile to try to obtain
them. a correlation between both indexes. It would allow
developing numerical models based on the GSI and
4.1.1 Parameters contrasting the experimental designs based on the
In the Rock Mass Rating system, there are five rock RMRb by numerical calculations.
mass parameters, which define the final rating of the There have been several previous efforts to corre-
rock (including the presence of water), each one of late both magnitudes. One of the most used correla-
them with a certain weight. On the other hand, the tions, based on the experience of different authors, is
GSI is based on the observation and qualitative de- the following (Hoek et al, 1995):
scription of only two aspects: the structure of the RMR>23 GSI=RMR5
rock mass and the condition of its discontinuities. It RMR<23 The RMR should not be used to
can be considered that, for this classification, these directly estimate the GSI.
two parameters have the same weight. Table 3 It should be noted that, for these relationships, the
shows the aspects that influence the final grade in RMR' expression is used. This implies that a dry
both systems: condition has been assumed or, equivalently, that a
value of 15 was assigned to the parameter related to
Table 3. Influence of different parameters
___________________________________________________ water. In this way, the action of water is not dupli-
RMRb(89) GSI cated if (or when) considered in the numerical mod-
UCS 15 0 el.
Structure of rock mass 40 50 It's noteworthy to mention the application's limit
Condition of discontinuities 30 50 of this relation for very fractured and weathered
Presence of water 15 0 rocks, in accordance with the problems related to the
In this comparison, the parameters of RMRb, use of the RMRb for this kind of outcrops.
RQD and spacing have been included, as sum, in the
so called structure of the rock mass. 4.3 Developing a field report model
4.1.2 Goal As a preliminary step to the fieldwork, a specific
One of the main differences between these two field datasheet was developed for this work. Its pur-
geomechanical classifications is their objective. pose was to allow the user to record, in an easy way,
The Rock Mass Rating was designed to give an all the necessary parameters to estimate RMRb and
indicative index of the quality of the rock mass dedi- GSI. The field datasheet employed by the Geotech-
cated to the design of tunnels, so that a comparison nical Department of CEDEX (Centro de Estudio y
with a series of historical cases could be possible. Experimentacin de Obras Pblicas, Ministerio de
Thus, some recommendations for tunnel's lining and Fomento Spain,) was taken as a reference.
reinforcements could be proposed, based on past ex-
perience. As it is a design method based on expe-
rience, without any further calculations, all external 5 USED ROCKY OUTCROPS
factors such as the orientation of the joints with re-
spect to the construction must be taken into account 5.1 Criterion for selection
through correction parameters.
The Geological Strength Index was created with The main criterion to select the geomechanical sta-
the intention of giving a numerical value to define tions employed was that they should be representa-
the quality of the rock mass in a very simple way. tive of different rock masses and, due to budget limi-
This quality index is used as input data for subse- tations, located in a nearby area. Additionally, to be
quent analysis, like other classic geotechnical para- able to develop accurate correlations for all rock
meters such as shear strength and deformability. Ex- mass qualities, it was intended that they should cov-
trinsic conditions to the work, such as water effects er a wide range of rock mass qualities, from rock
or the orientation of the joints, are taken into account masses of very high quality (with low weathering
later on by modeling and calculation with numerical and few fractures), to outcrops representative of the
methods. boundary between rock (V degree of weathering)
and residual soil.
Experience suggested that the uniaxial compres-
sive strength (UCS) is the most difficult parameter
to obtain. As discussed in Section 3.2, estimates
based on both the Schmidt hammer and the point - OTHERS: This group was considered in order
load test (PLT) were obtained. This allowed to iden- to include other sources of data. However, in this
tify and discard invalid values (in that case, the val- particular work, it was not possible to take data from
ue recorded is the one that provides closer results to tunnels, excavations for foundations, or other types
the strength values estimated with the geological of outcrops different to the previously mentioned
hammer); and, if both values do not differ signifi- categories.
cantly, it allows to take their average as the repre- In addition to these directly acquired data, RMR
sentative strength value. and GSI values from other published studies, as well
Regarding the presence of water, the specific sta- as from geotechnical studies of different projects,
tus at the time of observation has been considered, have been used. This comprises a total of 17 pairs of
therefore not necessarily taking into account the new data, distributed as follows: four on natural out-
worst case scenario. That is because, although the crops and thirteen on other outcrops (excavations,
worst scenario should probably often be assumed for tunnels, etc.). Four stations correspond to igneous
design, it should not be considered when establish- rocks, eight to metamorphic rocks and five to sedi-
ing the correlation between the two classifications. mentary rocks.
Tables 4 and 5 summarize all the data used and
their distribution by material and type of outcrop.
5.2 Description of the Database (Note that, although there are more sedimentary
Geomechanical stations were classified by type of rocks, it can be assumed that there are enough values
rock: Sedimentary, metamorphic and igneous, re- of all rock types. Also note that samples from slopes
spectively. This classification was made, not only clearly dominate over the other sources.)
through direct observation, but with the support of
maps published by the Geological Institute of Spain Table 4. Data used by material
(IGME) about the geology of Spain (mainly the N pairs %
MAGNA50 series, with 1:50.000 scale).
Igneous 14 24
Similarly, each geomechanical station was classi-
Metamorphic 20 34
fied based on its type, following these four criteria:
Sedimentary 25 42
Natural, quarries, slopes and others (tunnels, excava-
tion of foundations, etc.).
This classification allows the development of dif- Table 5. Data used by source
ferent correlations between RMRb and GSI, and the N pairs %
assessment of whether they are different depending Quarries 6 10
on the origin of the data. Natural 9 15
Slopes 31 53
5.3 Data used in this study Others 13 22
59 data pairs (RMRb and GSI) from the following
types of geomechanical stations were employed:
- NATURAL: In this category the naturally rocky 6 CORRELATIONS BETWEEN RMR AND GSI
outcrops, without any man-made influence, were in-
cluded. After the data was filtered and classified, a statistical
Five stations have been made in this category, analysis was carried out. This analysis was per-
with four of them on sedimentary rock, and only one formed from three points of view:
on metamorphic rock. - Considering all samples together, without diffe-
- QUARRIES: Stations in the vicinity of quarries rentiating type of rock or source. This was made
are included in this category (for both active and with the intention to define a generally valid formula
abandoned quarries). These outcrops have been for correlation between both indexes.
heavily affected by human action, so that many of - Considering each rock type separately, for a bet-
their existing discontinuities can be due to such hu- ter fit of the correlation, obtaining formulae with va-
man effects. lidity limited to each material.
This group has six stations, four of them on igne- - Distinguishing qualities, to test the limits of va-
ous rock and two on sedimentary rock. lidity, depending on the range of values of RMRb or
- SLOPES: It is the largest study group. These GSI in which the rock masses were found.
outcrops have been created by human action, nor-
mally in association with excavations for road 6.1 Main results
Thirty one stations are included in this group: The most significant results from the statistical anal-
nine on metamorphic rocks, six on igneous rocks ysis of the data are shown below.
and sixteen on sedimentary rocks.
After testing different types of formulae for fit- neous rocks (R=0.954, n=14). The correlation is al-
ting, it could be concluded that a linear model fits so good for sedimentary rocks (R=0.936, n=24)
well to the available data. See Equation (1) and Fig- and, with a larger deviation, for metamorphic rocks
ure 1. (R=0.848, n=20). The corresponding formulae for
linear correlation are:
GSI=1,13RMR11,63; R=0,89 (1) (1)
GSI=1,08RMR-10,44 ;Igneous (4)
GSI=0,95RMR-10,44 ;Metamorphic (5)
GSI=1,30RMR-20,19 ;Sedimentary (6)
A third analysis separates the data according to
the rock mass quality. For low values (RMRb <30),
the RMRb is always bigger than the GSI (see Figure
3, left). For average RMRb values (30 <RMRb <60),
most data values are in a range between
RMRb=GSI+10 and RMRb=GSI-10 (see Figure 3,
right). Finally, for rock masses with higher quality
(RMRb> 60), the fit is fairly accurately for the line

Figure 1. Lineal correlation between RMRb and GSI, for all 59

pair of values.

Likewise, a similar analysis was performed using

RMR', in which the parameter of water was always
assumed to be 15 (dry conditions). For this case, Eq-
uation (2) is obtained: Figure 3. Values of RMRb-GSI for poor quality (left) and me-
dium quality (right)
GSI=1,17RMR-11,36 ; R=0,864 (2)
As observed, there is a slight increase in the dis- The results of the statistical analysis for these
persion, with a small decrease of the linear correla- populations are not representative, since the values
tion coefficient. See Figure 2, where the line current- are concentrated in a certain range (for example,
ly used to correlate both magnitudes has also been from 30 to 60), so the correlation coefficient values
included, i.e.: are always low.
GSI=RMR-5 (3) (3)

7.1 Recommendations
One of the main differences (which has great impact
when attempting to correlate both indexes) is the
goal: the RMR defines the quality of the rock mass
for a given use (e.g., to propose a valid support in
tunnels), while the GSI serves mainly as input data
to estimate the strength and deformability of rock
This implies that, when correlating both indexes,
extrinsic aspects to correct the basic RMR value,
such as the orientation of discontinuities, should not
be considered. Similarly, the water parameter in the
Figure 2. Lineal correlation between RMR and GSI, for all RMRb is a conflictive point; for instance, when us-
values. ing the GSI, the hydraulic conditions should be tak-
en into account by the numerical model.
In the analysis considering each rock type sepa-
rately, a very good correlation was obtained for ig-
7.2 Proposed correlations finally (3), subjectivity in the measurement of GSI
makes difficult the correlation with other indexes.
Based on the analysis above, recommendations for
the correlation of both indexes can be proposed. The
following two options are considered: using the val-
ue of RMRb, or RMR'. In both cases, most of the
values are within the range defined by GSI=RMR+5 Barton, N, & Lien R. & Lunde, J. 1974. Engineering classifica-
and GSI=RMR-15, as shown, for the case or RMR, tion of rock masses for the design of tunnel support (eds).
in Figure 4. Oslo (Norway): Springer-Verlag.
Therefore, the following formulae are proposed: Bieniawski, Z.T. 1989. Engineering rock mass classification
(eds). Pennsylvania (USA): Wilry-interscience.
GSI=RMRb-5 (7) Brown, E.T. 1981. Rock characterization testing and monitor-
ing (eds). London (England): Pergamon Press.
GSI=RMR-5 (8) Deisman, N. & Khajeh, M. & Chalaturnyk, R. J., 2013. Using
These formulae, with significance for practical geological strength index (GSI) to model uncertainty in
application, are similar to the ones proposed by other rock mass properties of coal for CBM/ECBM reservoir
authors. geomechanics. I International Journal of Coal Geology 112,
Hoek. E. 2007. Practical rock engineering (ed.). Online ver-
sion: Rocscience.
Hoek. E, Marinos, P. 2001. Estimating the geotechnical prop-
erties of heterogeneous rock masses such as flysch. Bulletin
of Engineering Geology and the Environment
Marinos, P. & Hoek, E.& Marinos, V., 2006. Variability of the
engineering properties of rock masses quantified by the
geological strength index: the case of ophiolites with spe-
cial emphasis on tunneling. Bulletin of Engineering Geolo-
gy and the Environment, vol. 65, 129-142
Serrano, A. 2002. Mecnica de rocas, Volumen I & II (ed.).
Madrid (Spain): Escuela Tcnica Superior de Ingeniero de
Sonmez, H. & Ulusay, R. & Gokceoglu, C. 2004. Indirect de-
termination of the modulus of deformation of rock masses
based on the GSI system. International journal of rock me-
chanics and mining sciences, 849-857
Figure 4. Proposed correlation between RMR and GSI Tzamos, S. & Sofianos, A.I., 2007. A correlation of four rock
mass classification systems through their fabric indices. In-
From a statistical point of view (besides the sim- ternational Journal of Rock Mechanics and Mining
ple correlations described before), the most approx- Sciences, vol. 4, 477-495
imate formula is the one shown in Equation (1). Zekai Sen & Bahaaeldin H. Sadagah, 2003. Modified rock
mass classification system by continuous rating. Eng.
Geol., 67, 269280.

Based on a compiled database of GSI and RMRb

values from different locations in Spain, correlation
formulae are proposed to correlate GSI and RMRb.
A linear fit is observed to be acceptable; the formula
that provides the best fit is the one shown in equa-
tion (1). Other regression analyses conducted to con-
sider different rock types, rock origin, or rock quali-
ty also seem to provide good fits.
Although, as previously described, these correlations
can be accepted in practice (at initial stages of a
project), it is important, when using such formulae,
to take into account the following aspects: (1) ex-
trinsic parameters to rock masses should not be con-
sidered when evaluating RMR; (2) there are concep-
tual differences that exist at the origin of RMR and
GSI that could affect the computed estimates; and

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