A three-dimensional isoparametric joint element of finite thickness, with keys simulating the action of joints in concrete dams, is given in this paper. It is pointed out that the magnitude of the initial clearance of joints, due to shrinkage of grout, is very small and generally may be neglected. Joints with keys can resist compression and shearing, but cannot resist tension. The horizontal stresses in an arch dam may be tensile or compressive, thus the transverse joints which cannot resist tensile stress will influence the distribution of stresses in an arch dam. An explanation is given as to how this problem is related to the following factors:

• depth a of the region subjected to tensile stress;

• ratio a/L of the depth a of region subjected to tensile stress to the spacing L between transverse joints;

• thickness of the dam; and

• climatic condition of dam site. In the upper part of a thin arch dam, in a cold region, the full vertical cross-section may be subjected to tensile stress in the winter. In this case, the influence of transverse joints on the stress distribution in the dam may be remarkable. On the contrary, on a thick arch dam, in a mild region, the depth of region subjected to tensile stress is small, so the influence of transverse joints is little.

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