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Steel catenary risers are pipelines that convey fluids from the seabed to floating structures. The stiffness of the pipe–seabed response, which is the ratio between soil resistance and pipe embedment, in the touchdown zone strongly affects the fatigue accumulation rate, so is an important design parameter. This paper reports a centrifuge modelling study into the long-term pipe–seabed interaction forces on soft clay seabeds, with tests representing many months of behaviour at prototype scale. The results show that the penetration and extraction resistance during large-amplitude cycles degrades during the initial few tens of cycles, in the same way that cyclic penetrometer tests capture the fall in soil strength from the intact to the remoulded state. Calculations using bearing capacity factors for a cylinder provide good predictions of this response, although if the cycles of movement involve the pipe breaking away from the soil then the resistance reduces by more than the ratio of intact to remoulded strength, and this is attributed to entrainment of water in the soil around the pipe. However, with further cycles, as pore pressure dissipation occurs, the seabed stiffness recovers due to the gain in soil strength from consolidation. Eventually, the remoulding and water entrainment effects are wholly erased, and the stiffness exceeds the initial state. These observations suggest that current design practice – which factors down the soil stiffness to represent the influence of the cyclic degradation and remoulding process – may overlook a significant effect that raises the seabed stiffness, and potentially also reduces the fatigue life.