Characterization of soil unsaturated flow properties using steady state centrifuge methods




Plaisted, Michael David

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Three testing procedures were developed in this research to allow expeditious characterization of soil unsaturated flow properties using steady state centrifuge methods. The first testing procedure, referred to as the “instrumented” procedure, focuses on using in-flight measurement of the suction and volumetric water content of soil samples under centrifugation. The measurements are used to calculate the soil water retention curve and hydraulic conductivity function (K-function) of soil samples. A good agreement was found between results determined using the “instrumented” procedure and standard testing methods. Several possible sources of inaccuracy were determined with the “instrumented” procedure. The void ratio, the changes of which were not measured, was found to decrease during centrifugation and the lower boundary condition, which was not accounted for in the evaluation, was found to affect a large portion of the sample. In order to improve the accuracy of results, two additional testing procedures were developed that accounted for these issues and incorporated the void ratio of the soil as an additional variable. The first additional procedure was used to measure the soil water retention surface (SWRS) of soil samples while the second was used to measure the unsaturated hydraulic conductivity surface (K-surface) of soil samples. Both new procedures, referred to as the “hydrostatic” and “imposed flow” procedures, were used to characterize the unsaturated flow properties of a low plasticity clay (“RMA” soil). The unsaturated flow characteristics of the RMA soil were evaluated for a wide range of void ratio and three compaction moisture conditions. As a result, the effects of void ratio and compaction moisture content on the unsaturated flow characteristics could be determined for the RMA soil. The compaction water content was shown to have significant effects on both the retention behavior and the unsaturated hydraulic conductivity of the RMA soil. In general, increases in compaction water content resulted in a decrease of large pore sizes in the soil, resulting in higher water retention and lower unsaturated hydraulic conductivity. The void ratio was found to have comparatively lesser, but still significant, effects on both retention and conductivity characteristics. Specifically, decreases in void ratio were shown to reduce the unsaturated hydraulic conductivity. In addition, decreases in void ratio were shown to result in either increases or decreases on the soil water retention, depending on the level of suction in the soil. A good agreement was found between results obtained using standard methods and those from the hydrostatic and imposed flow procedures. Accordingly, steady state centrifuge methods were ultimately found to provide a both expeditious and accurate method for characterizing the unsaturated flow properties of soil.



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