Volume change behavior of expansive soils due to wetting and drying cycles
In a laboratory setting, the soil volume change behavior is best represented by using various testing standards on undisturbed or remolded samples. Whenever possible, it is most precise to use undisturbed samples to assess the volume change behavior but in the absence of undisturbed specimens, remodeled samples can be used. If that is the case, the soil is compacted to in-situ density and water content (or matric suction), which should best represent the expansive profile in question. It is standard practice to subject the specimen to a wetting process at a particular net normal stress. Even though currently accepted laboratory testing standard procedures provide insight on how the profile conditions changes with time, these procedures do not assess the long term effects on the soil due to climatic changes. In this experimental study, an assessment and quantification of the effect of multiple wetting/drying cycles on the volume change behavior of two different naturally occurring soils was performed. The changes in wetting and drying cycles were extreme when comparing the swings in matric suction. During the drying cycle, the expansive soil was subjected to extreme conditions, which decreased the moisture content less than the shrinkage limit. Nevertheless, both soils were remolded at five different compacted conditions and loaded to five different net normal stresses. Each sample was subjected to six wetting and drying cycles. During the assessment, it was evident from the results that the swell/collapse strain is highly non-linear at low stress levels. The strain-net normal stress relationship cannot be defined by one single function without transforming the data. Therefore, the dataset needs to be fitted to a bi-modal logarithmic function or to a logarithmic transformation of net normal stress in order to use a third order polynomial fit. It was also determined that the moisture content changes with time are best fit by non-linear functions. For the drying cycle, the radial strain was determined to have a constant rate of change with respect to the axial strain. However, for the wetting cycle, there was not enough radial strain data to develop correlations and therefore, an assumption was made based on 55 different test measurements/observations, for the wetting cycles. In general, it was observed that after each subsequent cycle, higher swelling was exhibited for lower net normal stress values; while higher collapse potential was observed for higher net normal stress values, once the net normal stress was less than/greater than a threshold net normal stress value. Furthermore, the swelling pressure underwent a reduction in all cases. Particularly, the Anthem soil exhibited a reduction in swelling pressure by at least 20 percent after the first wetting/drying cycle; while Colorado soil exhibited a reduction of 50 percent. After about the fourth cycle, the swelling pressure seemed to stabilized to an equilibrium value at which a reduction of 46 percent was observed for the Anthem soil and 68 percent reduction for the Colorado soil. The impact of the initial compacted conditions on heave characteristics was studied. Results indicated that materials compacted at higher densities exhibited greater swell potential. When comparing specimens compacted at the same density but at different moisture content (matric suction), it was observed that specimens compacted at higher suction would exhibit higher swelling potential, when subjected to the same net normal stress. The least amount of swelling strain was observed on specimens compacted at the lowest dry density and the lowest matric suction (higher water content). The results from the laboratory testing were used to develop ultimate heave profiles for both soils. This analysis showed that even though the swell pressure for each soil decreased with cycles, the amount of heave would increase or decrease depending upon the initial compaction condition. When the specimen was compacted at 110% of optimum moisture content and 90% of maximum dry density, it resulted in an ultimate heave reduction of 92 percent for Anthem and 685 percent for Colorado soil. On the other hand, when the soils were compacted at 90% optimum moisture content and 100% of the maximum dry density, Anthem specimens heave 78% more and Colorado specimens heave was reduced by 69%. Based on the results obtained, it is evident that the current methods to estimate heave and swelling pressure do not consider the effect of wetting/drying cycles; and seem to fail capturing the free swell potential of the soil. Recommendations for improvement current methods of practice are provided.