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Institut Gramme - LIEGE

Dr. Ir. P. BOERAEVE


Charg de cours

Structural Stability
SOIL MECHANICS
Master 2

September 08

Soil Mechanics

Soils And Their Classification

page 2

Contents of this chapter :


CHAPITRE 1.
1.1
1.2
1.3

SOILS AND THEIR CLASSIFICATION

REFERENCES :
INTRODUCTION
CLASSIFICATION OF SOILS

1.3.1
1.3.2
1.3.3
1.4
1.5

PROCEDURE FOR GRAIN SIZE DETERMINATION


LIQUID LIMIT, PLASTIC LIMIT AND SHRINKAGE LIMIT OF A SOIL SAMPLE
UNIFIED SOIL CLASSIFICATION SYSTEM (USCS)
EXAMPLE - CLASSIFICATION USING USCS
EXERCISES

Chapitre 1.
1.1

2
2
2
3

4
7
8
10
11

Soils And Their Classification

References :

1. Soil Mechanics, University of Sydney, David Airey


(http://www.civil.usyd.edu.au/courses/civl2410/)
2. Solving Problems in Soil Mechanics, B.H.C. Sutton, ISBN 0-582-08971-9

1.2

Introduction

Geotechnical Engineering is that part of engineering which is concerned with the behaviour of soil
and rock. Soil Mechanics is the part concerned solely with soils.
From an engineering perspective soils generally refer to sedimentary materials that have not been
cemented and have not been subjected to high compressive stresses.
As the name Soil Mechanics implies, the subject is concerned with the deformation and strength of
bodies of soil. It deals with the mechanical properties of the soil materials and with the application of
the knowledge of these properties to engineering problems. In particular it is concerned with the
interaction of structures with their foundation material. This includes both conventional structures
and also structures such as earth dams1, embankments 2and roads which are themselves made of
soil.
1.2.1 Effects on stability and serviceability
As for other branches of engineering the major issues are stability
and serviceability. When a structure is built it will apply a load to
the underlying soil; if the load is too great the strength of the soil
will be exceeded and failure may ensue. It is important to realise
that not only buildings are of concern, the failure of an earth dam
can have catastrophic consequences, as can failures of natural
and man made slopes and excavations. Buildings or earth
Fig. 1.1 Differential settlement
structures may be rendered unserviceable by excessive
deformation of the ground, although it is usually differential
settlement3, where one side of a building settles more than the other, that is most damaging
(Fig.1.1).
Criteria for allowable settlement vary from case to case; for example the settlement allowed in a
factory that contains sensitive equipment is likely to be far more stringent than that for a warehouse.

barrage
talus
3
tassement
2

Soil Mechanics

Soils And Their Classification

page 3

1.2.2 Effects on adjacent structures


Another important aspect to be considered during design is the effect of any construction on adjacent
structures, for example the excavation of a basement and then the construction of a large building
will cause deformations in the surrounding ground and may have a detrimental effect on adjacent
buildings or other structures such as railway tunnels.
1.2.3 Interaction of soil and water
Many of the problems arising in Geotechnical Engineering stem from the interaction of soil and
water. For example, when a basement is excavated water will tend to flow into the excavation. The
question of how much water flows in needs to be answered so that suitable pumps can be obtained
to keep the excavation dry. The flow of water can have detrimental effects on the stability of the
excavation, and is often the initiator of landslides in natural and man made slopes. Some of the
effects associated with the interaction of soil and water are quite subtle, for example if an earthquake
occurs, then a loose soil deposit will tend to compress causing the water pressures to rise. If the
water pressures should increase so that they become greater than the stress due to the weight of the
overlying soil then a quicksand 4 condition will develop and buildings founded on this soil may fail.
1.2.4 Field investigation
Soil mechanics differs from other branches of engineering in that generally
there is little control over the material properties of the soil at the site and
this is often highly variable. By taking samples at a few scattered locations
we have to determine the soil properties and their variability. At this stage
in a project knowledge of the site geology and geological processes is
essential to successful geotechnical engineering.

Fig.1.2 : soil sample

1.2.5 Soil mechanics is young!


Soil mechanics is a relatively new branch of engineering science, the first major conference occurred
in 1936 and the mechanical properties of soils are still incompletely understood. The first complete
mechanical model for soil was published as recently as 1968. Over the last 40 years there has been
rapid development in our understanding of soil behaviour and the application of this knowledge in
engineering practice. The subject has now reached a phase of development similar to that of
structural mechanics a century ago.

1.3

Classification of soils

A description of a soil should give detailed information about its grading5, plasticity, colour, particle
characteristics as well as its homogeneity.
Few soils will have identical descriptions. The purpose of classification therefore is to place a soil
in one of a limited number of groups on the basis of the grading and plasticity of a disturbed
sample. Since these characteristics are independent of the particular conditions in which a soil
occurs, it gives a good guide to how the disturbed soil will behave as a construction material.
Most systems of soil classification are based on the particle sizes found within the soil mass and
recognize three main types of soil:
(1) coarse soil 6
(2) fine soil7
(3) organic soil.
4

Sables mouvants
Granulomtrie
6
Sol grains grossiers
7
Sol grains fins
5

Soil Mechanics

Soils And Their Classification

page 4

Coarse soils are classified on the basis of the size and distribution of the particles and fine soils
on the basis of their plasticity, using a chart.
A coarse soil is one in which less than 50% of the material is finer than 0.075 mm.
A fine soil contains more than 50% of material finer than 0.075 mm.
Both types are further sub-divided on the basis of grain size as shown on the following table.

Gravel
C
M
60 20

F
6

Sand
C
M
2
0.6

F
0.2

Silt8
C
M
0.06 0.02

F
.006

Clay9
C
M
.002 .0006

F
.0002

where C, M, F stand for coarse, medium and fine respectively, and the particle sizes are in
millimetres.
1.3.1 Procedure for grain size determination
Different procedures are required for fine and coarse-grained material.
Coarse

Sieve10 analysis11 is used to determine the distribution of the larger grain sizes. The
soil is passed through a series of sieves with the mesh size reducing progressively,
and the proportions by weight of the soil retained on each sieve are measured. The
results are then plotted on a graph as shown on Fig. 1.5. There are a range of
standard sieve sizes that can be used, and the finest is usually a 75 m sieve. The
worlds most used set of standard sieves is the ASTM12 set.

limon
argile
10
Tamis
11
Sieve analysis = analyse granulomtrique
12
American Society for Testing and Materials
9

Soil Mechanics

Soils And Their Classification

page 5

Fig. 1.3 : Sieves


Fine

To determine the grain size distribution of material passing the 75m sieve the
hydrometer method is commonly used. The soil is mixed with water and a
dispersing agent, stirred vigorously, and allowed to settle to the bottom of a
measuring cylinder. As the soil particles settle out of suspension the specific gravity
of the mixture reduces. An hydrometer is used to record the variation of specific
gravity with time. By making use of Stokes Law, which relates the velocity of a free
falling sphere to its diameter, the test data is reduced to provide particle diameters
and the % by weight of the sample finer than a particular particle size.

Fig. 1.4 A schematic view of the hydrometer test

Soil Mechanics

Soils And Their Classification

200 140 100 70


300 200 150 100 72

50 40 30
52

ASTM SIEVE SIZES


20 16 12 8 6
B.S. SIEVE SIZES
18 14 10 7 1/"
8

36 25

page 6

"

"

" 1" 1 "

2"

"

"

" 1" 1 "

2"

20

60

/16"

/8"
/8"

100

Percent Finer

90
80
70
60
50
40
30
20
10
0
0.001
Clay

0.002

0.006

Fine

0.01

0.02

Medium
Silt

0.6
0.1 0.2
1
Equivalent Particle Size (mm)
0.06

Coarse

Fine

Medium
Sand

Coarse

10
Medium
Gravel

Fine

Coarse

Stone or
Boulder

Fig. 1.5 : Grading curve sheet

Fine soils are described by reference to their position on the plasticity chart shown on Fig. 1.5,
60
Comparing soils at equal liquid limit
50

Toughness and dry strength increase

e
lin
"
"A

Plasticity index

with increasing plasticity index


40
CH
30
OH

20
CL

ML
10 20

or
OL

CL

10

or

MH

ML
30

40 50 60
Liquid limit

70

80

90

100

Plasticityclassification
chart
Figure 1.6 : Plasticity chart for laboratory
of fine grained soils

To use that chart, we need to know the liquid limit and the plasticity index.

Soil Mechanics

Soils And Their Classification

page 7

1.3.2 Liquid limit, plastic limit and shrinkage limit of a soil sample
When a fine soil is deposited from suspension in a liquid it passes through four states of
consistency depending on the water content :
(1) liquid state;
(2) plastic state;
(3) semi-solid state;
(4) solid state.
The water content at which the soil passes from one state to the next state called consistency
limits (also called Atterberg limits, after the Swedish scientist who devised them) and are
expressed as w%. Starting from the liquid state, three consistency limits are met when decreasing
the water content :
 the liquid limit,
 the plastic limit and
 the shrinkage limit.
The liquid limit (LL) is the water content at which the soil passes from the plastic to the liquid
state, i.e.. begins to behave like a viscous mud and flow under its own weight.
A method of measuring the liquid limit is by means of the Casagrande apparatus. This consists
essentially of a metal cup which can be raised and dropped 10 mm by means of a cam
mechanism.

Figure 1.7 : Cassagrande apparatus for Liquid Limit measure of a fine soil.
Wet soil is placed in the cup and divided into two halves by means of a Standard grooving tool.
The cup is then raised and tapped by being dropped twice a second onto the rubber base. The
number of such taps required to bring the two halves together is recorded together with the water
content. The procedure is repeated on other soil samples with different water contents. From the
readings obtained, a graph of water content against the log of the number of taps is plotted. The
liquid limit is then taken as the water content corresponding with 25 taps.
The plastic limit (PL) is the lowest water content at which the soil remains in a plastic state, i.e.
when it is about to change from a plastic state to a crumbly semi-solid.
The plastic limit of the soil is found by rolling a ball of wet soil between the palm of the hand and a
glass plate to produce a thread 3 mm thick before the soil just begins to crumble. The water
content of the soil in this state is taken as the plastic limit.

Soil Mechanics

Soils And Their Classification

page 8

Figure 1.8 : Plastic Limit measure of a fine soil.


The plasticity index (PI) is a measure of the range of water contents over which the soil remains
in a plastic state.
PI = LL-PL
The shrinkage13 limit (SL) is the water content at which further loss of water in the soil will not
cause further reduction in the volume of the soil, i.e. the water content required just to fill the voids
of a sample which has been dried.
The shrinkage limit is found by measuring the weight and volume of the soil at intervals as it is
allowed to air-dry until no further volume change takes place. The volume is found by using a
mercury displacement vessel.
1.3.3 Unified Soil Classification System (USCS)
The standard system used worldwide for most major construction projects is known as the Unified
Soil Classification System. This is based on an original system devised by Cassagrande. Soils are
identified by symbols determined from sieve analysis and Atterberg Limit tests.
The USCS flowchart herebelow shows how to classify the soil.
Note : The chart mentions two ASTM sieves by their N. These numbers are on the top of the
blank grading curve sheet. (Sieve No. 200 corresponds to a 0.075mm sieve opening and sieve No.
40 corresponds to a 0.425mm sieve opening.)

13

retrait

Soil Mechanics

Soils And Their Classification

page 9

Figure 1.9 : USCS flowchart for classifying soils.


In that flowchart, two coefficients are deduced from the grading curve
the uniformity coefficient Cu =
and the coefficient of curvature Cc =

D60
D10

D302
( D60 D10 )

where Dxx is the maximum size of particle in smallest xx% of sample.


The symbols have the following meaning :
S
Sand
G
Gravel
M
Silt
C
Clay
O
Organic
Pt
Peat14
W
Well graded (not uniform)
P
Poorly graded (uniform)
H
High plasticity
L
Low plasticity
A PDF document describing the different soil groups, and giving some characteristics pertaining to
embankments or foundations can be downloaded from the Moodle website.
14

Tourbe

Soil Mechanics

1.4

Soils And Their Classification

page 10

Example - Classification using USCS

Classification tests have been performed on a soil sample and the following grading curve and
Atterberg limits obtained. Determine the USCS classification.

100

% Finer

80
60
40
20
0
0 .0 0 0 1

0 .0 0 1

0 .0 1

0 .1

10

100

P a r ti c l e s i z e ( m m )

Figure 1.10 : Grading curve.


Atterberg limits:

Liquid limit LL = 32, Plastic Limit, PL =26

Step 1: Determine the % fines from the grading curve


%fines (% finer than 75 m) = 11% (between 5% and 12%)-> Coarse grained, Dual
symbols required
Step 2: Determine % of different particle size fractions (to determine G or S), and D10, D30, D60
from grading curve (to determine W or P)
D10 = 0.06 mm, D30 = 0.25 mm, D60 = 0.75 mm
Cu = 12.5, Cc = 1.38, and hence Suffix1 = W
Particle size fractions: Gravel
17%
Sand
73%
Silt and Clay

10%

In the coarse fraction (~Sand+Gravel) Sand is dominant, hence Prefix is S


Step 3: From the Atterberg Test results determine its Plasticity chart location
LL = 32, PL = 26. Hence Plasticity Index Ip = 32 - 26 = 6
From Plasticity Chart point lies below A-line, and hence Suffix2 = M
Step 4: Dual Symbols are SW-SM
Step 5: Complete classification by including a description of the soil : Well graded Silty Sand

Soil Mechanics

1.5

Soils And Their Classification

page 11

Exercises

1. The results of a sieve analysis of two soils are the following :


Sieve size
Soil A
(mm)
Mass
% retained
% finer
Mass
retained
retained
(g)
(g)
37.50
0.0
20.00
26.0
10.00
31.0
5.00
11.0
0.0
2.00
18.0
8.0
1.18
24.0
7.0
0.600
21.0
11.0
0.300
41.0
21.0
0.212
32.0
63.0
0.150
16.0
48.0
0.063
15.0
14.0
Rest (< 0.063mm)

15.0

Soil B
% retained

3.0

Draw the grading curve and calculate D10, Cu, Cc for both soils.
2. A mass of 127.62 g of a dried soil was subjected to a grading analysis:
Sieve analysis:
Retained on sieve

2.36 mm
0.60 mm
0.21 mm
0.075 mm

0g
42.1 g
24.2 g
16.6 g

Hydrometer, sedimentation analysis:


Amounts finer than

Atterberg limits:

0.03 mm
0.003 mm

28.3 g
17.2 g

Liquid limit LL = 42, Plastic Limit, PL =33

Draw the grading curve and classify the material according to the USCS.

% finer

Soil Mechanics

3.

Soils And Their Classification

page 12

Draw a grading curve for each of the soils A to F and classify each one according to the Unified
Classification System.

The values given in the table are the percentages finer than the given particle size.
Particle
size (mm)
6.00
2.00
0.60
0.425
0.212
0.150
0.075
0.05
0.01
0.002
Liquid
limit
Plastic
limit

100
98
95
92
86
83
82
57
36
67

100
99
94
89
82
76
74
38
23
40

100
95
86
77
50
12

100
75
55
46
30
19
4

0
-

100
85
75
69
60
48
35
32
25
10
55

100
94
89
63
37
10
9
8
8
40

27

12

35

15

0
Nonplastic
Nonplastic