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Atterberg Limits: Soil Mechanic Lab Report

ENCE 444 - Experimental Methods in


Geotechnical Structural Engineering

Submitted
to

Mr. Bora Cetin, ENCE 444 Teaching Assistant


Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering
University of Maryland, College Park

by

Victor Evans
Mohammed Muqtader
William Friedman
Sergio Adantor

Laboratory Date(s): September 8, 2010


Report Date: September 15, 2010
TABLE OF CONTENTS
COVER PAGE . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1

TABLE OF CONTENTS . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2

I. INTRODUCTION . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3

II. THEORETICAL BACKGROUND & PURPOSE . . . . . . . . . . 3

1. Background . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3

III. EXPERIMENTAL PRCEDURE . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5

1. Multi-point Liquid Limit Test . . . . . . . . 5


2. Deviation from ASTM & Error Considerations . . . . . 7
3. Plastic Limit Test . . . . . . . . . . . . 8
4. Deviation from ASTM & Error Considerations . . . . 9
5. One point Liquid Limit Test . . . . . . . . 9
6. Deviation from ASTM & Error Considerations . . . . 9

IV. RESULTS & ANALYSIS . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10

1. Results . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10
2. Accuracy Assessment . . . . . . . . . . . . 10

V. CONCLUSIONS . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 12

VI. REFERENCES . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 13

VII. APPENDIX . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 14

1. Graph & Charts . . . . . . . . . . . . . 14


2. General Equations. . . . . . . . . . . . . 15
3. Laboratory Data . . . . . . . . . . . . . 16
4. Tables . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 18

Introduction

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The purpose of this report is to analyze tests performed in the laboratory to establish the
Atterberg Limits of various soil samples. The Atterberg limits can be used to distinguish
the soil between silt and clay, in multiple categories, as well as the boundaries between
each states of soil (solid, semi-solid, plastic, and liquid) and thereby the change in the
soil’s behavior. The standardized method for performing these tests is described in
ASTM Standard D 4318. The objective of this test is to derive the Plastic and Liquid
Limit from the results and thereby classify the composition of the soil. By varying the
composition of various soil samples, the effect that the composition has on the Atterberg
Limits could be determined as well. Understanding the plasticity of the soil is of vital
importance, as in any project, plasticity will affect the workability and shear strength of
the soil.

Theoretical Background & Purpose


Background
The Atterberg Limits determines the plastic limits (PL), the water content where soil
starts to exhibit plastic behavior, and the liquid limits (LL), where the water content of a
soil changes from plastic to liquid behavior. These limits are used to determine the
consistency of a soil composition at various water content values, and are important for
the classification of the soils. The theory behind the test is that the closer a soil sample
is to its liquid form, the fewer the number of drops will be required to close up the
groove in the Liquid Limit Device. The actual Liquid Limit is the water content when 25
drops are needed to close the groove.

Two methods of calculating the Liquid Limit are performed and verified against each
other to derive an accurate measurement. The One-Point Liquid Limit Test, which attain
the number of blows (N), through one iterative usage of the Liquid Limit Device. The
theoretical model

LL = WN(%) x (N/25)0.121 Eq. 1

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is then used to find the Liquid Limit. The other method used is the Multipoint Liquid Limit
Test, which required several iterations of use of the Liquid Limit Device. The water
content at 25 drops is then interpolated from the regression model formed by the data
collected. The Multipoint Liquid Limit Test is generally more accurate than the One-
Point Liquid Limit Test because it accounts for several trials of the test, but if there is an
outlier, the data may be skewed and the model may be inaccurate. Typical values for
the Multipoint Liquid Limit Test are 30 to 40 drops in the first trial, 25 to 30 blows in the
second trial, and 15 to 20 blows in the third trial.

The Plastic Limit of the samples is found by rolling smaller specimens repeatedly until
the specimen breaks at 3.18mm diameter. The water content at this point is the Plastic
Limit of the specimen. The theory behind the test is that as the specimen is rolled down,
some of the water in the soil specimen dissipates until the specimen breaks off. Since
soil in its plastic state deforms without cracking, the point when the specimen does
crack determines the moisture content just gone below its plastic limit.

Several soil samples were used in this experiment. One was entirely made up of
kaolinite. The other 3 had successively greater amounts of sand introduced. Kaolinite is
a clay mineral with typically high Plastic and Liquid Limits, and so the introduction of the
sand into the sample would presumably decrease these values.

Experimental Procedure

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Multipoint Liquid Limit Test
The standard used for this test was ASTM D 4318: Standard Test Methods for Liquid
Limit, Plastic Limit, and Plasticity Index of Soils. The purpose of this test is to determine
the boundary between plastic and viscous fluid state of the fine-grained soil. The
equipments used for the test included: Liquid Limit Device, porcelain (evaporating) dish,
flat grooving tool with gage, eight drying cans, balance, glass plate, and a spatula.

Prior to the laboratory proceedings, the class was divided into four groups. The
specimen properties for each group as shown below:

TABLE 1.
Specimen Properties for each group

Amount of Soil Water Amount of Percentage of Percentage of


Mixture (g) Increment Initial Water sand (g) Kaolinite (g)
(%) (%)
Group 1 100 3 52 0 100
Group 2 100 2 45 10 90
Group 3 100 2 42 20 80
Group 4 100 2 38 30 70

The testing procedures as well as the calibration of apparatus prior to each testing
proceed as follows:

1. Four groups prepared the 100 g of soil mixture with different initial water, sand,
and kaolinite contents on the porcelain dish. Assuming that the soil was
previously passed through a No.40 sieve, air-dried, and then pulverized, the soil
was thoroughly mixed with the amount of water specified to each group. Mix until
the specimen appears as a smooth homogeneous paste.

2. While the specimen was being mixed, four of the eight drying cans were weighed
and the respective weights were recorded on the data sheet. The liquid limit
apparatus was also calibrated during this time, by checking the height of the drop

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of the cup. The block on the end of the grooving tool was used to calibrate the 10
mm gap between the point where cup contacts the base and the base of the
liquid limit apparatus.

3. Using a spatula, portion of the prepared soil was placed in the cup of the liquid
limit apparatus. Alternating between squeezing and spreading, we squeezed the
soil down with the spatula to eliminate any air voids and spread the soil into the
cup to the depth of 10 mm at its deepest point. Subsequently, we tapered the top
of the soil into a smooth horizontal surface. The unused soil was kept in the
porcelain dish.

4. Using the tip of the grooving tool, straight clean groove was made right down the
center of the cup. Extreme cautions were taken as to preserve the
perpendicularity of the grooving tool to the surface of the cup and to prevent the
sliding of the soil relative to the surface of the cup as the groove was created.

5. Proceeding by making sure that the base of the apparatus below the cup and the
underside of the cup is clean of soil, the crank of the liquid limit apparatus was
cranked at an approximate rate of two drops per second. While one individual
cranked the apparatus, other observed and counted the number of drops, N, it
took to make the two halves of the soil pat come in contact at the bottom of the
groove.

6. In the situation where the number of drops, N, exceeded 100, the entire soil
specimen was removed out of the liquid limit apparatus without recording the
number of drops. It was then remixed in the porcelain dish with 2% additional
water content to decrease the number of drops required to close the groove.
Otherwise, the numbers of drops were recorded on the data sheet.

7. For every successful trial, a slice of soil, approximately the size of the spatula,
from the edge to edge of the soil pat, was removed. This includes the soil on both
sides of where the groove came into contact. The extracted soil specimen was
then placed into a drying can, weighed, and oven dried at 105 degrees Celsius

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for 24 hours to determine the water content of the soil in accordance with ASTM
Test Method D 2216.

8. The remaining soil in the cup of the liquid limit apparatus was returned into the
porcelain dish. The cup is detached from the liquid limit apparatus, and along
with the grooving tool and spatula, it was washed and dried in preparation for the
next trial. While the apparatus is being cleaned, the entire soil specimen was
remixed with specified amounts of additional water. The soil specimen was
carefully mixed until the paste reached a smooth homogeneous state. The cup is
reattached to the liquid limit apparatus and recalibrated in the methods described
in step 4.

9. Steps 5, 7, and 8 is then repeated for at least two additional trials, until the
number of drops, N, required for a closure of groove falls below 25 drops.

10.After 24 hour of oven-drying, the sample was taken out of the oven and
immediately measured for its weight and water content.

WN(%) = WwWs Eq. 2

Deviations from ASTM & Error Considerations:


Following descriptions are of steps and procedures which have or could have
deviated from the ASTM standards and thereby producing an erroneous result.

– Tap water was used instead of distilled water when mixing with the soil.
– Addition of water content inaccuracy due to small samples and scale precision.
– Width, depth, and characteristic of the groove are not according to ASTM.
– Soil specimen was not homogeneously mixed.
– Handle of the liquid limit apparatus was cranked too fast or too slowly.
– Soil specimen in the porcelain dish wasn’t covered with a wet towel to preserve
the accurate moisture content.
– Height of fall adjusted improperly & error in determining the groove closing.

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Plastic Limit Test
1. After the 1st successful trial, a slice of soil, approximately the size of spatula, was
removed from the edge to edge of the cup, including the soil on both sides of
where the groove came into contact. This soil specimen was air dried to reduce
the water content to a consistency at which it can be rolled without sticking to the
hands or glass plate.

2. The soil specimen is formed into an ellipsoidal mass and rolled between the palm
of the hands and the glass plate. Sufficient pressure and uniformity was applied
into the rolling of the mass at an approximate rate of 80 strokes per minutes.

3. The specimen was rolled into a thread with a uniform diameter of 3.18mm. When
the specimen doesn’t crumble at this point, the soil specimens was collected,
knead into an ellipsoidal mass, and re-rolled again until the thread crumbled
before reaching 3.18mm in diameter.

4. Crumbled threads were gathered together and placed into a drying can, holding
at least 6 g of soil. It was then weighed and placed into the oven at 105 degrees
Celsius for 24 hours to determine the water content of the soil in accordance with
ASTM Test Method D 2216.

5. After 24 hour of oven-drying, the sample was taken out of the oven and
immediately measured for its weight and water content.

WN(%) = WwWs Eq. 2

Deviations from ASTM & Error Considerations:


Following descriptions are of steps and procedures which have or could have
deviated from the ASTM standards and thereby producing an erroneous result.

– Tap water was used instead of distilled water when mixing with the soil.
– Improper technique in rolling thread

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– Thread not uniformly 3.18mm in diameter.
– Moisture content of the sample is too small
– Air drying of the sample before weighing.

One-point Liquid Limit Test


1. After the last trial, which the liquid limit was achieved after 24 blows on the liquid
limit apparatus, a slice of soil, approximately the size of spatula, was removed
from the edge to edge of the cup, including the soil on both sides of where the
groove came into contact.

2. The extracted soil specimen was then placed into a drying can, weighed, and
oven dried at 105 degrees Celsius for 24 hours to determine the water content of
the soil in accordance with ASTM Test Method D 2216.

3. After 24 hour of oven-drying, the sample was taken out of the oven and
immediately measured for its weight and water content.

WN(%) = WwWs Eq. 2

Deviations from ASTM & Error Considerations:


Following descriptions are of steps and procedures which have or could have
deviated from the ASTM standards and thereby producing an erroneous result.

(See ‘Deviations from ASTM & error considerations’ on page 7 & 8)

Results & Analysis


Results
Completing the liquid limit test on the various group samples, using the procedure
aforementioned, the water content to number of blows is shown in Table 2. A general
trend of all group samples that becomes evident is that the water content is inversely
proportional to the number of blows. A deviation to note is Group 1’s 303 N.

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TABLE 2.
Water Content (W), Number of Blows (N) for each group

G1 G2 G3 G4
W(%) N W(%) N W(%) N W(%) N
52.7 303 45.6 49 43.8 42 40 61
53.3 59 51.5 57 43.1 32 42 54
61.8 32 50.7 30 45.6 28 45 29
63.4 21 50.9 18 48.7 24 48 21

In order to find the liquid limit, two methods were employed, multipoint method and
one-point method. For one-point method, a single pair of water content and number of
drops was plugged into Equation 2, yielding an approximate liquid limit. For multi-point
method, four pairs of water content and number of drops were put on a scatter plot, fit
with a regression line, and then interpolated the 25th drop to find the liquid limit. The
following results are shown in Graph 1 below.

Accuracy Assessments
Using the multipoint method is more accurate than the one-point method because it
takes an average, while the latter does not. One-point method also requires the
operator to judge when the test specimen is approximately at its liquid limit, therefore
has a greater margin for errors. The percentage error was calculated using Equation 3
and the results were tabulated in Table 3. The range of error can be seen to be roughly
between 0% - 3%. An obvious trend in percentage error to other factors, such as water
content or clay to sand mixture, does not emerge. This randomness of percentage error
could vary depending on which pair of numbers were used in the one-point method or
due to various other human errors during the experiment. Another source of error can
be the liquid limit derived from the multipoint method. This potential for error can be
seen in Group 1’s outlier point (52.7,303) as shown in Graph 1. This outlier will cause a
skewed regression model, and thus a false liquid limit.

Error % = [One-Point Method, WLL - Multipoint Method, WLL ] / Multipoint Method, WLL Eq. 3

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TABLE 3.
Error Calculation – Multipoint vs. One-Point Methods

MULTI-POINT ONE-POINT % ERROR


G1 60.1 62.0 3.2
G2 50.3 49.0 -2.7
G3 46.9 48.4 3.3
G4 46.7 47.0 0.7

The plastic limit for each soil sample was recorded after following the procedures
aforementioned. The plasticity index, shown in Table 4, is the range between the liquid
and plastic limits (Eq 4) and is dependent on the clay content, increasing with the
amount of clay. A sample with a hundred percent clay should yield the highest plasticity
index; however, Group 1’s plasticity index was 12.3, the third lowest. This number would
inform that there was a miscalculation. The trend should show a decreasing plasticity
index as the concentration of sand increases through the different group samples, yet it
does not. This means that there were errors that were overlooked. Group 4’s plasticity
index, being the lowest, makes logical sense because they had the lowest clay content.

Plasticity Index (PI) = Liquid Limit (WLL) – Plastic Limit (WPL) Eq. 4

TABLE 4:
Plasticity Index (PI)

PI WLL WPL
G1 12.3 60.1 47.8
G2 12.8 50.3 37.5
G3 18.7 46.9 28.2
G4 8.7 46.7 38

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Using the plasticity index and liquid limit, the soils were classified using the Plasticity
Chart shown in Graph 2. The four soil samples were comprised of kaolinite clay and fine
sand. However, after being plotted, the samples were classified as low plasticity silt
(ML) and high plasticity silt (MH). Looking at Table3.4- Atterberg Limits of Clay Minerals
(Aydilek, pg 22) one can see that a hundred percent kaolinite has a plasticity index of 32
and liquid limit of 53 landing it as high plasticity clay (CH), however, Group 1’s data
yields a soil classification of MH. This incoherency alludes to the fact that the
experiential result has mistakes.

Conclusion
The objective of this laboratory was to determine and understand the Atterberg Limits of
various samples of soil and how the soil composition can affect these limits. By using
the Liquid Limit Test Device, and following ASTM D 4138, the Plastic and Liquid Limits
of the samples were found. The two methods of testing for the Liquid Limit, One-Point
and Multipoint, were found to have a sufficient error. The four specimens tested each
had an increasingly larger portion of sand and thus a smaller portion of clay. It was
expected that the Liquid Limit of the specimen would be reduced as the proportion of
clay was reduced, and this expectation was confirmed from the testing. The Plastic
Limits found also generally seemed to follow a trend of decreasing as the amount of
clay was decreased. However, the resulting Plasticity Indexes did not seem to reflect
typical clay properties as were expected, possibly due to various errors made in
performing the tests.

References:
Aydilek, Ahmet. "Ence 444 Soil Composition." ENCE 444. Print.

ASTM Standard. Vol. D 4318 - 00. West Conshohocken,PA 19428: American Society for
Testing and Materials, 2000. Print. Standard Test Method for Liquid Limit, Plastic Limit, and
Plasticity Index of Soils.

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Appendix
Graphs & Charts

GRAPH 1:

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GRAPH 2: PLASTICITY CHART

General Equations

LL = WN(%) x (N/25)0.121 Eq. 1

WN (%) = water content


N = number of blows in liquid limit test.

WN(%) = WwWs Eq. 2

Ww= weight of water


Ws= weight of solids

Error % = [One-Point Method, WLL - Multipoint Method, WLL ] / Multipoint Method, WLL Eq. 3

Plasticity Index (PI) = Liquid Limit (WLL) – Plastic Limit (WPL) Eq. 4

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Laboratory Data

Group
1

Liquid Limit Test


Weight Weight
of Can of Can Number Liquid
Weight + wet + dry Water of Limit
Of Can, soil, soil, Content Blowss One
Can # W1 (g) W2 (g) W3 (g) (%) (N) Point
2 9.6 18 15.1 52.73 303 71.3
3 9.5 16.4 14 53.33 59 59.2
4 9.3 14.8 12.7 61.76 32 63.6
5 9.8 26.3 19.9 63.37 21 62.0
Plastic Limit Test
Weight Weight
of Can of Can
Weight + wet + dry Water
Of Can, soil, soil, Content
Can # W1 (g) W2 (g) W3 (g) (%)
1 9.6 13 11.9 47.8

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Group
2

Liquid Limit Test


Weight of Weight of Number Liquid
Weight Of Can + wet Can + dry Water of Limit
Can, W1 soil, W2 soil, W3 Content Blowss One
Can # (g) (g) (g) (%) (N) Point
2 9.6 17.9 15.3 45.61 49 49.5
3 9.8 20.1 16.6 51.47 57 56.9
6 9.9 20.3 16.8 50.72 30 51.9
5 9.3 17.3 14.6 50.94 18 49.0
Plastic Limit Test
Weight of Weight of
Weight Of Can + wet Can + dry Water
Can, W1 soil, W2 soil, W3 Content
Can # (g) (g) (g) (%)
4 9.4 11.6 11 37.50

Group
3

Liquid Limit Test


Weight Weight
of Can of Can Number Liquid
Weight + wet + dry Water of Limit
Of Can, soil, soil, Conten Blowss One
Can # W1 (g) W2 (g) W3 (g) t (%) (N) Point
A 9.6 22.4 18.5 43.82 42 46.7
B 9.8 19.1 16.3 43.08 32 44.4
C 9.7 22.8 18.7 45.56 28 46.2
E 9.8 21.1 17.4 48.68 24 48.4
Plastic Limit Test
Weight Weight
of Can of Can
Weight + wet + dry Water
Of Can, soil, soil, Conten
Can # W1 (g) W2 (g) W3 (g) t (%)
D 9.7 14.7 13.6 28.2

Group
4

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Liquid Limit Test
Weight Weight
of Can of Can Number Liquid
Weight + wet + dry Water of Limit
Of Can, soil, soil, Content Blowss One
Can # W1 (g) W2 (g) W3 (g) (%) (N) Point
28 10 24.6 20.8 40.00 61 44.6
35 9.6 21 18.1 42.00 54 46.1
11 10.4 18.4 16 45.00 29 45.8
37 9.8 23.8 19.2 48.00 21 47.0
Plastic Limit Test
Weight Weight
of Can of Can
Weight + wet + dry Water
Of Can, soil, soil, Content
Can # W1 (g) W2 (g) W3 (g) (%)
31 9.5 21.15 18.8 38.0
36 9.6 18.8 16.8 40

Tables

MOISTURE CONTENT & NUMBER OF BLOWS


G1 G2 G3 G4
W N W N W N W N
52.7 303 45.6 49 43.8 42 40 61
53.3 59 51.5 57 43.1 32 42 54
61.8 32 50.7 30 45.6 28 45 29
63.4 21 50.9 18 48.7 24 48 21

PLASTICITY INDEX (PI)


PI WLL WPL
G1 12.3 60.1 47.8
G2 12.8 50.3 37.5
G3 18.7 46.9 28.2
G4 8.7 46.7 38

ERROR CALCULATION - MULTI VS SINGLE POINT METHODS


MULTI-P SINGLE-P % ERROR RANGE
G1 60.1 71.3 62 18.7 3.2 15.5
G2 50.3 56.9 49 13.0 -2.7 10.4
G3 46.9 48.4 44.4 3.3 -5.2 8.5

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G4 46.7 47.0 44.6 0.7 -4.4 5.1

Amount of Soil Water Amount of Percentage of Percentage of


Mixture (g) Increment Initial Water sand (g) Kaolinite (g)
(%) (%)
Group 1 100 3 52 0 100
Group 2 100 2 45 10 90
Group 3 100 2 42 20 80
Group 4 100 2 38 30 70

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