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Simple modelling of stress-strain behaviour of unsaturated soils

M. Kikumoto, H. Kyokawa & T. Nakai

Department of Civil Engineering, Nagoya Institute of Technology, Japan

ABSTRACT: A simple constitutive model taking account of the necessary features of unsaturated soils is proposed by extending an elastoplastic model for saturated soils. The proposed model is formulated using the Bishops effective stress and the critical state friction angle is thus assumed to be constant. In the model, the decrease (or increase) in the degree of saturation is linked with upward (or downward) movement of normally consolidation line in the plane of mean effective stress and void ratio, by which the typical volumetric behaviours of unsaturated soils are properly described. A simple method for extending a classical water characteristics curve assuming a unique relationship between suction and degree of saturation to incorporate the effects of hydraulic hysteresis and density is also proposed. In this paper, mechanisms of hydraulic collapse and compaction of soils are discussed through a series of simulations by the proposed model. 1 INTRODUCTON It is usually indicated that suction increases the stiffness and unsaturated soils are hence able to exist in a looser state compared with saturated ones. Compression behaviour of unsaturated soil is compared with that of saturated one in Fig. 1, in which vertical component of the effective stress " defined by Bishop (1959) as eq. (1) is plotted against void ratio e and degree of saturation Sr.
net ij = ij ua ij + (u a u w ) ij = ij + S r s ij

shows the results of compression and soaking tests on air dried silt. Although the air dried silts can stay in a looser region above the NCLsat during the compression process, once samples are soaked under constant applied stress or void ratio, they exhibit hydraulic collapse or stress relaxation until they come close to the NCLsat. In this study, a model for saturated soils is extended in order to incorporate such behaviour of unsaturated soils. 2 MODEL FOR SATURATED SOILS Outline of an elastoplastic constitutive model for saturated soils considering the effect of density is explained here. Fig. 3 shows a typical compression curve of saturated, over consolidated soil in e-ln relation. It is assumed in the model that: soil exhibits elastoplastic deformation even under over consolidated state and its state gradually approaches to the NCLsat with increase in the stress level; soil having a larger value of a state variable , which is defined as the difference of void ratios of current state and normally consolidated state under same confining stress, shows stiffer
0.80 Compression line of air-dried sample (8 tests)


is a variable given as a function of Sr and is assumed to be equal to Sr here for simplicity. It is seen from Fig. 1 that: the unsaturated sample shows relatively high stiffness and retains a larger void ratio compared with the saturated one in the beginning stage of compression; the unsaturated sample however exhibits significant compression from a stress level of around 200 kPa, Sr then increases due to the compression (though suction is kept constant) and the compression line asymptotically approaches to the normally consolidation line of the saturated one (NCLsat). Meanwhile Fig. 2


Soaked at constant void ratio Soaked at constant 0.70 applied pressure Saturated sample Saturated sample (slurry) 0.65 0.1 1.0 10.0 Applied pressure [t/ft2]


Fig. 1 Oedometer test under constant suction (drained pore-air and drained pore-water) on catalpo clay (after Honda, 2000).

Figure 2 One-dimensional compression and soaking tests on air dried silt (after Jennings and Burland, 1962).

Fig. 3 Typical relationship between void ratio e and effective stress of saturated, over consolidated soil.

Fig. 5 Modelling of hydraulic hysteresis.

As volumetric behaviours are mainly focused on in this paper, formulation of the simplified, onedimensional model has been explained. This model can however be extended to multi-dimensional one easily by adding a term of stress ratio to the yield function and assuming the associated flow rule. 3 MODEL FOR WATER RETENTION CURVE
Fig. 4 Modelling of the volumetric behaviour of saturated, over consolidated soil.

behaviour. Fig. 4 illustrates the variation of void ratio from the initial state I ( = 0, e = e0) to the current state P ( = , e = e). Here, eN0 and eN are void ratios on the NCLsat under same stress level. The recoverable elastic change of void ratio ee is assumed to follow a usual elastic relationship as:
e e = ln


where is the swelling index. The change of void ratio e and its plastic component are given as:
e = e0 e = ln

It is well-known that the stress-strain behaviour of unsaturated soil remarkably changes due to the variation of Sr. A proper model for soil water characteristic curve (SWCC) is thus necessary to formulate a constitutive model for unsaturated soils. In this section, a model for SWCC incorporating the effects of hysteresis and density is proposed. SWCCs usually trace different paths according to drying and wetting histories. Two curves in Fig. 5 represent the highest and lowest boundaries of Sr, which are usually referred to as main drying and wetting curves. In the proposed model, they are firstly described by a classical SWCC model proposed by van Genuchten (1980) as follows.
f d (S r , s ) = S min + (S max S min )1 + ( d s )n = Fd (s ) S r = 0
f w (S r , s ) = S min + (S max S min )1 + ( w s )n = Fw (s ) S r = 0

e p = e e e = ( ) ln

+ 0 0

Suction s s

+ ( 0 ) 0


(8) (9)


where is the compression index. From eq. (4), a yield function f is introduced as eq. (5).
f = ( ) ln

+ ( 0 ) + e p = 0 0


As the state variable may decrease with the development of the plastic deformation and finally converges to zero, eq. (6) is applied.
d = G ( ) de p = a de p

Smin, Smax, n, m and are material parameters and the subscripts d and w denote the main drying and wetting curves, respectively. As any state of water retention lies between two main curves, a variable Iw defined as the ratio of interior division of the current state between two reference states on the main curves is introduced as an intermediary.
w d I w = S r S r S r S rw




Here, a is a parameter controlling the effect of density. A one-dimensional constitutive relationship of saturated, over consolidated soil is finally obtained from the consistency condition (df = 0).
d de = de p + dee = + 1 + G ( )


Here, Srd and Srw are degrees of saturation of the reference states on the main drying and wetting curves under current suction, respectively. Iw bound by 0 for the main wetting curve and 1 for the main drying curve provides a simplified, scalar representation of the current state of hydraulic hysteresis. It increases monotonically from 0 to 1 as Sr

Table 1 Parameters for water retention curve.


20 Suction s [kPa]



decreases, and vice versa. An evolution law for the state variable Iw is thus given as:
(1 I )3 dS when dS 0 w r r dI w = I w3 dS r when dS r > 0


0 0

20 40 60 80 Degree of saturation Sr [%]


where is a material constant. From eqs. (9) to (11), a function fc representing the water retention surface through the current state (s, Sr, Iw) is given as follow.
f c (s, S r , I w ) = I w Fd (s ) + (1 I w )Fw (s ) S r = 0

Fig. 6 Water retention curve of White silica sand (after Huang, 2005) and corresponding results of simulation.

Suction s [kPa]


As any hydraulic state of unsaturated soil always locates on this surface fc = 0, an incremental form of the SWCC considering the influence of the hydraulic hysteresis is given by applying the consistency condition (dfc = 0) to eq. (12). It is also indicated through the past experimental studies (e.g. Tarantino and Tombolato, 2005) that volumetric behaviour also influences the SWCC and denser soil tends to retain higher Sr. The increase of Sr under a constant suction (Fig. 1) is presumably a consequence of the volumetric compression. In this study, a modified suction s*, which is dependent on void ratio e as well as ordinary suction s, is applied to describe the effect of volume change. A tentative form of s* considering the effect of density is given as:
e s * = s N sat




20 40 60 80 Degree of saturation Sr [%]


Fig. 7 Calculated water retention curves of White silica sands of different densities.

4 MODEL FOR UNSATURATED SOILS In this section, the one-dimensional model for saturated soil is extended to one incorporating the unsaturated soil behaviour. Firstly, we propose to formulate the model based on the Bishops single effective stress defined by eq. (1). It has been indicated by the past experimental studies (e.g. Sivakumar, 1993; Khalili et al., 1998) that critical state friction angle is uniquely defined by stress ratio of the Bishops effective stress regardless of the degree of saturation Sr. It has also been mentioned through the experimental evidences (Kawai et al., 2000) that, provided that the effective degree of saturation Sre (Karube et al., 1996) is applied as the effective stress parameter , a unique relationship between stress ratio of Bishops stress and dilatancy exists irrespective of Sr. It can hence be stated that a unique critical state friction angle and a unique


where e is a parameter controlling the effect of density and Nsat is the reference void ratio of saturated, normally consolidation soil under atmospheric pressure. By replacing the ordinary suction in eq. (12) with the modified suction s*, the effect of the density can automatically be incorporated. Material parameters for SWCC of two soils are summarised in Table 1. Calculated results by the model are compared with experimental ones in Fig. 6. It is known that the proposed model accurately predicts the hysteretic soil water characteristic behaviour under complicated suction histories. It is also seen from Fig. 7 showing the calculated SWCCs of sands of different densities that the proposed model properly describes the influence of density.

Table 2 Parameters for stress-strain characteristics.

(" = "0, e = e0, = 0) to the current state P (" = ", e = e, = ). The change in void ratio -e is given as equation (15).
Fig. 8 Effect of Sr on the position of NCL and its description through the state variable (Sr).
e = e0 e = ln

+ ( 0 ) + ( 0 ) 0


Comparing eq. (15) with eq. (3), the term ( - 0) representing the effect of the vertical shift of the NCL due to the variation in Sr is added. Assuming an elastic relation given by eq. (2), the plastic component of the change of void ratio -e p is obtained and a yield function f of the general elastoplastic theory is consequently introduced.
f = ( ) ln

+ ( 0 ) + ( 0 ) + e p = 0 0


Fig. 9 Modelling of the volumetric behaviour of unsaturated, over consolidated soil.

stress-dilatancy relationship can be assumed in a model for unsaturated soils by formulating the model based on the Bishops effective stress. Jennings and Burland (1962) however pointed out that collapse phenomena of unsaturated soils due to soaking (e.g. Fig. 2) cannot be explained by the Bishops single effective stress. An extra mechanism is accordingly added in the proposed model to describe the effect of the variation of Sr on the volumetric behaviour. Because soil having a lower Sr can retain a larger void ratio and compression line gradually falls toward that of saturated one due to the increase in Sr, the NCL of unsaturated soil is shifted downward (or upward) in the plane of effective confining stress '' and void ratio e depending on the increase (or decrease) of Sr in the proposed model. In order to represent the current changing position of the NCL, a variable is defined as vertical downward shift of the current NCL from that for the NCLsat (Fig. 8). The variable varies with the change of Sr and is assumed to be incrementally proportional to Sr with satisfying = 0 at saturated condition:
(S r ) = l (1 S r )

Applying the consistency condition (df = 0) and evolution laws for and given by eqs. (6) and (14), a one-dimensional constitutive relationship for unsaturated over consolidated soils is obtained.
de = de p + de e

d d dS r = + + 1 + G ( ) dS r 1 + G ( )


Loading condition of the model is easily given by assuming that the plastic component of the variation of void ratio is always compressive (the plastic coefficient is always positive). 5 SIMULATIONS Three series of simulations are performed here. The analyses have been carried out using parameters for Fujinomori clay listed in Tables 1 and 2. First, consolidation tests have been conducted on initially over consolidated sample (e0 = 0.8) (Fig. 10). In the calculation, suction s is increased from zero to prescribed values (49, 98, 196, 294 kPa) under constant net stress net of 49 kPa and consolidation tests are then carried out under constant s. It is indicated that the proposed model can describe the typical unsaturated soil behaviours (e.g. Figure 1) that unsaturated samples initially exhibit relatively high stiffness, they are able to stay in a region above the NCLsat, but their compression lines finally converges to the NCLsat with the increase in Sr. It is also known that the proposed model for SWCC well predicts the increase


where l is a material parameter representing the vertical distance between the NCLs of dried and saturated samples in the compression plane. Fig. 9 shows the variation of void ratio e of an unsaturated, over consolidated soil from the initial state I














0.2 100
soa kin g






(de cre ase in














Fig. 10 Simulations of constant suction consolidation tests on over consolidated soils of different Sr.

Fig. 11 Simulations of constant suction consolidation and subsequent soaking tests (initial void ratio e0 = 0.8).
Decrease of void ratio e during soaking

in Sr due to volumetric contraction though the suction remains constant. It is also known that the proposed model can consider the experimental tendency reported by Wheeler and Sivakumar (1995) that soil having lower Sr shows stiffer behaviour. Second, soaking tests have been performed on two kinds of samples (initial void ratio e0 = 0.8, 0.9). In the simulation, suction s is firstly increased from zero to 294 kPa under constant net stress net of 49 kPa, net is then increased to prescribed values (49, 294, 588, 1017, 1960, 2940, 9800 kPa) under constant s of 294 kPa and samples are finally soaked by decreasing s to zero. It is seen from Fig. 11 that the proposed model is able to simulate typical soaking collapse behaviour such as shown in Fig. 2. The volume changes due to soaking process are plotted against net stress level in Fig. 12. The proposed model properly predicts the magnitude of the hydraulic collapse considering the effects of stress level and density. The proposed model can also describe the soaking-induced expansion of heavily over consolidated soil reported by Sun et al. (2007). Third, compaction behaviour has been investigated (Figs. 13 and 14). Suction s is firstly increased under constant applied stress of 50 kPa until prescribed water content w is achieved. Because compaction of soil is generally regarded as the expulsion of pore-air without significant drainage of pore-water, total stress is increased from 50 kPa to predetermined maximum value

0.14 0.12 0.10 0.08

compression 66.7


68.6 73.1 73.7 76.1 78.8 73.2 80.5


0.06 0.04 0.02 0.00



Sr before soaking

73.0 98.7 98.8 10000




100 72.9 expansion

1000 Net stress net [kPa]

Figure 12 Decreases in void ratio of dense and loose samples (e0 = 0.8, 0.9) due to soaking process.

(max = 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200, 6400 kPa) with keeping constant water content and back again in this calculation. Fig. 13 shows compaction behaviours of three samples of different water content. It is seen from this figure that: soil sample having larger water content is more compressible in the beginning stage of compaction; soil is hardly compressed regardless of its water content once it is saturated as there remains little pore-air to be drained to compact soil. Results of 80 compaction tests, in which water content w and maximum applied stress max are varied, are summarised in terms of dry density (void ratio) and water content in Fig. 14. It is pointed out from this figure that the proposed model can express typical compaction curves having optimum water content and it can also consider the transition of compaction curves owing to the increase in the applied pressure.

0.9 Void ratio e 0.8 0.7 0.6 0 200

Initial state

A (w = 21.5 %) B (w = 23.2 %) C (w = 24.9 %)

400 600 Total stress [kPa]


100 Degree of saturation Sr 90 80

Final state


70 60 0

ant onst n (c t) actio conten p comwater

A (w = 21.5 %) B (w = 23.2 %) C (w = 24.9 %) 800


400 600 Total stress [kPa]

model for SWCC considering the effects of hydraulic hysteresis and void ratio has also been proposed and applied. Validity of the proposed model is checked through a series of simulations of consolidation tests, soaking tests and compaction tests on unsaturated soils. It is indicated through the simulations that the proposed model suitably describes typical behaviours of unsaturated soils such as soaking collapse phenomena. In addition, the model can also express the well-known compaction curves of soil including their transition due to the increase in the applied stress. The proposed one-dimensional model is easily extended to the multi-dimensional one considering the ordinary stress tensor ij and strain tensor ij by adding a term of stress ratio to the yield function f in eq. (16) and by assuming an associated flow rule in the ordinary stress space. However, application of the modified stress tij (Nakai and Mihara, 1984) instead of ordinary stress ij is preferred as the influence of intermediate principal stress on the deformation and strength of soils is suitably and automatically considered. REFERENCES
Bishop, A.W. (1959) The principle of effective stress. Tecnisk Ukevblad 39, 859-863. Honda, M. (2000) Study on the estimation method of mechanical behaviour of unsaturated ground. Ph.D thesis, Kobe Univ., Kobe, Hyogo (in Japanese). Huang, H.C. (2005) A novel hysteresis model in unsaturated soils. Hydrol. Process. 19, 1653-1665. Jennings, J.E.B. and Burland, J.B. (1962) Limitations to the use of effective stresses in partly saturated soils. Gotechnique 12(2), 125-144. Karube, T. (1996) The relationship between the mechanical behavior and the state of pore water in unsaturated soil. J. Geotech. Eng. 535, 83-92 (in Japanese). Kawai, K. et al. (2000) Behavior of unsaturated soil and water characteristics in undrained shear. Research paper of research center for urban safety and security, Kobe univ. 4: 231-239 (in Japanese). Khalili, N. et al. (2004) Effective stress in unsaturated soils: review and new evidence. Int. J. Geomech. 4(2), 115126. Nakai, T. and Mihara, Y. (1984) A new mechanical quantity for soils and its application to elastoplastic constitutive models. Soils and Foundations 24(2), 82-94. Sivakumar, V. (1993) A critical state framework for unsaturated soils. Ph.D. thesis, Univ. of Sheffield, Sheffield, Yorkshire. Sun, D. (2007) Collapse behaviour of unsaturated compacted soil with different initial densities. Can. Geotech. J. 44, 673-686. Tarantino, A. and Tombolato, S. (2005) Coupling of hydraulic and mechanical behaviour in unsaturated compacted clay. Gotechnique 55(4), 307-317. van Genuchten, M.T. (1980) A closed-form equation for predicting the hydraulic conductivity of unsaturated soils. Soil Sci. Soc. Am. J. 44, 892-898. Wheeler, S.J. and Sivakumar, V. (1995) A elasto-plastic critical state framework for unsaturated soil. Gotechnique 45(1), 35-53.

Figure 13 Simulations of compaction tests under constant water content (max = 800 kPa).
Applied maximum stress

1.9 Dry density d [g/cm3] 1.8 1.7 1.6 1.5 1.4 1.3 15

50 kPa 100 kPa 200 kPa 400 kPa

800 kPa 1600 kPa 3200 kPa 6400 kPa

20 25 Water content w [%]


Fig. 14 Compaction curves for several kinds of applied maximum stresses (final states of compaction tests).

6 CONCLUSION A model incorporating necessary descriptions of several aspects of unsaturated soil behaviours has been developed. The main issues in modelling are: a) volumetric behaviour related with the variation in Sr; b) hydraulic behaviour associated with saturation, suction, hydraulic hysteresis and void ratio changes. The proposed constitutive model is formulated using the Bishops effective stress and the NCL which is shifted downward or upward in the plane of void ratio e and confining pressure dependent on the increase or decrease in Sr. A simple