Consistency Limits

Consistency is the relative ease with which a soil can be deformed. In practice, the property of consistency is associated only with fine grained soils, especially clays whose consistency depends on water content. Consistency is a term which is used to describe the degree of firmness of a soil in a qualitative manner by using relative consistency descriptions such as hard, very stiff, stiff, medium stiff, firm, soft, very soft with increasing water content. The physical properties of clays are considerably influenced by the amount of water present in them. Depending upon the water content, the following four states or stages of consistency are used to describe the consistency of a clayey soil: (i) Liquid state, (ii) Plastic state, (iii) Semi solid state, and (iv) Solid state. The boundary water contents at which the soil undergoes a change from one state to another are called “consistency limits”. In 1911, a Swedish soil scientist, Atterberg, first demonstrated the significance of these limits. Hence, they are also known as Atterberg Limits. When a fine grained soil is mixed thoroughly with a large quantity of water, the resulting suspension is in a liquid state, and offers practically no resistance to flow that is the soil has virtually no shear strength. If water content of the suspension is gradually reduced while keeping the consistency of the sample uniform, a stage comes when it just begins offering resistance to flow. This is the stage where the sample changes from the liquid to plastic state. The boundary water content between liquid state and the plastic state is called the liquid limit. In the plastic state, the soil can be moulded to different shapes without rupturing it, due to its plasticity. If the water content is further reduced, the clay sample changes from the plastic state to the semi-solid state, at a boundary water content which is called the plastic limit. In the semi-solid state, the soil does not have plasticity; it becomes brittle. Up to the semi-solid state, the soil remains fully saturated and any reduction in volume of water will result in an equal reduction in the volume of the soil mass. A further reduction in the water content however, brings about a stage where the volume of the soil mass does not decrease but remains the same with a decrease in water content. The sample changes from semi-solid to the solid state. The boundary water content is called the shrinkage limit. Below this limit, the sample begins to dry up at the surface and the soil is no longer fully saturated.

It is the lowest water content at which soil is fully saturated. a) Liquid Limit (wL) : It is the water content corresponding to an arbitrary limit between liquid and plastic states of consistency of a soil.Fig: Consistency Limits in Soil Fig: Atterberg Limits Liquid Limit (wL). b) Plastic Limit (wP) : It is the water content corresponding to an arbitrary limit between plastic and semi-solid states of consistency of a soil. It is a minimum water content at which soil is still in liquid state. . It is also the maximum water content at which any reduction in water content will not reduce volume of the soil mass. Plastic Limit (wP) and Shrinkage Limit (wS) are the atterberg limits. It is a minimum water content at which soil will just begin to crumble when rolled in to a thread of approximately 3 mm diameter. c) Shrinkage Limit (wS) : It is the water content corresponding to an arbitrary limit between semi-solid and solid states of consistency of a soil. but possessing a small shear strength and exhibiting some resistance to flow. These limits are most useful for engineering purpose in order to classify the soils.