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Unsaturated Soils: Theory and Practce 2011
Jotsankasa, Sawangsuriya, Soralump and Mairaing (Editors)
Kasetsart University, Thailand, ISBN 978-616-7522-77-7
1 INTRODUCTION

Many studies have been made on the existence of
the critical state for unsaturated soils (e.g., Toll
1990; Kohgo et al. 1993; Wheeler and Sivakmar
1995; Cunningham et al. 2003). Previous studies,
however, were based on the test results obtained un-
der the high confining pressure or the high degree of
saturation. The existence of critical state has not
been fully explained yet under the low confining
pressure state or the low degree of saturation for un-
saturated soil. Therefore, it is necessary to perform
the study under these conditions.
This study gave attention to the unconfined com-
pression test (UC). The unconfined compressive test
can be understood as the triaxial compression test
(TC) under no confining pressure because it com-
presses into only axial direction like the compres-
sion test for a concrete specimen. Thus, the angle of
internal friction from this test could not be decided
in general because Mohr’s stress circles at failure
have the minimum principal stress of zero. Mean-
while, it could be recognized that the shear behavior
for unsaturated soil under low confining pressure
corresponds to the state of natural slope or surface
layer of embankment as the representative examples.
From a practical standpoint, the unconfined com-
pressive test would play an important role to under-
stand the mechanism of surface failure problem of
natural or engineered earth slopes.
The UC and the constant water content compres-
sion test (CWCC) in this study were carried out for
compacted silty clay changing the initial water con-
tent. Both the effects of compaction energy by
means of changing the number of compaction blow,
and the relationship between the suction and the suc-
tion stress were examined. Lastly, the behaviors of
the unconfined compressive strength and the defor-
mation were analyzed in relation to the critical state
according to the confining pressure by taking the
suction stress into account.

2 CRITICAL STATE FOR UNSATURATED SOIL

The study on the critical state for saturated soil was
initiated from Cam clay model proposed by Roscoe
et al. (1963), and Scofield and Wroth (1968). After
that, many studies on the critical state for unsatu-
rated soil have been made considering the suction as
a stress parameter. Alonso et al. (1990) proposed an
elasto-plastic constitutive model for the yield curve
of unsaturated soil in three-dimensional stress space.
This is one of an extended Cam-clay model for in-
dependent stress parameters for unsaturated soil.
Examination of critical state for unsaturated soils using the suction stress
in unconfined compression test
B.S. Kim & S. Kato
Department of Civil Engineering, Kobe University, Kobe, Japan
S.W. Park
Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering, Dankook University, Yongin, Korea


ABSTRACT: In order to evaluate the characteristic of shear behavior for unsaturated soil under the low con-
fining pressure, a series of the unconfined compression test and the constant water content compression test
were carried out using compacted silty clay. This study then examined the effect of the compaction energy
according to the variation of the number of compaction times. The negative pore water pressure and the vo-
lume change of specimen during shearing were measured under the undrained condition. The peak strength,
the post peak strength and the deformation behavior were also examined. As a result, it was found that the
post peak strength states are arranged on the failure line of saturated state by considering the suction stress
(p
s
) as a stress component in (p
net
+p
s
, q) space regardless of the compaction energy. The state boundary sur-
face could also be observed in the relationship between the stress ratio, (q/(p
net
+p
s
)) and the specific volume.
Therefore, these results can be interpreted that the critical state for unsaturated soil exists in the unconfined
compression test under the low confining pressure.
KEYWORDS: unsaturated soil; unconfined compression test; constant water content compression test; suc-
tion stress; critical state; low confining pressure
Examination of critical state for unsaturated soils using the suction stress
in unconfined compression test
B.S. Kim & S. Kato
S.W. Park
Department of Civil Engineering, Kobe University, Kobe, Japan
Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering, Dankook University, Yongin, Korea
210
The critical state line (CSL) for unsaturated soil has
an intercept of p
s
(s) and the parallel relationship
with that for saturated soil. Toll (1990) reported that
the critical state for unsaturated soil exists using the
results of TC under high confining pressure condi-
tion. Kohgo et al. (1993) carried out the TC for stati-
cally and dynamically compacted specimens using
silty samples like that of this study. They proposed a
constitutive model using a conversion stress related
to suction. Several models which extend the Cam-
clay model using three stress parameters (i.e., net
mean principal stress; p
net
, deviator stress; q and suc-
tion; s) for unsaturated soil have been proposed fur-
ther (e.g., Wheeler and Sivakmar 1995; Chiu and Ng
2003). In order to consider a hysteresis of the soil-
water characteristic curve (SWCC), some constitu-
tive models combining the relationship between suc-
tion and the degree of saturation (S
r
) for mean prin-
cipal stress (p
net
) were also proposed (e.g., Karube et
al. 1997; Gallipoli et al. 2003; Tamagnini 2004; Sun
et al. 2010).

3 ROLE OF SUCTION STRESS FOR SHEAR
STRENGTH

Karube et al. (1996) defined the stress component
caused by the influence of meniscus water as the
meniscus stress (p
m
), and in case of bulk water as the
bulk stress (p
b
). The summation of the two men-
tioned stress components could be expressed as the
suction stress (p
s
). They also defined suction stress
(p
s
) in terms of the relation of matric suction, the re-
sidual degree of saturation (S
r0
) and the degree of sa-
turation (S
r
) under some matric suction state. Thus,
the equation for suction stress was expressed as fol-
lows.

s
S
S S
p p p
r
r r
b m s
×


= + =
0
0
100
(1)

They studied the relationship of failure lines for sa-
turated and unsaturated state in a two-dimensional
(p
net
, q) plane. Here, p
net
and q are defined as fol-
lows.

a net
u p −
+ +
=
3
) (
3 2 1
σ σ σ
(2)
3 1
σ σ − = q (3)

where
1
σ ,
2
σ ,
3
σ : maximum, intermediate and min-
imum principal stress, respectively; u
a
: pore water
pressure.

The failure line for unsaturated state under con-
stant matric suction shows a parallel relation to the
saturated state with intercept of suction stress for p
net

axis. This reveals that the suction stress acts as a
component of confining pressure. Karube et al.
(1997) also examined the results from the TC for sil-
ty clays related to the maximum volumetric com-
pression point during the shear process. The stress
state for unsaturated soil can also be arranged on the
CSL for saturated soil on shear strength and (p
net
+p
s
)
plane. They proposed an elasto-plastic constitutive
model for unsaturated soil on the basis of such a re-
sult. Since the term p
s
(s) in Barcelona Basic Model
(Alonso et al., 1994) has essentially the same mean-
ing as the suction stress by Karube et al. (1996), suc-
tion stress has an important role in the expression of
the unsaturated shear strength as well as the volume
change.
Kato et al. (2001) carried out a series of UCs on
compacted silty clay by measuring suction and vo-
lume change of specimen. From the obtained results,
they found that the relationship between unconfined
compressive strength and equivalent confining stress
was unique. Here, they suggested that the Mohr’s
stress circle of the UC can be defined by means of
the suction stress as shown in Fig. 1. If the unsatu-
rated shear strength equation proposed by Fredlund
and Morgenstern (1977) is applicable for the peak
strength state of the UC, the cohesion, c
UCT
can be
expressed as two components as shown in eq. (4).
Because the suction stress is related to the increase
of cohesion according to suction, the right term in
eq. (4) can be derived as eq. (5). If the cohesion, c
sat

for saturated soil is zero, eq. (5) is represented as eq.
(6).

b
w a sat UCT
u u c c φ tan ) ( − + = (4)
net s
b
w a
p u u φ φ tan tan ) ( × = − (5)
net s UCT
p c φ tan ⋅ = (6)

4 TESTING PROGRAM
4.1 Test sample and preparation
The soil sample used in this study is silty clay which
has the soil particle density of 26.29 kN/m
3
and non-
plastic. The percentage passing No. 200 sieve is
100 % and the soil type under the Unified Soil Clas-
sification System (USCS) classification is ML.
Before the samples is made by means of the com-
paction method, the specimen was stored for one day
in a sealed container after applying distilled water to
Mohr’s stress circle
τ
net
σ
sf
p
2 /
u sf
q p +
u sf
q p +
net
φ
sf
p
A B
c
UCT
C ( )
f nf
τ σ ,
Mohr’s stress circle
τ
net
σ
sf
p
2 /
u sf
q p +
u sf
q p +
net
φ
sf
p
A B
c
UCT
C ( )
f nf
τ σ ,

Figure 1. Hypothesis for Mohr’s stress circle and failure line
according to the suction stress in the UC.

211
air-dried soil in order to adjust the fixed water con-
tent. The wet soil sample was then compacted in a
mold of 100mm in diameter by using a rammer of
25N in weight. The sample was prepared in five lay-
ers with compaction efforts of 25 and 50 blows for
each layer. The dotted curves show the obtained
compaction curves for these compaction efforts as
shown in Fig. 2. The optimum water contents exist
from 18 to 20%. The compacted samples were kept
in a closed container, and then trimmed to a speci-
men size of 50mm in diameter and 100mm in height
before the test. The initial conditions for tested spe-
cimens after trimming were summarized in Table. 1.
4.2 Testing apparatus and testing program
Figure 3 shows a sketch of the testing apparatus
used in this study. After the specimen was set on the
pedestal of the cell, it was covered with a rubber
membrane and a loading cap, and then sealed with
O-rings. The cell was filled with distilled water.
During the shear process, the amount of the cell wa-
ter drainage was measured with a weighing device
that was connected to the inside of the cell. The vo-
lume change of the specimen was calculated by cor-
recting the amount of the cell water drainage for the
piston penetration into the cell during shearing. A
ceramic disk, whose air entry value was 500 kPa,
was sealed into the pedestal of the cell to measure
the pore-water pressure of specimen. A porous metal
plate was set in the loading cap. Because the pore-air
pressure of specimen was released to atmosphere
through the air line, the suction of specimen was de-
rived from the value of measured pore-water pres-
sure.
In this study, the UC and CWCC under low con-
fining pressure and undrained condition were carried
out using the compacted specimen. Although both
tests have the same procedure from the specimen
preparation, the confining pressures of 10 and 50
kPa were applied in CWCC before shear process.
The axial strain rate of 0.2% per minute was used.
This study is composed of three test series as
shown in Table 1. Because the initial void ratio has a
dominant effect on the shear strength of specimen,
each test series was classified as similar initial void
ratios. The effect of suction was also examined
through the change of the initial water content. Es-
pecially, because the compaction energy has the
same value as each other in the case of both test se-
ries I and II, the effects of the initial water content,
that is, suction and the difference of initial void ratio
could be examined.

5 TEST RESULTS AND DISCUSSIONS
5.1 Stress-strain relationship and variation of
suction during the shear process
Figure 4 shows the behaviors of unconfined com-
pressive strength (q
u
) and volumetric strain accord-
ing to the shear strain in Test series I. The compres-
sive strengths in Fig. 4(a) have the peak values
regardless of the confining pressure and generally
decrease to the constant post peak strength condi-
tion. It is also observed that as the confining pres-
sure is larger, the unconfined compressive strength
Water content, ω(%)
5 10 15 20 25 30
D
r
y

d
e
n
s
i
t
y
,

ρ
d

(
k
N
/
m
3
)
14.0
14.5
15.0
15.5
16.0
Test series I; 25 blows
Test series II; 25 blows
Test series III; 50 blows
S
r
=80% 60%
40%
20%

Figure 2. Compaction curve based on the compaction energy

Table 1. Initial conditions of each test series
No. N σ
c
(kPa)
i
e
i
w (%)
ri
S (%)
I-1
25
0 0.657 19.03 76.71
I-2 10 0.663 18.08 72.31
I-3 50 0.665 19.03 75.82
I-4 50 0.664 17.9 71.43
II-1
25
0 0.716 16.77 62.08
II-2 10 0.713 16.45 61.10
II-3 10 0.719 19.14 70.56
II-4 50 0.717 17.19 63.56
II-5 50 0.703 16.05 60.52
III-1
50
0 0.647 16.46 67.42
III-2 0 0.651 14.02 57.10
III-3 10 0.637 17.58 73.17
III-4 10 0.649 16.65 68.02
III-5 50 0.644 17.15 70.56
III-6 50 0.652 16.56 67.32
* N: number of compaction blows, σ
c
: confining pressure,
i
e :
initial void ratio,
i
w : initial water content, initial degree of
saturation

Pore water
pressure transducer
Air line to release
the pore air pressure
Weighing device
Load cell
Dial gage
Distilled water
Specimen
Pore water
pressure transducer
Air line to release
the pore air pressure
Weighing device
Load cell
Dial gage
Distilled water
Specimen

Figure 3. Sketch of testing apparatus used

212
increases (I-2 vs. I-3). After the volumetric strain
decreases at the initial part of shear process, the dila-
tive behaviors are observed in Fig. 4(b). Figure 5
shows the relationships between degree of saturation
and axial strain for the specimens compacted with
25 blows. The degree of saturation increases slightly
at the initial part of shear process owing to the con-
traction of specimen, and since the shear process is
progressed further, the decreasing behavior is ob-
served. In cases of other test series II and III, similar
tendencies could be observed as the test series I.
5.2 Behaviors of stress path and post peak shear
strength according to the application of the suction
stress
Figures 6 and 7 show the stress paths in each test.
Here, (a) and (b) of each figure show the relation
25 blows
Axial strain, ε
a
(%)
0 2 4 6 8 10
C
o
m
p
r
e
s
s
i
v
e

s
t
r
e
n
g
t
h
,

q
u

(
k
P
a
)
0
100
200
300
400
500
600
Ι−1; σ
3
=0 kPa
Ι−2; σ
3
=10 kPa
Ι−3; σ
3
=50 kPa
Ι−4; σ
3
=50 kPa

(a) Axial strain vs. compressive strength.
25 blows
Axial strain, ε
a
(%)
0 2 4 6 8 10
V
o
l
u
m
e
t
r
i
c

s
t
r
a
i
n
,

ε
v

(
%
)
-6
-5
-4
-3
-2
-1
0
1
Ι−1; σ
3
=0 kPa
Ι−2; σ
3
=10 kPa
Ι−3; σ
3
=50 kPa
Ι−4; σ
3
=50 kPa

(b) Axial strain vs. volumetric strain.
Figure 4. Test results for test series I with 25 blows.


25 blows
Axial strain, ε
a
(%)
0 2 4 6 8 10
D
e
g
r
e
e

o
f

s
a
t
u
r
a
t
i
o
n
,

S
r

(
%
)
60
65
70
75
80
Ι−1; σ
3
=0 kPa
Ι−2; σ
3
=10 kPa
Ι−3; σ
3
=50 kPa
Ι−4; σ
3
=50 kPa

Figure 5. Relationships between degree of saturation and axial
strain for test series I with 25 blows.

Test series I
25 blows
p
net
(kPa)
0 50 100 150 200 250
q

(
k
P
a
)
0
100
200
300
400
500
Ι−1; σ
3
=0 kPa
Ι−2; σ
3
=10 kPa
Ι−3; σ
3
=50 kPa
Ι−4; σ
3
=50 kPa
Ι−1
Ι−2
Residual state
Ι−3
Ι−4

(a) Before the application of suction stress.
Test series I
25 blows
p
net
+ p
s
(kPa)
0 50 100 150 200 250
q

(
k
P
a
)
0
100
200
300
400
500
Ι−1; σ
3
=0 kPa
Ι−2; σ
3
=10 kPa
Ι−3; σ
3
=50 kPa
Ι−4; σ
3
=50 kPa
Residual state
Ι−1
Ι−2
Ι−3
Ι−4

(b) After the application of suction stress.

Figure 6. Stress paths before and after the application of suc-
tion stress for test series I.


Test series III
50 blows
p
net
(kPa)
0 50 100 150 200 250
q

(
k
P
a
)
0
100
200
300
400
500
ΙΙΙ−1; σ
3
=0 kPa
ΙΙΙ−2; σ
3
=0 kPa
ΙΙΙ−3; σ
3
=10 kPa
ΙΙΙ−4; σ
3
=10 kPa
ΙΙΙ−5; σ
3
=50 kPa
ΙΙΙ−6; σ
3
=50 kPa
ΙΙΙ−1
Residual state ΙΙΙ−2
ΙΙΙ−3
ΙΙΙ−4
ΙΙΙ−5
ΙΙΙ−6

(a) Before the application of suction stress.
Test series III
50 blows
p
net
+ p
s
(kPa)
0 50 100 150 200 250
q

(
k
P
a
)
0
100
200
300
400
500
ΙΙΙ−1; σ
3
=0 kPa
ΙΙΙ−2; σ
3
=0 kPa
ΙΙΙ−3; σ
3
=10 kPa
ΙΙΙ−4; σ
3
=10 kPa
ΙΙΙ−5; σ
3
=50 kPa
ΙΙΙ−6; σ
3
=50 kPa
Residual state
ΙΙΙ−1
ΙΙΙ−2
ΙΙΙ−3
ΙΙΙ−4
ΙΙΙ−5
ΙΙΙ−6

(b) After the application of suction stress.

Figure 7. Stress paths before and after the application of suc-
tion stress for test series III.

213
ship between deviator stress, q and mean net stress,
p
net
, and the relationship between shear stress, q and
equivalent confining stress, (p
net
+ p
s
) which applies

the suction stress as a confining pressure, respective-
ly. In these figures, the solid lines show the failure
line for saturated compacted specimen of which the
angle of internal friction was 42 degrees. This angle
of internal friction was from the TC for saturated
state using the same soil and conditions used in this
study (Abe and Hatakeyama, 1997). Each symbol
means the post peak strength state that exists as the
constant shear stress state observed after the peak
stress. In Figs. 6(a) and 7(a), the plotted data lies
above the failure line. This signifies that the post
peak strength states for unsaturated soil do not cor-
respond to the failure line for saturated soil. Whe-
reas it is observed that the post peak strength states
for unsaturated soil correspond to the failure line for
saturated soil by applying the suction stress regard-
less of the compaction energy as shown in Figs. 6(b)
and 7(b). These behaviors of the stress paths are
similar to that of overconsolidated soil moving to-
wards the critical state after the peak stress state.
5.3 Existence of critical state according to the
application of the suction stress
A method proposed by Atkinson and Bransby (1978)
was applied to these results. They verified the exis-
tence of CSL in relationship between the specific
volume, v
λ
and the stress ratio, q/p’ for loose and
dense sands as shown in Fig. 8. Here, the specific
volume is defined as a value of the reference stress
on a parallel line for the normal consolidation line in
Fig. 9. When the reference stress of p’=1 kPa is
adopted, the specific volume of (v
λ
)A for the state of
point A is obtained. Thus, the state points derived
from the specific volume and the stress ratio move
up to the Hvorslev surface line, and toward the criti-
cal state which is expressed as a point as expressed
in Fig. 8.
Figure 10 shows the normal consolidation curve
for the specimen at slurry state. Here, it was post-
ulated that the slope of the normal consolidation line
for the specimen of slurry state is equal to that of the
CSL. Based on the reference stress, p’= 1 kPa as
stated above, the specific volumes, v
λ
were derived
from test results. From these results, the relation-
ships between the specific volume and the stress ra-
tio, q/(p
net
+p
s
) by applying the suction stress are
shown in Fig. 11. In this figure, the CSL obtained
from slurry state is expressed as one point. All of the
test results show the same tendencies moving toward
CSL after the peak strength state as showed in Fig.
8. It may also demonstrate that the state boundary
surface (i.e., Hvorslev surface) exists for the test re-
sults obtained from the UC and CWCC. It is noted
that these behaviors are observed by applying the
suction stress for stress ratio, q/(p
net
+p
s
) as a part of
confining pressure. If the ordinary stress ratio, q/p
net
is used, these behaviors cannot be recognized be-
cause the ordinary stress ratio

is constant through the
shear process.
Therefore, these results mean that a similar beha-
vior moving towards the critical state for the dilative
specimen can be observed through considering the
suction stress as a confining stress. In particular, it is
found that the effect of matric suction for soil skele-
ton becomes more dominant compared with the ex-
ternal stress under low confining pressure, and the
effect of matric suction can be considered as the
term of suction stress.




q/p’
λ
ν
Critical state line
Dense Loose
H
vorslev
surface
M
R
o
s
c
o
e
s
u
r
f
a
c
e
Normal consolidation line
q/p’
λ
ν
Critical state line
Dense Loose
H
vorslev
surface
M
R
o
s
c
o
e
s
u
r
f
a
c
e
Normal consolidation line

Figure 8. Paths of drained tests on loose and dense sandy spe-
cimens (Redrawn from Atkinson and Bransby, 1978).

N
ln p’
C
ritic
a
l
s
ta
te
lin
e
ν
A
) (
λ
ν
Γ
N
o
rm
a
l
c
o
n
s
o
lid
a
tio
n
lin
e
1.0
A
N
ln p’
C
ritic
a
l
s
ta
te
lin
e
ν
A
) (
λ
ν
Γ
N
o
rm
a
l
c
o
n
s
o
lid
a
tio
n
lin
e
1.0
A

Figure 9. Method of correcting points so they lie on the con-
stant p’ section (Modified from Atkinson and Bransby, 1978).

p' (kPa)
1 10 100 1000
V
o
i
d

r
a
t
i
o
,

e
0.6
0.7
0.8
0.9
1.0
Slurry sample
0.88

Figure 10. Normal consolidation line for the specimen of slurry state.

214
6 CONCLUSION

In order to evaluate the characteristic of shear beha-
vior for unsaturated soil under low confining pres-
sure, a series of the UCs and CWCCs were carried
out using compacted silty clay under undrained con-
dition respectively. The behaviors of shear strength,
the post peak strength and deformation were eva-
luated by applying the suction stress. Especially, the
critical state from these results was examined. Based
on this study, the following summary and conclu-
sions can be drawn.

1. The compressive strengths had the peak values
regardless of the confining pressure, and de-
creased to the constant post peak strength condi-
tion. It was also observed that as the confining
pressure is larger, the compressive strength in-
creases (I-2 vs. I-3). After the volumetric strain
increased at the initial part of shear process (con-
tractive behavior), the dilative behaviors were
observed in all of the test series.
2. It was found that the post peak strength states are
arranged on the failure line of saturated state by
considering the suction stress (p
s
) as a stress
component in (p
net
+p
s
, q) space regardless of the
compaction energy. During the shear process,
the stress path moves upwardly up to the peak
stress state beyond the failure line for saturated
soil. After that, the stress path goes down to the
post peak stress state to be the failure line for sa-
turated soil. This means that these behaviors
were similar to that of overconsolidated soil
moving towards the critical after the peak stress
state.
3. Using a method by Atkinson and Bransby
(1978), it was postulated that the slope of the
normal consolidation line for the specimen of
slurry state is equal to that of the CSL. The CSL
obtained from slurry state was expressed as one
point in (v
λ
, q/(p
net
+p
s
)) space. All of the test re-
sults showed the same tendencies moving toward
CSL after the peak strength state. It also may
implies that the state boundary surface (i.e.,
Hvorslev surface) exists for the test results ob-
tained from the UC and CWCCs under the unsa-
turated state.
4. This paper showed that a similar behavior mov-
ing towards the critical state for the dilative spe-
cimen can be observed by considering the suc-
tion stress as a confining stress. In particular, it
was found that the effect of matric suction can be
considered as the term of suction stress. There-
fore, these results could be interpreted that the
critical state for unsaturated soil exists under low
confining pressure.

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V
λ
1.65 1.70 1.75 1.80 1.85 1.90
q

/

(
p
n
e
t
+
p
s
)
0.0
0.5
1.0
1.5
2.0
2.5
3.0
Test series I
Test series II
Test series III
CSL
Figure 11. Relationships between v
λ
and stress ratio according
to each test series.