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ENGI 0637 ENGI 5151

Geoenvironmental Engineering
Soil Suction Measurement and Development of Soil Water Retention
Total Soil Suction
Following Fredlund and Rahardjo, in thermodynamics terms,
the relationship between soil suction (or free energy of the soil
water) and the partial pressure of pore water vapour is:
ln( v )
u v0

Fredlund and Rahadjo eqn 4.1, p. 64

S is the total soil suction, composed of matric suction plus osmotic

suction (MPa);
R is the universal gas constant (8.3143 x 10-6 m3MPa/molK);
T is the absolute temperature (K) 273.2 + T(C);
Vw is the partial molal volume of water (1.805 x 10-5 m3/mol); and
uv is the partial pressure of pore water vapour; and
uv0 is the saturation pressure of water vapour over a flat surface of pure
water at the same temperature reference state.
Note that uv/uv0 is relative humidity (RH).
From Fredlund and Rahardjo, 1993

Components of Total Suction

see Figure 4.2 from Fredlund and Rahardjo, 1993, below

Soil Suction Measurement and Development of Soil Water Retention

Curves (See Table 10.1 and Fig 10.1 from Lu and Likos, 2004 below)

As Table 10.1 and Figure 10.1 on p. 3 indicate several methods

exist for suction measurement/control
development of a complete soil water retention curve will often
involve _____________________; e.g. axis translation techniques
such as the tension plate or pressure plate in ____________ ranges
and isopiestic humidity control in the __________ suction ranges
Lets examine some of the techniques used to measure/control
suction we will start with the filter paper technique
Filter Paper Technique
Note that filter paper can be used to measure both total and
matric suction see Fig 10.28 from Lu and Likos, 2004 below

it is an ____________ measurement of soil suction an

initially dry filter paper is placed either in direct contact with the
soil or suspended in the headspace above the soil specimen
moisture transfer from the soil to the filter paper will occur
until equilibrium (with respect to ________________________) is
achieved at this point the _____________________ of the filter
paper is measured gravimetrically and related to soil suction
through a calibration curve for the specific type of paper used
see Fig 10.30 from Lu and Likos, 2004 below

for the noncontact technique, moisture transfer occurs in the

____________________ the equilibrium amount of water
adsorbed by the paper is a function of the pore-air _____________
and thus is a function of ______________ suction
for the contact technique, moisture transfer occurs through
___________ and is controlled by __________________________,
which are related to the _____________ suction component

the break in the calibration curves in Fig 10.30 have been

interpreted as a transition from an adsorbed water film regime at
high suctions into a ___________________ at lower suction values
High Air Entry (HAE) Ceramics and Axis Translation Techniques
HAE ceramics are an important aspect of measuring and
controlling soil suction in the lab and the field see Figure 10.2
from Lu and Likos, 2004 below

HAE materials are characterized by micrometer-range sized

pores of relatively _________________________________
when the HAE disk (see Figure 10.2 above) is water saturated the
surface tension at the air/water interfaces in the HAE pores allows a
pressure difference to be maintained between the _____________
thus ___________________ between the soil pore water and the
water reservoir can be maintained (i.e. from one side of the disk to the
other) through the water saturated pores while air flow is _________
this allows negative water pressure to be measured (or applied)
directly or the difference between water and air pressure to be
directly controlled and maintained across the HAE disk both
principles are used in suction measurement/control

the maximum sustainable difference between the air pressure

above the disk and the water pressure within and below the disk is
given by:
2 Ts
(u a u w )d
where (ua uw)d is defined as the air entry value (AEV) of the HAE
disk, Ts is the surface tension of water and Rs is taken as the radius
of the _____________________________________
separation of the air and water pressure is maintained as long as
the air pressure does not ______________________________
AEVs can be up to 1500 kPa for sintered ceramics and 10,000 kPa
for cellulose membranes
axis translation refers to the method of elevating air pressure
while maintaining the water pressure at a measurable reference
value, typically atmospheric
because free water cavitates under negative pressures
approaching 1 atmosphere (~100 kPa), axis translation allows the
control/application of matric suction values (ua uw) far greater
than the cavitation limit for water under negative pressure
in essence, the system is translated from the condition of
atmospheric air pressure (ua = 0) and negative water pressure (uw < 0)
to the condition of elevated air pressure (ua > 0) and atmospheric
water pressure (uw = 0) this translation can be readily achieved
with devices that utilize HAE ceramic disks, as shown in Figure
10.5 on the next page

matric suction can be easily controlled using this technique

because positive air pressure is easy to apply, control and measure
the axis translation technique is illustrated in Figure 10.5 from
Lu and Likos below
a specimen of soil is placed in good contact with a saturated
HAE disk this allows hydraulic connection of the pore water in
the soil with the water compartment below the HAE disk
positive air pressure is applied (a pressure vessel is needed) and
water will drain from the soil through the HAE disk pores until
the water content of the specimen can be determined and the
applied matric suction (ua uw) is the difference between the water
pressure (typically atmospheric = 0) and the _________________
each equilibrium point of water content with the corresponding
applied matric suction will serve as one point to define the retention
curve of the soil

Units typically used in suction testing and measurement:

1 atmosphere = 101.3 kPa = 1033 cm of water
1 Bar = 100 kPa