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CE 330: Soil Mechanics

Basic Geology
and the Origin of Soils

Dante Fratta
University of Wisconsin-Madison
Geology: is the science that deals with rocks,
minerals, and subsurface rocks. This science also
studies the formation, structure and behavior of
these materials.

Engineering Geology: deals the the application of

geologic concepts into engineering practice.
Rocks and Soils
Rocks for a geologist is any natural formed
aggregate or mass of mineral matter, whether or
not coherent, constituting an essential and
appreciable part of the earth crust

Rocks for an engineer is a hard durable material

that cannot be excavated without blasting

These definitions are sometimes conflicting.

Rocks and Soils
Most rocks are cemented Most soils are not cemented
Most rocks have low Most soils have large
porosity porosity
Weathering can greatly alter Weathering barely alters the
the rocks properties. soil properties.
Depending on scale, rocks Depending on scale, soils are
are considered a considered a continuous
discontinuous material. material.
Rocks can have the largest Most soils have the largest
principal stress either in the principal stress in the
vertical or horizontal vertical directions.
direction (complex stress

AM consultants KSU
Minerals are naturally occurring solids with
specific structures and chemical composition.
There are thousand of minerals, and the vast
majority form rocks (rock-forming minerals)
Properties of minerals control the properties of
Identifications is done using physical (color, Mohs
Scale), chemicals properties (evaluating
reactions), and structure (microscope, X-ray
Minerals Mohs Scale
1 Talc (scratched by 6 Orthoclase (~ 6.5 steel
finger nails) needle)
2 Gypsum (~ 2.2 7 Quartz (scratches glass
fingernail) with ease)
3 Calcite (~ 3.2 copper 8 Topaz (scratches
penny) glass)
4 Fluorite 9 Corundum (cuts glass)
5 Apatite (~ 5.1 10 Diamond
Minerals - Examples
Quartz (SiO2): is a very
common mineral. Mohs
hardness 7. Chert is a type
of amorphous silicate that
may react with Portland
Feldspar (orthoclase
KAlSi3O8 and plagioclase
NaAlSi3O8 ): is the most
abundant mineral. Mohs
hardness 6 (orthoclase)
Minerals - Examples
Calcite (CaCO3): is soluble in
water which can transport it. It
may cement soils when
precipitate out of solution. It
reacts with hydrochloridic acid.
Pitt Univ.
Mohs hardness 3.
Dolomite: similar composition to
calcite (it has magnesium)
Mica (Muscovite is white;
Biotite is black): semi-
transparent flakes or sheets with
very low friction coefficient.
Pitt Univ.
Minerals - Examples
Gypsum: it is a whitish mineral that has cementing
properties. It is used in the manufacturing of Portland
cement and dry walls. It is soluble in water.
Pyroxene, Amphibole, Hornblende, Olivine: are
ferromagnesian minerals.
Limonite, Magnetite: are minerals that contain iron
(Fe2O3). They have rusty color (e.g., Georgia clay)
Ice (solid H2O). Water is not considered a mineral.
Diamond: is the hardest mineral of all. It is composed of
pure carbon.
The Geologic Cycle
The geologic cycle explains the process of rock
and soil formation
indurati Sedimentary
n weather
ing Rock
lasti c e Soils
weathering metamorphosis

Igneous metamorphosis Metamorphic

Rock Rock




ti c ejecti
Molten Pyroc

MAGMA (Coduto 1999)

The Geologic Cycle
Igneous Rocks: they are formed by the cooling of lava.
There are two types: intrusive and extrusive rocks.
Intrusive rocks cool very slowly and have large grains
(e.g., granite, diorite, gabbro)
Extrusive rocks cool very fast and have small grains (e.g.,
basalt, andesite, rhyolite).
The Geologic Cycle
Weathering Process: involves the physical, chemical, and
biological breakdown of the rock. All these actions are due
to weather forces.
Erosion: water, ice, and wind
Chemical reactions: due to the presence of water, oxygen,
and other chemicals.
Opening of cracks by the unloading of overlying soils and
rocks, by the action of roots, by freezing and thawing, and
thermal expansion and contraction.
Landslides and rock falls.
Rate of Weathering?
The Geologic Cycle
Sedimentary Rocks: are formed
the the transformation of soils
back to rock by a process
known as induration or
There are two types of rocks:
clastic and carbonate rocks.

CalState-Los Angeles
The Geologic Cycle
Clastic rocks: are formed by the hardening of soil deposits
due to the pressure of overlying materials and cementation
of water soluble minerals, iron oxides and carbonates.
They usually show layers (strata). These layers are known
as bedding planes.
Typical examples include: sandstone, claystone,
conglomerate, shale (indurated clays)
Slacking: is the process by which fine-grained clastic rock
deteriorate due to excavation and exposure. Slacking can
be a problem for engineering structures.
The Geologic Cycle
Carbonate rocks: they are formed by organic materials that
accumulate and become indurated.
Typical examples include limestone (CaCO3 water and
carbonic acid soluble may trigger sinkhole big
problem in Florida, Karst topography), chalk (a very soft
rock), dolomite (mineral dolomite instead of calcite).

(from USGS 2000)

The Geologic Cycle
Metamorphic Rocks: they are formed by the action of large
pressure and temperature. These actions produce changes in
mineral-forming rocks.
The metamorphic process generally improves the engineering
properties of the rock as it reduces the porosity, and increases
the hardness and the strength.
Examples: Foliated (slate derived from shale, schist large
mica content, gneiss derived from granite) and non-foliated
rocks (quartzite and marble).
Formation, Transport and
Deposition of Soils
Residual Soils: these are soils that remain in the same
place of the formation (the rate of formation is faster than
the rate of transport).
These types of soils are typical of tropical regions.
Deposits can be several hundred meters deep.
Examples: decomposed granite, saprolite (rotten rock; e.g;
Piedmont formation, GA), literite (tropical regions, usually
cemented with iron oxides rusted color)
Formation, Transport and
Deposition of Soils
Glacial Soils: the action of glaciers grinds down soils and
rock and transports the resultant materials over large
The formed material is very heterogeneous. There are
particles of different sizes and mechanical properties.
Till: directly deposited by the glacier E.g., ablation (morraines)
and lodgement (hardpan) tills
glacio-fluvial: are formed after the ice melted due to outwash
glacio-lacustrine: formed by the deposition of fine soils in large
bodies of water, they are usually layered
Formation, Transport and
Deposition of Soils
Glacial Soils
Formation, Transport and
Deposition of Soils
Alluvial Soils (fluvial soils): are soils transported by
streams and rivers.
Very common soils, found in rivers flood plains.
They usually have large groundwater aquifers.
These soils are segregated by size along the length of the
river (large particles gravels and sand - at the origin and
small particles at the delta silts and clays).
In arid areas, the evaporation of water leaves cemented
agents that are deposited in the soil forming very hard
materials known as caliche.
Formation, Transport and
Deposition of Soils
Lacustrian and Marine Soils: lacustrian are soils deposited in
lakes, while marine soils are deposited in the sea and ocean
Grain sizes vary from silts to clays and deposited in uniform
layers or poor engineering properties
Deltas are a common example of marine soils (Mississippi,
Nile, Amazon, and Parana deltas).

Univ. of Idaho
Formation, Transport and
Deposition of Soils
Aolian Soils: are soils transported and deposited by the
wind. They are very poorly graded (uniform) and show
very high porosity.
The transport mechanisms include: suspension (dust
storms), saltation (dunes), and creep (dunes).
Colluvial Soils: are soils transported by gravity, either
slowly or fast.
Examples: downhill creep, landslide, mudflow.
Coduto, D. (1999). Geotechnical Engineering. Principles and Practice.
McCarthy, D. (1998). Essential of Soil Mechanics and Foundation.
Budhu, M. (2005). Soil Mechanics and Foundations. Wiley.
Encyclopedia Britannica (2001). Web Site.
Liu, C. and Evert, J. B. (2001). Soils and Foundations. Prentice-Hall.