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CIVE 310 Soil Mechanics

Civil, architectural, & Environmental Engineering Department

Drexel University

ASTM D 2434

Constant Head Permeability Test

Permeability is a soil property indicating the ease with which
water will flow through the soil. Permeability depends on the
following factors:

1) the size of soil grains

2) the properties of pore fluids

3) the void ratio of the soil

4) the shapes and arrangement of pores

5) the degree of saturation

Darcy’s Law
The coefficient of permeability, k, is a product of Darcy’s Law.
In 1856, Darcy established an empirical relationship for the flow of
water through porous media.

Q = kiA
Q = flow rate (volume/time)
i = hydraulic gradient (unitless)
A = cross-sectional area of flow (area)
k = coeff. of permeability (length/time)

It should be noted that the coefficient of permeability is often referred to as hydraulic

conductivity by hydrologists and environmental scientists. In their notation, permeability has
a entirely different definition.
Purpose and Significance

Determine the permeability, k, (hydraulic conductivity) of soils

by appropriate test method.


Permeability is necessary for the calculation of seepage

through earth dams or under sheet pile walls, the calculation
of the seepage rate from waste storage facilities (landfills,
ponds, etc.), and the calculation of the rate of settlement of
clayey soil deposits.
Test Method
There are four laboratory methods typically used for measuring the
permeability coefficient:

1) the variable-head (falling-head) test

2) the constant-head test
3) the capillary method
4) back calculation from the consolidation test

Generally, soils which contain 10% or more particles passing the No. 200
sieve are tested using the falling-head method. The constant-head
method is limited to disturbed granular soils containing not more than
10% passing the No.200 sieve.
Typical Soil Permeability

The constant head test method is used for permeable soils (k>10 -4
cm/s), and the falling head test is mainly used for less permeable soils
(k<10-4 cm/s).
Test Apparatus




Watch (or Stopwatch)


Test Procedure
1. Using the relative densities given by TA (32,34,36)
determine the density of the specimen, γ

2. Measure the diameter and length of specimen mold,

calculate the volume, V. Then, determine the weight of the
sample needed at the particular relative density, W

3. Set up the permeameter

Test Procedure (cont’d)
a. Loosen the lower hose clamp on the top coupling and remove the reservoir tube.
b. Place test sample in the mold, level with a straight edge, place in the bucket
c. Measure the diameter of both the reservoir tube and bubble tube, length of mold, L.
d. Measure the distance between the top of the mold and top of bucket, H1
e. Take the mold out of the bucket, place the reservoir tube back on the mold and tighten
the clamps
f. Measure the distance from the bottom of the bubble tube to the top of the mold, H2; the
water head difference will be H2-H1
g. Place permeameters in the bucket and fill slowly allowing water to saturate the sample
from the bottom up
h. When water overflows, open the upper and lower ports to allow water in the reservoir
tube, keep the water overflowing the bucket
i. Seal the top of the bubble tube, use vacuum, draw the water into the bubble tube so that
the water level is between 20 and 25cm high as marked on the reservoir tube. Close
the ports with clamps. Note the mark at which it starts
j. Open the bubble tube and start the timer, end test when the water level drops to the
bottom of the bubble tube, or stop after between 15 and 30 minutes.
 Dry density
γd= (γdmax *γdmin ) / [Dr*(γdmax –γdmin) –γdmax

Where γdmax=108.5 pcf, γdmin=90.3 pcf, Dr=32, 34, 36, respectively

 Sample Weight
W= Volume * γd

 Water Head

 Gradient

 Flow
Where A=area of reservoir tube - area of bubble tube

 Hydraulic conductivity or permeability

Extended Analysis
(1) Take temperature into consideration:

KT =Q/iA

(2) The viscosity of the water changes with temperature. As temperature

increases viscosity decreases and the permeability increases. The
coefficient of permeability is standardized at 20°C, and the
permeability at any temperature T is related to K 20 by the following

K20=KTηT/ η20
η20 and ηT are the viscosities at the temperature 20 and T, respectively, and
can be found from tables;
Permeability vs. relative density (void ratio)

Void ratio

Permeability at 20oC
The End