Skip to main content

Consequences on water retention properties of double-porosity features in a compacted silt


The paper deals with an experimental investigation aimed at studying microstructural features and their consequences on water retention properties of statically compacted unsaturated silt. The evolution of the microstructure of the aggregate fabric induced by compaction is investigated by studying the pore size distribution changes under different initial conditions (void ratio and water content). The material used is low plasticity silt from Jossigny near Paris, France. A series of mercury intrusion porosimetry tests (MIP) were performed at different void ratios and water contents to provide microstructural information. The arrangement of aggregation/particles and pore network was also investigated with environmental scanning electron microscopy (ESEM). The MIP data were used to determine the water retention curve on drying for the specific pore network configuration induced on compaction. The MIP data were used to formulate and calibrate a multimodal water retention model for a specific pore network configuration, which is obtained by linear superposition of subcurves of a modified van Genuchten type. The study is then complemented with controlled suction oedometer tests on compacted samples to obtain the water retention properties of the material at two different void ratios. Finally, we compare the water retention properties obtained by the simulated progression of the different pore network configurations induced on the hydraulic path with the water retention properties under suction-controlled conditions. Good agreement between the two methods for the drying path is reached.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3
Fig. 4
Fig. 5
Fig. 6
Fig. 7
Fig. 8
Fig. 9
Fig. 10
Fig. 11
Fig. 12
Fig. 13
Fig. 14
Fig. 15
Fig. 16
Fig. 17
Fig. 18


  1. 1.

    Aubertin M, Mbonimpa M, Bussière B, Chapuis RP (2003) A model to predict the water retention curve from basic geotechnical properties. Can Geotech J 40:1104–1122

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. 2.

    Barbour SL (1998) The soil-water characteristic curve: a historical perspective. Can Geotech J 35:873–894

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. 3.

    Brooks RH, Corey AT (1964) Hydraulic properties of porous media. Colo State Univ Hydrol Paper 3:1–27

    Google Scholar 

  4. 4.

    Casini F (2008) Effetti del grado di saturazione sul comportamento meccanico di un limo. PhD thesis, Universitá degli Studi di Roma “La Sapienza”, Italy

  5. 5.

    Cui YJ (1993) Etude du comportement d’un limon non saturé et de sa modélisation dans un cadre élasto-plastique. PhD thesis, Ecole Nationale des Ponts et Chassées, Paris, France

  6. 6.

    Cui YJ, Delage P (1996) Yielding and plastic behavior of an unsaturated compacted silt. Géotechnique 46(2):291–311

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. 7.

    Delage P (2010) A microstructure approach to the sensitivity and compressibility of some Eastern Canada sensitive clays. Géotechnique 60(5):353–368

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. 8.

    Delage P, Audiguier M, Cui YJ, Howat M (1996) The microstructure of a compacted silt. Can Geotech J 33:150–158

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. 9.

    Durner W (1994) Hydraulic conductivity estimation for soils with heterogeneous pore structure. Water Resour Res 30(2):211–223

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. 10.

    Gallipoli D, Wheeler S, Karstunen M (2003) Modelling the variation of degree of saturation in a deformable unsaturated soil. Géotechnique 53(1):105–112

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. 11.

    Gens A, Alonso E, Suriol J, Lloret A (1995) Effect of structure on the volumetric behaviour of a compacted soil. In: Proceedings of 1st international conference on unsaturated soils, Paris

  12. 12.

    Juang CH, Holtz RD (1986) Fabric, pore size distribution, and permeability of sandy soils. J Geotech Eng Div ASCE 112(9):855–868

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. 13.

    Koliji A, Vuillet L, Laloui L (2010) Structural characterization of unsaturated aggregated soil. Can Geotech J 47:297–311

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. 14.

    Lapierre C, Leroueil S, Locat J (1990) Mercury intrusion and permeability of Louisville clay. Can Geotech J 27:761–773

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. 15.

    Leroueil S, Bouchlin G, Tavenas F, Bergeron L, La Rochelle P (1990) Permeability anisotropy of natural clays as a function of strain. Can Geotech J 27:568–579

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. 16.

    Mašín D (2010) Predicting the dependency of a degree of saturation on void ratio and suction using effective stress principle for unsaturated soils. Int J Numer Anal Meth Geomech 34:73–90

    Google Scholar 

  17. 17.

    Mayne C, Murad M (2003) Macroscopic behavior of swelling porous media derived from micromechanical analysis. Transp Porous Media 50:127–151

    MathSciNet  Article  Google Scholar 

  18. 18.

    Mbonimpa M, Aubertin M, Bussière B (2006) Predicting the unsaturated hydraulic conductivity of granular soils from basic geotechnical properties using the modified Kovács (MK) model and statistical models. Can Geotech J 43:773–787

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. 19.

    Miller GA, Khoury CN, Muraleetharan KK, Lui C, Kibbey TCG (2008) Effects of soil skeleton deformations on hysteretic soil water characteristics curves: experiments and simulations. Water Resour Res 44:1–10. doi:10.1029/2007WR006492

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. 20.

    Monroy R, Zdravkovic L, Ridley A (2010) Evolution of microstructure in compacted London clay during wetting and loading. Géotechnique 60(2):105–119

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. 21.

    Nuth M, Laloui L (2008) Advances in modelling hysteretic water retention curve in deformable soils. Comput Geotech 35:835–844

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. 22.

    Or D (1996) Wetting-induced soil structural changes: the theory of liquid phase sintering. Water Resour Res 32(10):3041–3049

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. 23.

    Richard G, Cousin I, Sillon JF, Bruand A, Guérif J (2001) Effect of compaction on the porosity of a silty soil: influence on unsaturated hydraulic properties. Eur J Soil Sci 52:49–58

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. 24.

    Romero E, Simms PH (2008) Microstructure investigation in unsaturated soils: a review with special attention to contribution of mercury intrusion porosimetry and environmental scanning electron microscopy. Geotech Geol Eng 26(6):705–727

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. 25.

    Romero E, Vaunat J (2000) Retention curves of deformable clays. In: Proceedings of international workshop on unsaturated soils: experimental evidence and theoretical approaches, Balkema, Trento, pp 91–106

  26. 26.

    Romero E, Lloret A, Gens A (1999) Water permeability, water retention and microstructure of unsaturated Boom clay. Eng Geol 54:117–127

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. 27.

    Romero E, Della Vecchia G, Jommi C (2011) An insight into the water retention properties of compacted clayey soils. Géotechnique 61(4):313–328

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. 28.

    Salager S, El Youssoufi MS, Saix C (2010) Definition and experimental determination of a soil water retention surface. Can Geotech J 47(6):609–622

    Article  Google Scholar 

  29. 29.

    Simms PH, Yanful EK (2004) Estimation of soil-water characteristic curve of clayey till using measured pore-size distributions. J Geotech Eng Div ASCE 130(8):847–854

    Google Scholar 

  30. 30.

    Simms PH, Yanful EK (2005) A pore-network model for hydromechanical coupling in unsaturated compacted clayey soils. Can Geotech J 42:499–514

    Article  Google Scholar 

  31. 31.

    Tarantino A (2009) A water retention model for deformable soils. Géotechnique 59(9):751–762

    Article  Google Scholar 

  32. 32.

    Tarantino A (2010) Compacted versus reconstituted states. In: Proceedings of 5th international conference on unsaturated soils, Balkema, Barcelona, pp 113–136

  33. 33.

    van Genuchten MT (1980) A closed-form equation for predicting the hydraulic conductivity of unsaturated soil. Soil Sci Soc Am J 44:892–898

    Article  Google Scholar 

  34. 34.

    Vicol T (1990) Comportment hydraulique et mecanique d’un sol fin non sature application a la modelisation. PhD Thesis, Ecole Nationale des Ponts et Chassées, Paris, France

  35. 35.

    Weber TM, Plötze M, Laue J, Peschke G, Springman (2010) Smear zone identification and soil properties around stone columns constructed in-flight in centrifuge model tests. Géotechnique 60(3):197–206

Download references


The authors acknowledge Michael Plötze and Gabriele Peschke of Institute of Geotechnical Engineering at ETHZ for their technical support in performing the MIP and ESEM tests, respectively.

Author information



Corresponding author

Correspondence to Francesca Casini.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Casini, F., Vaunat, J., Romero, E. et al. Consequences on water retention properties of double-porosity features in a compacted silt. Acta Geotech. 7, 139–150 (2012).

Download citation


  • Compacted soil
  • Pore network model
  • Pore size distribution
  • Water retention curve