Modelling suction instabilities in soils at varying degrees of saturation

Giuseppe Buscarnera*, Constance Mihalache

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalConference articlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Wetting paths imparted by the natural environment and/or human activities affect the state of soils in the near-surface, promoting transitions across different regimes of saturation. This paper discusses a set of techniques aimed at quantifying the role of hydrologic processes on the hydro-mechanical stability of soil specimens subjected to saturation events. Emphasis is given to the mechanical conditions leading to coupled flow/deformation instabilities. For this purpose, energy balance arguments for three-phase systems are used to derive second-order work expressions applicable to various regimes of saturation. Controllability analyses are then performed to relate such work input with constitutive singularities that reflect the loss of strength under coupled and/or uncoupled hydro-mechanical forcing. A suction-dependent plastic model is finally used to track the evolution of stability conditions in samples subjected to wetting, thus quantifying the growth of the potential for coupled failure modes upon increasing degree of saturation. These findings are eventually linked with the properties of the field equations that govern pore pressure transients, thus disclosing a conceptual link between the onset of coupled hydro-mechanical failures and the evolution of suction with time. Such results point out that mathematical instabilities caused by a non-linear suction dependent behaviour play an important role in the advanced constitutive and/or numerical tools that are commonly used for the analysis of geomechanical problems in the unsaturated zone, and further stress that the relation between suction transients and soil deformations is a key factor for the interpretation of runaway failures caused by intense saturation events.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number03003
JournalE3S Web of Conferences
StatePublished - Sep 12 2016
Event3rd European Conference on Unsaturated Soils, E-UNSAT 2016 - Paris, France
Duration: Sep 12 2016Sep 14 2016

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Science(all)
  • Energy(all)
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences(all)

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