Uniqueness and existence in plasticity models for unsaturated soils

Giuseppe Buscarnera*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Scopus citations


The paper investigates the mathematical structure of plasticity models for unsaturated soils and provides a strategy to capture the loss of uniqueness of the incremental solution upon loading and/or wetting paths. To derive bifurcation conditions in simple analytical form, the analysis is restricted to isotropic stress states. This choice has allowed the inspection of the most common classes of constitutive models through a unified notation, as well as the study of different forms of coupling between plasticity and state of saturation. It is shown that, similar to saturated soil plasticity, the loss of admissibility of the plastic solution is governed by critical values of the hardening modulus. At variance with the classical case, however, these moduli can be positive even if the plastic flow rule is associated (bifurcation in the hardening regime). The paper shows that such non-trivial features derive from hydro-mechanical coupling, i.e. they depend on the approach used to reproduce suction effects and evolving retention properties. In other words, although the problem of loss of uniqueness affects all classes of plasticity models for unsaturated soils, different constitutive assumptions may not have the same outcome in terms of bifurcation potential. As a result, new concepts are introduced to compare the mathematical robustness of the different constitutive approaches, as well as to interpret their predictions in the light of precise bifurcation criteria.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)313-327
Number of pages15
JournalActa Geotechnica
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2014


  • Bifurcation theory
  • Hydro-mechanical coupling
  • Plasticity
  • Uniqueness
  • Unsaturated soils

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geotechnical Engineering and Engineering Geology
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)


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