Bulletin of Engineering Geology and the Environment

, Volume 78, Issue 7, pp 5055–5065 | Cite as

A new water retention model that considers pore non-uniformity and evolution of pore size distribution

  • Q. Cheng
  • C. W. W. Ng
  • C. ZhouEmail author
  • C. S. Tang
Original Paper


Pore size distribution (PSD), which is usually measured using mercury intrusion porosimetry (MIP) tests, is often used to predict the water retention curve (WRC) of unsaturated soil. Existing models generally predict the drying path of the WRC only because the intrusion of non-wetting mercury in MIP tests is equivalent to air entry during drying. Moreover, the PSD changes under hydro-mechanical loads, which has a significant effect on water retention behaviour. In this study, a new model is developed to predict both the main drying and wetting paths of WRCs. Based on a single PSD at reference stress and suction conditions, we quantified the influence of pore non-uniformity on MIP test results and the main drying and wetting paths of WRCs using the new model. From the reference PSD, we determined variation in the PSD with stress and suction and incorporated this variation into modelling of the WRC. The newly developed model was applied to simulate the PSD variation and the hysteretic WRC of different soils. Based on the results, it is evident that the new model is able to capture the evolution of the PSD during drying, wetting and compression. Moreover, the main drying and wetting paths of WRCs of unsaturated soil were closely predicted.


Water retention Pore size distribution Non-uniformity Main drying and wetting 



This work was supported by the Research Grants Council of the Hong Kong Administrative Region (Grant No. 16204817, 616812, 16209415) and the National Natural Science Foundation of China (Grant No. 41572246, 41772280, 51509041, 41322019).


  1. Alonso EE, Gens A, Josa A (1990) A constitutive model for partially saturated soils. Géotechnique 40(3):405–430CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Burton GJ, Pineda JA, Sheng DC, Airey D (2015) Microstructural changes of an undisturbed, reconstituted and compacted high plasticity clay subjected to wetting and drying. Engineering Geology 193:363–373CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Chen R, Ge YH, Chen ZK, Liu J, Zhao YR, Li ZH, (2019) Analytical solution for one-dimensional contaminant diffusion through unsaturated soils beneath geomembrane. Journal of Hydrology 568:260–274Google Scholar
  4. Dolinar B (2015) Prediction of the soil-water characteristic curve based on the specific surface area of fine-grained soils. Bulletin of Engineering Geology and the Environment 74(3):697–703CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Fredlund D, Xing A (1994) Equations for the soil-water characteristic curve. Canadian Geotechnical Journal 31(4):521–532CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Gao Y, Sun DA, Wu Y (2018) Hysteretic soil water characteristics and cyclic swell–shrink paths of compacted expansive soils. Bulletin of Engineering Geology and the Environment 77:837–848CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Hillel D (1998) Environmental soil physics. Academic Press, San Diego, CA, pp 155–161Google Scholar
  8. Hu R, Chen YF, Liu HH, Zhou CB (2013) A water retention curve and unsaturated hydraulic conductivity model for deformable soils: consideration of the change in pore-size distribution. Géotechnique 63(16):1389–1405CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Li X, Zhang LM (2009) Characterization of dual-structure pore-size distribution of soil. Canadian Geotechnical Journal 46(2):129–141CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Li ZS, Derfouf FE, Benchouk A, Abou-Bekr N, Taibi S, Fleureau JM (2018) Volume Change Behavior of Two Compacted Clayey Soils under Hydraulic and Mechanical Loadings. Journal of Geotechnical and Geoenvironmental Engineering 144(4):04018013CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Ng CWW, Menzies B (2007) Advanced unsaturated soil mechanics and engineering. Taylor & Francis, Milton Park, UKGoogle Scholar
  12. Ng CWW, Pang YW (2000) Influence of stress states on soil-water characteristics and slope stability. Journal of Geotechnical and Geoenvironmental Engineering 126(2):157–166CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Ng CWW, Lai CH, Chiu CF (2012) A modified triaxial apparatus for measuring the stress path-dependent water retention curve. Geotechnical Testing Journal 35(3):490–495CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Nowamooz H, Masrouri F (2010) Suction variations and soil fabric of swelling compacted soils. Journal of Rock Mechanics and Geotechnical Engineering 2(2):129–134CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Penumadu D, Dean J (2000) Compressibility effect in evaluating the pore-size distribution of kaolin clay using mercury intrusion porosimetry. Canadian Geotechnical Journal 37(2):393–405CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Prapaharan S, Altschaeffl AG, Dempsey BJ (1985) Moisture curve of compacted clay: mercury intrusion method. Journal of Geotechnical Engineering 111(9):1139–1143CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Puppala AJ, Punthutaecha K, Vanapalli SK (2006) Soil–water characteristic curves of stabilized expansive soils. Journal of Geotechnical and Geoenvironmental Engineering 132(6):736–751CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. 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. Geotechnical and Geological Engineering 26:705–727CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Romero E, Gens A, Lloret A (1999) Water permeability, water retention and microstructure of unsaturated compacted Boom clay. Engineering Geology 54(1):117–127CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Romero E, Vecchia GD, Jommi C (2011) An insight into the water retention properties of compacted clayey soils. Géotechnique 61(4):313–328CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Santamarina JC, Jang J (2011) Bacteria in sediments: pore size effects. Géotechnique Letters 1:91–93CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Satyanaga A, Rahardjo H, Leong EC, Wang JY (2013) Water characteristic curve of soil with bimodal grain-size distribution. Computers and Geotechnics 48:51–61CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Simms PH, Yanful EK (2001) Measurement and estimation of pore shrinkage and pore distribution in a clayey till during soil-water characteristic curve tests. Canadian Geotechnical Journal 38(4):741–754CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Simms PH, Yanful EK (2002) Predicting soil-water characteristic curves of compacted plastic soils from measured pore-size distributions. Géotechnique 52(4):269–278CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Simms PH, Yanful EK (2005) A pore-network model for hydromechanical coupling in unsaturated compacted clayey soils. Canadian Geotechnical Journal 42(2):499–514CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Sun DA, Gao Y, Zhou AN, Sheng DC (2016) Soil-water retention curves and microstructures of undisturbed and compacted Guilin lateritic clay. Bulletin of Engineering Geology and the Environment 75(2):781–791CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Vanapalli SK, Fredlund DG, Puhafl DE (1999) The influence of soil structure and stress history on the soil-water characteristics of a compacted till. Géotechnique 49(2):143–159CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Yu CY, Chow JK, Wang YH (2016) Pore-size changes and responses of kaolinite with different structures subject to consolidation and shearing. Engineering Geology 202:122–131CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Zhang LM, Li X (2010) Microporosity structure of coarse granular soils. Journal of Geotechnical and Geoenvironmental Engineering 136(10):1425–1436CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Zhou C, Ng CWW (2014) A new and simple stress-dependent water retention model for unsaturated soil. Computers and Geotechnics 62:216–222CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Earth Sciences and EngineeringNanjing UniversityNanjingChina
  2. 2.Department of Civil and Environmental EngineeringThe Hong Kong University of Science and TechnologyKowloonHong Kong
  3. 3.Department of Civil and Environmental EngineeringThe Hong Kong Polytechnic UniversityHung HomHong Kong

Personalised recommendations