Granular Matter

, 20:20 | Cite as

Fabric characterisation in transitional soils

  • M. C. Todisco
  • M. R. Coop
  • J.-M. Pereira
Original Paper


A “transitional” mode of soil behaviour implies that dense and loose samples do not converge towards the same volumes within the strains and stresses applied by simple oedometer and triaxial tests. As this behaviour involves soils with different gradings and mineralogies (e.g. gap graded, well graded and/or mixed mineralogies), identifying the factors responsible is difficult. Nevertheless, it has been previously speculated that strong forms of fabric that are difficult to break down as strains and stresses are applied, might be the common cause. This paper aims at investigating some elements of fabric at the microscale of transitional soils. A gap graded and two well graded mixtures with large amounts of non-plastic fines were investigated by oedometer and triaxial tests. As it would be difficult to identify experimentally many commonly used elements of fabric in these soils, e.g. the contact network, mercury intrusion porosimetry was used as a first step to characterise the evolution of pore size distributions (PSDs) of dense and loose samples undergoing the same stress paths, using the PSDs as a proxy of fabric. Multi-directional bender element testing was performed to confirm the isotropy of the elastic stiffness, from which it might be inferred that the fabric is also isotropic. Statistical parameters of the PSDs were calculated, the changes of which were related to the evolution of macroscale void ratios. The robust fabrics causing lack of convergence were characterised by a complex evolution of the PSDs, the initial differences of which could not be erased during conventional testing. This work also provided a simple method to examine the fabric of particularly well graded or gap graded materials, for which other techniques, such as CT or SEM, could not reveal the multi-scale nature of the fabric.


Fabric MIP Statistical parameters Transitional soils 

List of symbols


Elastic shear modulus

\(\hbox {G}_{\mathrm{hh}}\)

Shear modulus calculated from horizontally propagated, horizontally polarised shear waves

\(\hbox {G}_{\mathrm{hv}}\)

Shear modulus calculated from horizontally propagated, vertically polarised shear waves

\(\hbox {G}_{\mathrm{vh}}\)

Shear modulus calculated from vertically propagated, horizontally polarised shear waves


Leighton Buzzard sand


Crushed limestone


Pore size distribution


Sand plastic fines (75% sand–25% kaolin)

\({\upgamma }\)

Skewness of PSD

\({\upkappa }\)

Kurtosis of PSD

\(\upmu \)

Mean of PSD

\(\upsigma \)

Standard deviation of PSD



The work described in this paper was fully supported by a grant from the Research Grants Council of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, China (project no. CityU 112813). The authors are grateful to Prof. Pierre Delage for his valuable comments on MIP data and Dr. Madhusudhan for carrying out X-Ray CT scans at the University of Southampton. The technician Mr. Xavier Boulay and Baptiste Chabot are acknowledged for their technical support in conducting the MIP tests. Also, we would like to thank the reviewers for their constructive remarks which helped to improve the quality of the paper.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors certify that they have no affiliations with or involvement in any organization or entity with any financial or non-financial interest (such as personal or professional relationships, affiliations, knowledge or beliefs) in the subject matter or materials discussed in this manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Coffey Geotechnics, Atlantic House, Atlas Business Park, ManchesterUK formerly City University of Hong KongHong Kong
  2. 2.University College LondonLondonUK
  3. 3.Laboratoire Navier, UMR 8205École des Ponts ParisTech, IFSTTAR, CNRSParisFrance

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