A new method for soil water characteristic curve measurement based on similarities between soil freezing and drying

Zhen Liu, Bin Zhang, Xiong Yu, Junliang Tao

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


The soil water characteristic curve (SWCC) is the basis to explain a variety of processes in unsaturated soils, ranging from transport phenomena to mechanical behaviors. In this paper, a new method is developed for SWCC estimation based on the similarity between the freezing/thawing process and drying/wetting process in soils. The theoretical basis for this method is first reviewed. The concept of the soil freezing characteristic curve (SFCC) is introduced to describe the relationship between the unfrozen water content and matric suction in frozen soils. SFCC is analogous to SWCC in that both of them describe the energy status of liquid water associated with liquid water content. Relationships between SWCC and SFCC are discussed. To measure the SFCC, a thermo-time domain reflectometry (TDR) sensor was developed which combines both temperature sensors and conventional TDR sensor. The TDR module and algorithm measured the bulk free water content of soils during the freezing/thawing processes, while the built-in thermocouples measured the internal temperature distribution. SFCCs were obtained from the simultaneously measured TDR and temperature data. Experiments were conducted on a few types of soils to validate this new procedure. The SFCC was obtained from thermo-TDR data collected in specimens subjected to a controlled thawing process, while the SWCC was directly measured by ASTM D5298, the filter paper method. Reasonable agreements were found between SWCC and SFCC. The experimental results implied that the SWCC could be estimated from SFCC, which also provided more evidence of the similarity of freezing/thawing processes and desorption/sorption processes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalGeotechnical Testing Journal
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • Frozen soil
  • Soil freezing characteristic curve
  • Soil water characteristic curve
  • Thermo-TDR sensor
  • Unsaturated soils

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geotechnical Engineering and Engineering Geology


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