Observations on the desiccation and cracking of clay layers

R. N. Tollenaar, Leon van Paassen, C. Jommi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

78 Scopus citations


Waterways and lakes in low-lying delta areas require regular dredging for maintenance. Often these sediments are placed on land, where they are allowed to ripen through a combination of drainage, consolidation and evaporation. When cracks develop during desiccation, the physical response of the soil is affected by changes in the overall strength, stiffness and permeability of the material. To better identify how cracks form and propagate, a series of tests was carried out in a controlled laboratory environment on samples of drying clay slurries under different initial and boundary conditions. The outcomes of this study indicate that the results from laboratory small scale models must be carefully analyzed, as they depend on the area and the thickness of the sample. However, common features from the different tests can be identified, which are mostly related to the intrinsic behavior of the material. For instance, the water content at which cracks initiate depends mostly on the drying rate and not only on the initial water content. Typically for the clayey soil investigated, the cracking water content is well above the shrinkage limit and in some instances even above the liquid limit. Cracks can form anywhere a defect is encountered, but it was observed that they propagate in horizontal directions below the soil surface. On the soil surface they tend to intersect with each other perpendicularly, suggesting that they are dominated by a tensile stress regime. Shear stresses also influence the response, but mainly near the boundaries of the samples, due to the interface friction.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)23-31
Number of pages9
JournalEngineering Geology
StatePublished - Nov 29 2017


  • Clay desiccation
  • Fracture propagation
  • Soil cracking
  • Soil drying

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geotechnical Engineering and Engineering Geology
  • Geology


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