Swell pressure, matric suction, and matric suction equivalent for undisturbed expansive clays

Sonal Singhal, Sandra Houston, William N. Houston

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Methods of computation for soil heave based on an “equivalent” net normal stress path approach often have built-in assumptions regarding the relationship between in situ matric suction, overburden stress, and swell pressure. The term “matric suction equivalent” has been previously defined as the difference between in situ state of stress projected on the net normal stress plane (represented by swell pressure) and overburden stress. Correlations between matric suction, overburden stress, and swell pressure for matric suction values in excess of the air-entry value have not been well studied and are explored here for expansive soils. Filter paper (in-contact) and constant volume swell pressure tests were performed on undisturbed tube samples of expansive soils taken from Arizona, Colorado, and Texas. In general, the ratio of the matric suction equivalent to the matric suction decreases with increasing soil suction. An empirical relationship was established in which the matric suction equivalent was found to be proportional to the logarithm of the matric suction for in situ matric suctions greater than a certain value, termed as the “intercept matric suction”. A correlation between the intercept matric suction and the soil’s plasticity index (PI) was found for the clays of this study. The developed correlations represent a method for obtaining approximate estimates of in situ matric suction for expansive soils from PI and swell pressure data. Implications of the study findings for the use of an equivalent net normal stress approach for estimation of soil heave are explored.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)356-366
Number of pages11
JournalCanadian Geotechnical Journal
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 22 2015


  • Degree of saturation
  • Expansive soils
  • Heave prediction
  • Matric suction
  • Matric suction equivalent
  • Swell pressure
  • Unsaturated soils

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Civil and Structural Engineering
  • Geotechnical Engineering and Engineering Geology


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