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Study of desiccation cracking and fracture properties of clay soils

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posted on 02.02.2017, 02:41 by Costa, Warnakulasuriya D Susanga M
The thesis focuses on the development of shrinkage cracking in clay soils upon drying and the determination of fracture properties of clay soils as applicable to analysis of desiccation cracking phenomenon. The results and conclusions were drawn from comprehensive experimental work analysed drawing from Classical Soil Mechanics, Fracture Mechanics, Unsaturated Soil Mechanics and Mechanics of Materials with the aid of powerful image analysis techniques. Attempts were made to fill the gaps in the existing knowledge related to scope of the thesis as identified by a detailed study on the previous works. Three types of soils were used for the work presented in this thesis: Merri-Creek clay, Werribee clay and milled fine sand. The former two are naturally available materials in the Melbourne region. The last material was sourced from a commercial dealer. Potato starch was also used in desiccation tests as an alternative material to examine the crack patterns different from clays. Qualitative and quantitative studies were carried out using these materials aiming to acquire deeper understanding of the cracking mechanisms. Effects of desiccation rate, specimen thickness and particle size on crack patterns were studied. The influence of stress distribution and flaw distribution on crack initiation was also discussed. Image analysis techniques were used extensively to investigate the deformations of soil particles during drying. Shrinkage characteristics and onset of crack initiation were closely studied with displacement vector fields and strain isochrones. Interesting observations were made during these studies which led to deeper understanding of the subject, especially in relation to the mechanisms of crack initiation and associated modelling approaches. Fracture properties of Werribee clay was investigated using SENB beam test. Fracture toughness, fracture energy of Werribee clay was measured using three methods. An attempt was made to explain the behaviour of these parameters with the water content. Finally, an innovative test method to determine the J-integral was introduced. The test is specially designed to determine the J-integral of desiccating soils.


Campus location


Principal supervisor

Jayantha Kodikara

Year of Award


Department, School or Centre

Civil Engineering


Doctor of Philosophy

Degree Type



Faculty of Engineering