Mechanics and hydraulics of unsaturated soils: what makes interfaces an indispensable part of a physically-based model

Thursday, 18 December 2014
Ehsan Nikooee, Utrecht University, Geosciences, Utrecht, Netherlands and S. Majid Hassanizadeh, Utrecht University, Utrecht, 3584, Netherlands
The foundations of the current theories for hydraulics and mechanics of unsaturated soils have been mainly based on the empirically introduced equations. There are various characteristics of unsaturated soils for which lots of different empirical equations have been proposed such as hydraulic conductivity, water retention curve, and effective stress parameter. One of the remarkable challenges which all current models face is hysteresis, i.e., for a certain matric suction, values of saturation, hydraulic conductivity and effective stress parameter in drying state and wetting are different. Conventional models of hydraulic and mechanical behaviour of unsaturated soils try to account for the hysteresis phenomenon by means of different empirical equations for each hydraulic path. Hassanizadeh and Gray (1993) claimed that the hysteresis in capillary pressure-saturation curves can be modelled through the inclusion of air-water interfaces as a new independent variable [1]. It has recently been stated that the same conjecture can be made for suction stress [2]. Therefore, it seems to better portray hydraulic and mechanical behaviour of unsaturated soils, interfaces are required as an indispensable part of the framework [3, 4]. This presentation aims at introducing the drawbacks of current theories of hydraulics and mechanics of unsaturated soils. For this purpose, the role of interfaces in the mechanics and hydraulics of unsaturated soils is explained and different possibilities to account for the contribution of interfaces are discussed. Finally, current challenges and future research directions are set forth.


[1] Hassanizadeh, S.M. & Gray, W.G.: Thermodynamic basis of capillary pressure in porous media. Water Resour.Res. 29(1993), 3389–3405.

[2] Nikooee, E., Habibagahi, G., Hassanizadeh, S.M. & Ghahramani, A.: Effective Stress in unsaturated Soils: a thermodynamic approach based on the interfacial energy and hydromechanical coupling. Transport porous Med. 96(2) (2013), 369-396.

[3] Likos, W. J. Effective stress in unsaturated soil: Accounting for surface tension and interfacial area. Vadose Zone Journal13(5) (2014).

[4] Joekar‐Niasar, V. & Hassanizadeh, S. M.: Specific interfacial area: The missing state variable in two‐phase flow equations? Water Resources Research 47(5) (2011).