Estimation of unsaturated shear strength from soil–water characteristic curve

Qian Zhai, Harianto Rahardjo, Alfrendo Satyanaga, Guoliang Dai

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Citations (Scopus)


Many shallow foundations are constructed within the soil layer above the groundwater table, where the soil remains unsaturated, and the failure of shallow foundation is mostly related to shear failure. The shear strength of the unsaturated soil is one of the main engineering properties required in geotechnical designs. Previous researchers suggested that the shear strength of the unsaturated soil depends on matric suction in the soil. The shape of the soil–water characteristic curve (SWCC) has a significant effect on the characteristics of unsaturated shear strength with respect to matric suction. In this paper, a new model was proposed for the estimation of the unsaturated shear strength from SWCC. In this new model, meniscus was considered to transfer soil suction into both additional net normal stress and additional cohesion. Based on the categorization from soil science, water in soil can be categorized into three groups: (1) gravity water, (2) capillary water and (3) hygroscopic water. The elemental analysis on the contractile skin indicated that only the capillary water in the soil can transfer stress into soil skeleton. Consequently, the SWCC is modified by considering capillary water only for the estimation of unsaturated shear strength. In the derivation, unsaturated soil is considered as four-phase material. Finally, a new mathematical equation for the estimation of the unsaturated shear strength was proposed and verified with the experimental data from the published literature. In addition, the proposed equation does not consist of any empirical parameter and can be used to predict the shear strength of unsaturated soil.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1977-1990
Number of pages14
JournalActa Geotechnica
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Dec 1 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • Capillary water
  • Meniscus
  • Pore-size distribution function
  • Soil–water characteristic curve
  • Unsaturated shear strength

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geotechnical Engineering and Engineering Geology
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)

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