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Adil K. Al-Tamimi, Mufid Al-Samarai, Ali Elian, Nigel Harries, and David Pocock

Synopsis: The construction industry in UAE in particular and the GCC in general, is witnessing a boom in constructing remarkable infrastructure and buildings. The massive amounts of material be- ing used have been produced either locally or imported from inter- national resources. However, the extensive use of materials has not been accompanied by parallel research and development to vali- date proper techniques, quality control standards and codes of practice. There exist numerous test methods related to concrete durability, developed internationally and proved to varying extents in practice. However, confusion exists on how these methods should be applied, how to interpret the results on projects and what are the criteria to be used in UAE by the industry, particularly when using local materials in the harsh environment of the region. Four international durability testing procedures have been eva- luated in this study. It has been shown that durability performance of existing structure is different than the performance of concrete prepared in test samples whether these samples are prepared at site or at the lab due to the differences between the preparation proce- dure of samples and the actual concrete pouring, compacting and curing methods in structures.

Keywords: Concrete durability, diffusion, macro-environment, micro-environment, permeability, diffusion, absorption.

Adil K. Al-Tamimi: Associate Professor of Civil Engineering at the American University of Sharjah, UAE.

Mufid Al-Samarai, Professor of Civil Engineering at Sharjah University, UAE.

Ali Elian: Head of Engineering Materials Lab Section, Dubai Mu- nicipality, UAE.

Nigel Harries: General Manager, Icon Precast LLC, UAE.

D C Pocock : Market Sector Director , Halcrow.


The durability of concrete structures is closely related to the nature and severity of the environment in which they are located, as well as the nature of the concrete construction. This section considers the environments and associated mechanisms by which the envi- ronment can penetrate into concrete. The influence of the concrete itself in permitting or resisting environmental penetration is consi- dered in later sections.

  • The general environment is termed the “macro-environment”, e.g. coastal, inland.

  • The specific environments, more than one of which often oc- curs around a single structure, are termed “micro- environments”, e.g. tidal zone, splash zone.

  • Both macro- and micro- environments may be natural, i.e. re- lated to geography and geometry, or may be man-made, where operational processes lead to exposure, e.g. in industrial plants or watering for plant irrigation. The macro- and micro- environments, in which a structure is lo- cated, determine the transport mechanisms by which the environ- ment, i.e. water, chlorides, gases, can penetrate into concrete. Therefore a definition of the various environmental conditions is useful as a basis for discussing the transport mechanisms, and the test methods themselves. This basic explanation of the environ-

mental zones and the transport mechanisms should enable the re- levance of each test to be considered when concrete durability tests are selected for specific projects. These definitions are set out below, with reference to the following deterioration mechanisms:

  • Chloride-induced reinforcement corrosion: Parts of structures which are in contact with seawater, splash, spray, salty-dust, or other chloride sources (e.g. industrial process water, or irriga- tion water), are at risk from chloride penetration leading to reinforcement corrosion.

  • Carbonation-induced reinforcement corrosion: Parts of struc- tures which are not regularly wet, are subject to carbonation, the rate of penetration of which is subject to humidity and con- crete mix. Good quality concretes which are durable against chloride-induced corrosion are also unlikely to be vulnerable to carbonation, subject to concrete mix details.

  • Sulphate attack: Severity of sulphate exposure should be checked on a structure-by-structure basis, following systematic methodology such as that provided by BRE Special Digest 1: 2005 Concrete in Aggressive Ground.

  • Salt-scaling: Spalling of thin layers form concrete surfaces due to splitting pressures arising from crystallization of salts in concrete pores within the surfaces. It is assumed that both alkali-silica reaction and the use of chlo- ride-containing concreting materials, are avoided by proper speci- fications, and therefore are not relevant to a discussion on envi- ronmental exposure and transport mechanisms.

Environmental conditions and zones

The following main macro-environments apply to concrete struc-

tures in the UAE and most of the Gulf region and in each case there are applicable micro-environments, as summarized in Table

  • 1. This definition may not be comprehensive, and other situations

may occur outside the defined categories. Reference codes are

provided, to assist in illustrating the definition.

Macro-environment Marine

  • Marine/coastal (M): Concrete structures which are close to or in contact with seawater, such as ports, harbors, jetty structures or some bridge piers.


  • Underwater (M-U): Parts of structures are exposed to constant immersion in seawater.

  • Tidal zone (M-T): Parts of structures in the tidal range are sub- ject to alternating cycles of seawater immersion and drying.

  • Splash zone (M-S1): Parts of structures above high tide are subject to splashing by sea-water wave action and drying by wind and sun, all according to orientation and geometry.

  • Spray zone (M-S2): Parts of structures above high tide and splashing by waves are subject to wind-blown seawater spray, and drying according to wind and sun, all according to orienta- tion and geometry, and are also exposed to carbonation.

  • Above the spray zone (M-S1), any other parts of marine/coastal structures should be regarded as near-coastal (N-A).

Macro-environment NEAR-COASTAL

  • Near-coastal (N): Buildings or structures are typically located within 25- 250 m of the sea.

  • Micro-environments:

o Above-ground (N-A): Parts of structures are exposed to wind-blown spray/sand/dust, and are also exposed to car- bonation. o Near-ground (N-N): Parts of structures are exposed to salts rising from the ground water by capillary action and evapo- ration o Below ground (N-B): Parts of structures are exposed to sa- line ground-water, and probably sulphates.

Macro-environment INLAND

  • Inland (I): Typically buildings or structures beyond 25 250 m from the sea. Typically dry except for occasional rain, season- al dewfall, and operational water sources.

  • Micro-environments:

o Above-ground (I-A): Parts of structures are exposed to wind-blown sand/dust, which may be salty, and are also exposed to carbonation. o Near-ground (I-N): Parts of structures may be exposed to salts rising from the ground water by capillary action and evaporation. o Below ground (I-B): Parts of structures may be exposed to saline ground-water, and possibly sulphates, depending upon the height and salinity of the water-table.


  • In any of the above macro-environments (M, N, I), micro- environments may occur which result from operational processes (-O-), as opposed to natural situations.

  • Underwater, tidal (i.e. wetting/drying), splash or spray condi- tions may also be created by process operations such as pump- ing chambers or cooling water intakes/outfalls in industrial plants, or irrigation watering at e.g. hotels or road interchanges. For example, a splash zone at a coastal outfall (M-O-S1), or salt-water irrigation spray on inland concrete (I-O-A).

Internal Environment

  • The interior of buildings or structures is normally dry, and con- crete durability should be controlled by the combination of good quality concrete so that carbonation is not excessive, and proper building envelope detailing so that moisture is not available to support reinforcement corrosion in the event that carbonation does penetrate to reinforcement; (N-I, I-I).

  • Measures other than concrete durability testing are required to control non-typical situations such as leaking basements, excess moisture in kitchens, bathrooms, laundries, etc, or spe- cial indoor structures such as swimming pools; (N-O-I, I-O-I).


The section describes the principle mechanisms by which water, ions; gases may be transported through concrete, to provide a basis

for the following sections which describe durability test methods and specifications.

  • Transport is driven by pressure difference, for example water permeation through soil or concrete driven by hydrostatic pres- sure.

  • This typically applies to underwater zones of marine structures, or underground zones of structures built in the water-table such as foundations, bridge piers, basements or tunnels.

  • The combination of ground-water permeation into concrete basements or tunnels, plus water evaporation on the inside of these “hollow” structures, can result in more rapid transport of water and salts into such concrete than by permeation alone.

  • Permeability measurement techniques and durability modeling are based on the Darcy equation for permeability based on measurement of flow rate, and the Valetta equation for per- meability based on measurement of penetration depth and time.

  • Transport is driven by concentration difference, for example chloride ion diffusion through water, or carbon dioxide or wa- ter vapor diffusion through air.

  • Diffusion is also used for representing the overall effect of wet- ting and drying by salt-water which leads to chloride ingress, and is termed “effective diffusion”.

  • Measurement techniques and durability are based on Ficks Laws of diffusion.

  • Absorption Transport is driven by capillary suction, for example water absorption into concrete or masonry.

  • This typically occurs in concrete structures around and just above the ground-water table. Absorption is also the mechan- ism by which a splashing wave penetrates into concrete, the cumulative effect of which is often termed effective diffusion, as above.

  • The combination of absorption due to capillary suction, plus evaporation of the rising moisture, is often responsible for ver- tical transport of salts from ground water leading to salt-scaling and/or reinforcement corrosion above the water-table.

  • Voltage-induced flow

  • Some forms of durability test involve measuring voltage- induced chloride ion flow through water, in which the voltage is provided in order to shorten the test duration.

  • Such conditions are artificial and do not normally exist in prac- tice, and do not provide a direct measure of permeability, diffu- sion or absorption.


The problem of concrete durability in hot weather is very complex. It can be seen that concrete structures in the hot, arid environments tend to deteriorate more rapidly than those in temperate regions of the world, unless particular precautions are taken. Increases in temperature also increase the risks of cracking, including plastic shrinkage cracking and drying shrinkage cracking, and facilitate the ingress of salt-laden water and moisture, causing disintegration of concrete due to reinforcement corrosion.

Core Testing The examination and compression testing of cores cut from har- dened concrete is a well-established approach, enabling visual in- spection of the interior regions of a member to be coupled with strength estimation, and other physical properties which can be measured include density, chloride diffusion, water absorption, or water permeability. There are many factors that influence results, among which are the concrete characteristics and the testing va- riables. Compressive strength testing variables include factors as, Length/diameter ratio of core, Diameter of core, Direction of drill- ing, Method of capping and reinforcement. The likely coefficient of variation due to testing is about 6% for carefully cut and tested core, which can be compared with a corresponding value of 3% for cubes. The difference is largely caused by the effects of cutting.

It is claimed that the likely 95% confidence limits on actual strength prediction for a single core are +-12% when the Concrete Society calculation procedures are adopted. Uncertainties caused

by reinforcement, compaction or curing may lead to an accuracy as low as +-30%.

Ingress of moisture tests The most important parameter that leads to premature deterioration of reinforced concrete is the ingress of moisture, by absorption or permeation, which can therefore. be used as an indicator of its durability. Transport processes, which describe the movement of aggressive substances through concrete, can be absorption, per- meability or diffusion.

Absorption tests In Absorption concrete takes in liquid by capillary suction to fill the pore space available. Absorption tests should measure the property mentioned and the sorptivity. However, due to the diffi- culty in achieving a unidirectional penetration of water and prob- lems of determining the water penetration depth without actually splitting open the concrete sample, the absorption characteristics of concrete are usually measured indirectly. The most common of these tests are:

  • Standpipe tests

  • Initial Surface Absorption Test (ISAT) (Fig. 1)

  • Autoclam sorptivity test

  • Water-absorption test

Permeability tests

Permeability is where a fluid passes into concrete under the action of pressure gradient. Experimental evidence of permeabili- ty/durability correlation was well established from experiments carried by Basheer. Permeability tests measure the transfer of a liquid or gas into the concrete under the action of a pressure gra- dient. They can be either steady state or non-steady state depend- ing on the condition of flow established within the pore system of the concrete. The most common of these tests are:

  • Autoclam water and air permeability tests

  • Figg air permeability test

  • Schönlin air permeability test

  • Surface airflow test

Diffusion tests Diffusion is where a liquid, gas or ion migrates through concrete; due to a concentration gradient. There is interest in ionic diffusion tests because the rate at which chloride ions diffuse through con- crete is closely related to the corrosion of reinforcement. There are tests which require cores to be extracted, while others can be car- ried out in-situ. The most common of these tests are:

  • The rapid chloride permeability test

  • Steady state migration tests

  • In-situ chloride migration test EVALUATION OF RESULTS AND REPORTING

Most tests have well-defined procedures and the methods used for the calculation and assessment of different parameters from direct- ly measured values will depend to a large extent on the test method used. Variation in properties of hardened concrete due to differ- ences in materials, mixing, transportation, placing, finishing and curing tend to be random and requires that the results be analyzed using various statistical tools such as graphical and numerical me- thods. The number of test types, test location and number of test points used has a significant bearing on the ease with which the variability of concrete within members and between members can be assessed. For confidence, the variability of any tests employed should be studied. Correlation differences between the laboratory conditions under which results are obtained and site conditions can vary, and that this can affect the accuracy of our calibration. The variability of the particular test method, the operator skill and the variability of the concrete under test control the accuracy with

which test results can be calibrated against a particular desired concrete property. Reports should present all these variations and correlation and also the limitations of the testing methods. Recommendations should be clear. Engineering judgment based on his experience and the avail- able data should not be ambiguous or vague.

Durability tests actual results Concrete, like any material, varies in its properties. The variations arise from the raw materials, production methods and sampling techniques. Table 2 shows the contributing factors on strength variability at typical batch plants. Statistical law and routine tests are used to measure the variation between concrete batches. Cube strengths plotted on a frequency histogram will exhibit a normal distribution (Fig. 2). When designing mixes to meet a particular strength, a minimum is stated below which a certain proportion of results, termed failures, are found. This minimum is the specified strength and the mix is designed for a target mean strength, which incorporates an appro- priate safety margin. A typical failure level allowed by specifica- tions is 2.5%, in this instance, statistical tables indicate that the required safety margin shall be 1.96 x standard deviation.

For example:

which test results can be calibrated against a particular desired concrete property. Reports should present all

Specified Strength

= 40 MPa

Standard Deviation


4 MPa

Target Mean Strength

= 40 + (4.0 x 1.96) = 48 MPa


RCP Test ASTM C1202 states the test method is suitable for evaluation of materials and material proportions for design purpose and research development. The numerical results (total charge passed in coloumbs) from this test method must be used with caution, especially in applications such as quality control and acceptance testing.

Single Operator Precision--the single operator co-efficient of varia- tion of a single test result has been found to be 12.3%. Therefore the results of two properly conducted tests by the same operator on concrete samples from the same batch and of the same diameter should not differ by more than 35%.

Multilaboratory Precision--the multi-laboratory co-efficient of variation of a single test result has been found to be 18%. There- fore results of two properly conducted tests in different laborato- ries on the same material should not differ by more than 51%. The average of three test results in two different laboratories should not differ by more than 29%.

DIN Water Penetration Test The DIN standard does not address the issue of precision of the test, Geiker et al reported data suggesting the maximum of three results could deviate more than 100% from the mean with this test. The DIN test is based on the engineering principles relating to flow of liquid subject to pressure. Research has proven that the test method is highly susceptible to variations in specimen preparation, curing and surface preparation. Furthermore measurement of the ingress is a visual process prone to operator bias.

Water Absorption Test The water absorption test gives a modification of total void space in concrete. The variability of the test method is fairly low howev- er when applied to samples extracted from cubes during production it gives little useful information. Whilst the absorption value is partially dependent on mix quality, it is also greatly affected by the degree of compaction and effectiveness of initial curing. It is

therefore extremely difficult to determine whether „high results‟

are caused by material or cube making / curing problems.


Over recent years an increasing amount of premature steel corro- sion in concrete structures has created a big problem. In order to ensure adequate durability and long-term performance of rein-

forced concrete structures exposed to aggressive environments, relevant quality parameters are needed, which can provide a better basis both for job specification and control of in situ quality.

The requirements set for these four tests differed among parties and projects, the range is as follows:











Water absorption BS 1881 Part 122






Initial Surface Absorption Test BS 1881 Part 208

ml/(m 2 .s)





Water penetration BS EN 12390 Part 8


28 d



Chloride Permeability ASTM C-1202






Further investigations are required to study in depth the relation between the four above-mentioned tests. This is required to arrive at a sound conclusion that will enable choosing the most suitable test or combination of tests and to specify the performance level limits for given project circumstances and Clients‟ expectations for the service lives of their structures


  • 1. AASHTO Designation T 277-83, Standard method of test for rapid determination of the chloride permeability of concrete, AASHT Washington D.C, 1983.

  • 2. Andrade, C., Sanjuan, M.A., Alonson, M.C., 1993, Measure- ment of chloride diffusion coefficient from migration tests, NACE Corrosion ‟93.

  • 3. Andrews, R.J., Design and development of an in-situ chloride migration test, PhD Thesis, Queen‟s University, Belfast, 1999,

  • 4. ASTM: Standards test method for electrical indication of con- crete‟s ability to resist chloride ion penetration, ASTM C 1202- 94, American Society for Testing and Materials, 1994 Book of ASTM Standards, Vol. 04.02, Concrete and Aggregates, Phila- delphia, 1994.

  • 5. Basheer, P.A.M., near surface Testing for Strength and Dura- bility of Concrete. Fifth CANMET/ACI International Confe- rence on Durability of Concrete. Barcelona, Spain, 4-9 June

  • 6. British Standards Institution, Testing Concrete Recommenda- tions for the assessment of concrete strength by near-to-surface tests, BSI London, BS 1881, Part 207: 1992.

  • 7. BSI (1981). BS 6089:Guide To the Assessment of Concrete Strength in Existing Structures, BSI, London.

  • 8. BSI (1986). BS 1881:Testing Concrete. Part 201:Guide To the Use of Non- Destructive Tests for Hardened Concrete, BSI, London.

  • 9. Bungey, J.II. And Soutsos, M., Reliability of Partially- Destructive Tests to Assess the Strength of Concrete on Site, Proceedings of the Fifth CANMET/ACI Conference on Dura-

bility of Concrete, Barcelona,2000 10. Whiting, D., Rapid measurement of the chloride permeability of concrete, Public Roads, Vol.45, No. 3, pp. 101-112, 1981. 11. Nilsson, L.O., HETEK, Chloride penetration into concrete, State-of-the-art, Transport processes, corrosion initiation, test methods and prediction models, Report 53,Road Directorate, Copenhagen, 1996 12. RILEM – Committee “Nondestructive Testing Of Concrete Materials and Structures “Vol. 2, No.10, July – Aug. (1969). 13. Specification for Roads and Bridge Works by Roads Depart- ment, Dubai Municipality , 1992


This document has been prepared by a sub-committee of five se- lected members of the steering committee. The members are the

American University of Sharjah, RMCTOPMIX, University of Sharjah, Halcrow, Dubai Central Laboratory. It has been also dis- cussed by the steering committee during general meeting which comprised professionals in the concrete construction from many Universities, UAE Society of Engineers, Consultants, Dubai Cen- tral Laboratory, Sharjah Municipality and Ministry of Public Works & Housing.

Table 1 - Macro- and Micro- Environment Summary




Marine &



Near-coastal &



Inland &









Underwater (U)







Tidal (T)







Splash (S1)







Spray (S2)







Above-ground (A)

  • - N-O-A


  • - I-O-A



Near-ground (N)

  • - N-O-N


  • - I-O-N



Below-ground (B)

  • - N-O-B


  • - I-O-B



Internal (I)

  • - N-O-I


  • - I-O-I



Table 2 Influence of various factors on standard deviation of concrete strengths


Plant A

Plant B










Personnel and Plant




Total Standard Deviation



Note: The overall standard deviation is not calculated by simple addition of individual figures, but on the square root of the sum of the squared individual values.

Fig. 1- Initial Surface Absorption Test 44 22 2 8 14 20 22 26 30 26

Fig. 1- Initial Surface Absorption Test

44 22 2 8 14 20 22 26 30 26 20 14 8 Number of results
Number of results
Compressive Strength (Mpa)

Fig. 2