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Atterberglimits
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TheAtterberglimitsareabasicmeasureofthecriticalwatercontentsofafinegrainedsoil,suchasits
shrinkagelimit,plasticlimit,andliquidlimit.Asadry,clayeysoiltakesonincreasingamountsofwater,
itundergoesdramaticanddistinctchangesinbehaviorandconsistency.Dependingonthewatercontent
ofthesoil,itmayappearinfourstates:solid,semisolid,plasticandliquid.Ineachstate,theconsistency
andbehaviorofasoilisdifferentandconsequentlysoareitsengineeringproperties.Thus,theboundary
betweeneachstatecanbedefinedbasedonachangeinthesoil'sbehavior.TheAtterberglimitscanbe
usedtodistinguishbetweensiltandclay,anditcandistinguishbetweendifferenttypesofsiltsandclays.
TheselimitswerecreatedbyAlbertAtterberg,aSwedishchemist.[1]TheywerelaterrefinedbyArthur
Casagrande.Thesedistinctionsinsoilareusedinassessingthesoilsthataretohavestructuresbuilton.
Soilswhenwetretainwaterandsomeexpandinvolume.Theamountofexpansionisrelatedtothe
abilityofthesoiltotakeinwateranditsstructuralmakeup(thetypeofatomspresent).Thesetestsare
mainlyusedonclayeyorsiltysoilssincethesearethesoilsthatexpandandshrinkduetomoisture
content.Claysandsiltsreactwiththewaterandthuschangesizesandhavevaryingshearstrengths.
Thusthesetestsareusedwidelyinthepreliminarystagesofdesigninganystructuretoensurethatthe
soilwillhavethecorrectamountofshearstrengthandnottoomuchchangeinvolumeasitexpandsand
shrinkswithdifferentmoisturecontents.
Asahard,rigidsolidinthedrystate,soilbecomesacrumbly(friable)semisolidwhenacertainmoisture
content,termedtheshrinkagelimit,isreached.Ifitisanexpansivesoil,thissoilwillalsobegintoswell
involumeasthismoisturecontentisexceeded.Increasingthewatercontentbeyondthesoil'splastic
limitwilltransformitintoamalleable,plasticmass,whichcausesadditionalswelling.Thesoilwill
remaininthisplasticstateuntilitsliquidlimitisexceeded,whichcausesittotransformintoaviscous
liquidthatflowswhenjarred.

Contents
1Laboratorytests
1.1Shrinkagelimit
1.2Plasticlimit
1.3Liquidlimit
2Derivedlimits
2.1Plasticityindex
2.2Liquidityindex
2.3Consistencyindex
2.4Activity
3Notes
4References

Laboratorytests
Shrinkagelimit

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Theshrinkagelimit(SL)isthewatercontentwherefurtherlossofmoisturewillnotresultinanymore
volumereduction.[2]ThetesttodeterminetheshrinkagelimitisASTMInternationalD4943.The
shrinkagelimitismuchlesscommonlyusedthantheliquidandplasticlimits.

Plasticlimit
Theplasticlimit(PL)isdeterminedbyrollingoutathreadofthefineportionofasoilonaflat,non
poroussurface.TheprocedureisdefinedinASTMStandardD4318.Ifthesoilisatamoisturecontent
whereitsbehaviorisplastic,thisthreadwillretainitsshapedowntoaverynarrowdiameter.The
samplecanthenberemouldedandthetestrepeated.Asthemoisturecontentfallsduetoevaporation,the
threadwillbegintobreakapartatlargerdiameters.Theplasticlimitisdefinedasthemoisturecontent
wherethethreadbreaksapartatadiameterof3.2mm(about1/8inch).Asoilisconsiderednonplastic
ifathreadcannotberolledoutdownto3.2mmatanymoisture.

Liquidlimit
Theliquidlimit(LL)isconceptuallydefinedasthewatercontent
atwhichthebehaviorofaclayeysoilchangesfromplasticto
liquid.However,thetransitionfromplastictoliquidbehavioris
gradualoverarangeofwatercontents,andtheshearstrengthof
thesoilisnotactuallyzeroattheliquidlimit.Theprecise
definitionoftheliquidlimitisbasedonstandardtestprocedures
describedbelow.
TheoriginalliquidlimittestofAtterberg'sinvolvedmixingapat
ofclayinaroundbottomedporcelainbowlof1012cm
diameter.Agroovewascutthroughthepatofclaywitha
spatula,andthebowlwasthenstruckmanytimesagainstthe
palmofonehand.Casagrandesubsequentlystandardizedthe
apparatusandtheprocedurestomakethemeasurementmore
repeatable.Soilisplacedintothemetalcupportionofthedevice
andagrooveismadedownitscenterwithastandardizedtoolof
13.5millimetres(0.53in)width.Thecupisrepeatedlydropped
10mmontoahardrubberbaseatarateof120blowsperminute,
duringwhichthegrooveclosesupgraduallyasaresultofthe
impact.Thenumberofblowsforthegroovetocloseisrecorded.
Themoisturecontentatwhichittakes25dropsofthecupto
causethegroovetocloseoveradistanceof13.5millimetres
(0.53in)isdefinedastheliquidlimit.Thetestisnormallyrunat
severalmoisturecontents,andthemoisturecontentwhich
requires25blowstoclosethegrooveisinterpolatedfromthetest
results.TheLiquidLimittestisdefinedbyASTMstandardtest
methodD4318.[3]Thetestmethodalsoallowsrunningthetestat
onemoisturecontentwhere20to30blowsarerequiredtoclose
thegroovethenacorrectionfactorisappliedtoobtaintheliquid
limitfromthemoisturecontent.[4]

Casagrandecupinaction

Casagrandecup

Anothermethodformeasuringtheliquidlimitisthefallcone
test,alsocalledtheconepenetrometertest.Itisbasedonthe
measurementofpenetrationintothesoilofastandardizedconeofspecificmass.Althoughthe
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CasagrandetestiswidelyusedacrossNorthAmerica,thefallconetestismuchmoreprevalentin
EuropeduetobeinglessdependentontheoperatorindeterminingtheLiquidLimit.[5]

Derivedlimits
Thevaluesoftheselimitsareusedinanumberofways.Thereisalsoacloserelationshipbetweenthe
limitsandpropertiesofasoilsuchascompressibility,permeability,andstrength.Thisisthoughttobe
veryusefulbecauseaslimitdeterminationisrelativelysimple,itismoredifficulttodeterminethese
otherproperties.ThustheAtterberglimitsarenotonlyusedtoidentifythesoil'sclassification,butit
allowsfortheuseofempiricalcorrelationsforsomeotherengineeringproperties.

Plasticityindex
Theplasticityindex(PI)isameasureoftheplasticityofasoil.Theplasticityindexisthesizeofthe
rangeofwatercontentswherethesoilexhibitsplasticproperties.ThePIisthedifferencebetweenthe
liquidlimitandtheplasticlimit(PI=LLPL).SoilswithahighPItendtobeclay,thosewithalowerPI
tendtobesilt,andthosewithaPIof0(nonplastic)tendtohavelittleornosiltorclay.
PIandtheirmeanings[6]

(03)Nonplastic
(315)Slightlyplastic
(1530)Mediumplastic
>30Highlyplastic

Liquidityindex
Theliquidityindex(LI)isusedforscalingthenaturalwatercontentofasoilsampletothelimits.Itcan
becalculatedasaratioofdifferencebetweennaturalwatercontent,plasticlimit,andliquidlimit:LI=
(WPL)/(LLPL)whereWisthenaturalwatercontent.

Consistencyindex
Theconsistencyindex(CI)indicatestheconsistancy(firmness)ofasoil.ItiscalculatedasCI=(LL
W)/(LLPL),whereWistheexistingwatercontent.Soilattheliquidlimitwillhaveaconsistencyindex
of0,whilesoilattheplasticlimitwillhaveaconsistencyindexof100.

Activity
Theactivity(A)ofasoilisthePIdividedbythepercentofclaysizedparticles(lessthan2m)present.
Differenttypesofclayshavedifferentspecificsurfaceareaswhichcontrolshowmuchwettingis
requiredtomoveasoilfromonephasetoanothersuchasacrosstheliquidlimitortheplasticlimit.
Fromtheactivity,onecanpredictthedominantclaytypepresentinasoilsample.Highactivitysignifies
largevolumechangewhenwettedandlargeshrinkagewhendried.Soilswithhighactivityarevery
reactivechemically.Normallytheactivityofclayisbetween0.75and1.25,andinthisrangeclayis
callednormal.Itisassumedthattheplasticityindexisapproximatelyequaltotheclayfraction(A=1).
WhenAislessthan0.75,itisconsideredinactive.Whenitisgreaterthan1.25,itisconsideredactive.
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Notes
1. "BriefhistoryofSwedishSoilMechanics"
WikimediaCommonshas
(http://www.geoforum.com/info/pileinfo/swedsoilmech.asp).
mediarelatedtoAtterberg
Retrieved20070115.
limits.
2. "ShrinkageLimitTest"
(http://www.usace.army.mil/publications////engmanuals/em1110
21906/aIIIB.pdf)(PDF).UnitedStatesArmyCorpsofEngineers.
3. "ASTMD431810StandardTestMethodsforLiquidLimit,PlasticLimit,andPlasticityIndexofSoils"
(http://www.astm.org/Standards/D4318.htm).ASTM.2010.Retrieved20110218.
4. "trid.trb.org"(http://trid.trb.org/view.aspx?id=38900).
5. BS1377part2
6. Sowers,1979

References
UniversityofWashingtonlecturenotes
(http://www.ce.washington.edu/~geotech/courses/cee366/arduino/exercise3.PDF)
SoilPhysicalPropertiesMechanics(http://jan.ucc.nau.edu/~doetqp
p/courses/env320/lec7/Lec7.html)
Seed,H.B.(1967)."FundamentalAspectsoftheAtterbergLimits".JournalofSoilMechanicsand
FoundationsDiv.,92(SM4),Retrievedfromhttp://trid.trb.org/view.aspx?id=38900
Das,B.M.(2006).Principlesofgeotechnicalengineering.Stamford,CT:ThomsonLearning
College.
Sowers,1979.IntroductorySoilMechanicsandFoundations:GeotechnicalEngineering,4thEd.,
Macmillan,NewYork.(asreferencedinCoduto,1999.GeotechnicalEngineering:Principalsand
Practices.PrenticeHall.NewJersey.)

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