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2.

ATTERBEFIG LIMITS AND


CONSISTENCY INDICES
We mentioned (Table 2-2) thatthe presence of water in e voids of a
soil can especially affect the engineering behavior of fine-grained soils. Not
only is it important to know how much water is present in, for example, a

natural soil deposit (the water content), but we need to compare or scale
this water content against some standard of engineering behavior. This is
what the Atterberg limits do-they are important limits of engineering
behavior. If we know where the water content of our sample is relative to
the Atterberg limits, then we already know a great deal about the engineering response of our sample. The Atterberg limits, then, are water contents
at certain limiting or critical stages in soil behavior. They, along with the
natural water content, are the most important items in the description of
fine-grained soils. They are used in classification of such soils, and they are
useful because they correlate with the engineering properties and engineering behavior of fine-grained soils.
The Atterberg limits were developed in the early 1900's by a Swedish
soil scientist, A. Atterberg (l9ll). He was working in the cermics industry, and at that time they had several simple tests to describe the
plasticity of a clay, which was important both in molding clay into bricks,
for example, and to avoid shrinlage and cracking when fired. After many
experiments, Atterberg came to the realization that at least two parameters
were required to define plasticity of clays-the upper and lower limits of
plasticity. In fact, he was able to define several limits of consistency or
behavior and he developed simple laboratory tests to detine these limits.
They are:

l. Upper limit of viscous flow.


2. Liquid limit-lower limit of viscous f1ow.
3. Sticky limit-clay loses its adhesion to a metal blade.
4. Cohesion limit-grains cease to cohere to each other.
5. Plastic limit-lower limit of the plastic state.
6. Shrinkage limit*lower limit of volume change.
He also defined the plasricity index, which is range of water content
where the soil is plastic, and he was the first to suggest that it could be
used for ioil classification. Later on, in the late 1920's K. Terzaghi and A.
Casagrande (1932b), working for the U.S. Bureau of Public Roads, sr,andardized the Atterberg limits so that they could be readily used for soils
classification purposes. [n present geotechnical engineering practice we
usually use the liquid limit (LL or w.), the plastic limit (PL or wo), and
sometimes the shrinkage limit (sL or w"). The sticky and the cohesion
limits are more useful in ceramics and agriculture.
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