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Session 1/16

Some Engineering Properties of Residual Clay Soils Occurring

in Southern Brazil
Quelques propriétés techniques des terrains argileux résiduels du Brésil méridional

by M il t o n V a r g a s , Civil and Electrical Engineer, Professor o f Soil M echanics and Foundation Engineering, E scola Politécnica,
University o f Sao Paulo, Chief, Soils D ivision o f the “ Instituto de Pesquisas T ecnológicas” , Sào Paulo, Brazil

Summary Sommaire

The purpose of this paper is to make a contribution to the L’objet de ce travail est de contribuer à la connaissance des as­
knowledge of the main features and characteristics o f residual clay pects et caractéristiques les plus importants des terrains argileux
soils occurring in southern Brazil, where the thickness o f the over­ résiduels du Brésil méridional, où l’épaisseur des couches super­
burden of decomposed rock often reaches fifty metres more. ficielles décomposées atteint souvent plus de cinquante mètres.
Soil profiles of decomposed gneiss, basalt and sandstone, occur­ Les profils de terrains de gneiss, basalte et grès décomposés, que
ring in that region are discussed. It is assumed that—from the en­ l’on trouve dans cette région, y sont décrits. Il est montré que tous
gineering point of view—all residual soil profiles can be divided in les terrains provenant de la décomposition de roches peuvent - du
three principal layers : (a) a surface layer of mature residual soil point de vue technique - être divisés en trois couches principales:
with a high void-ratio and a low degree of saturation, referred to, a) la couche superficielle de terrain résiduel mûr, avec un indice de
in this paper, as “ porous layer” ; (b) a young residual soil whose vides élevé et un faible coefficient de saturation, laquelle dans le
main characteristic is to show the original structure o f the parent présent travail, sera réputée «couche poreuse»; b) une couche de
rock; (c) a desintegrated rock layer that can only be removed by terrain résiduel jeune, dont le principal caractère est qu’elle conserve
explosives. la structure originale de la roche-mère; c) une couche de roche
Grain size distribution, Atterberg limits, porosity, consolidation décomposée qui ne peut être extraite qu’au moyen d’explosifs.
and shearing resistance of residual clays are discussed. The concept La distribution granulométrique, les limites d’Atterberg, la poro­
o f “ virtual pre-consolidation pressure”, in such soils, is introduced sité, la consolidation et la résistance au cisaillement des argiles rési­
and justified. duelles y sont étudiées. L’auteur introduit et justifie le concept de
«pression virtuelle de pré-consolidation» comme une des caractéris­
tiques de ces terrains.

Rock Weathering and Residual Soils

A s defined by H olm es: “ W eathering is the total effect o f all rainfall zone (about 5 m per year). The second (Fig. 1 b) is
the various sub-aerial processes that cooperate in bringing a deforested zone (deforestation took place about one hundred
about the decay and désintégration o f rocks, provided that no years ago) also near the crest o f a lower range o f m ountains
large-scale transport o f the loosened products is involved.” in the State o f R io de Janeiro. R ain precipitation is about 1 m
There are three phases in the process: (a) désintégration by per year in this last site. The elevation above sea level o f the
physical or m echanical changes; (b) chemical weathering res­ first site is about double that o f the second.
ponsible for the decay o f the desintegrated blocks ; (c) process The process o f decom position in the first site is at an earlier
o f evolution which brings an intensely decom posed rock to the stage than in the second; the decom posed overburden (in­
state o f an hom ogeneous residual clay or sand often not cluding desintegrated rock and residual soil) has a maximum
saturated. thickness o f about 30 m in the first and 75 m in the second site.
Fig. 1 show s cross-sections through decom posed gneiss in The average relation between the thickness o f residual soil and
two sites where earth dams are being constructed. The first desintegrated rock is 1/3 in the first and 4/1 in the second site;
dam-site (Fig. la ) is near the crest o f “ Serra do M ar” (State finally the mantle o f residual clay (soil which has suffered an
o f Sào Paulo) a site still covered with dense forest in a heavy evolution) is much thicker in the second site than in the first.

From what is shown in Fig. 1 we can deduce that in the gineering point o f view— in three principal layers: (a) just
decom position o f gneiss in Southern Brazil there is a tendency overlying sound rock, a desintegrated rock layer which can
towards increase in the thickness o f the residual clay top-soil only be removed by explosives; (b) a young residual soil layer
and o f the total decom posed overburden and towards decrease w hose principal character is to show the original structure o f
in the thickness o f the disintegrated rock layer which overlies the parent rock (the hardness o f this material is extremely
sound rock. This confirms the follow ing interpretation o f the variable: from very soft soils removed by spade to hard con­
rock weathering process: first there is a fracturing o f the rock cretionary mass o f gravel, sand and clay needing pick or ex­
and then the chemical decom position o f the mineral consti­ plosives to be removed); (c) a superficial mantle o f mature
tuents along fractures and clivage planes starts. The process residual soil which includes the thin hum ic top-soil layer and
advances giving origin to the layer o f “ desintegrated rock ” a redish or yellowish clayey or sandy soil with a high void-
which in the beginning is formed by blocks and boulders and, ratio and a low degree o f saturation.

S o u n d r o c k (g n e / s s )

à ) — ^/oung d e co m p o se d so //
• T o p -s o i/ w i/ / h um us Ctm /hickness)
[] M àiu re residue/soi/ H . ■ P orous ye//ow o r re d /s /r c/ay.
R esidua/ s o i/ fro/n
- Resic/ua/ /a y oorr c/ayey
c/ayey sand,
sand, £
s /o w in g > d e co m p o sifio n
----- ... . . , ./ r s/ruc/ure
s r r u c / u r e of
o f paren/
p a r e n / rock.
ro c k . o f ro c k
I lOl/ng restaur/SO// \2-C/ay or c/ayeysand d w
w i/h
i/h pebb/es
pebb/es a a,n d
b/o cfts of
o f rock
ro c m sshow
/•/V- /c*
/ ~ ing s/ruc/ure
o f p a re n / ro c k .

/fo rizo ntef s c # /? :

ro c k (g n e is s )
O 25m
b) Ma/ure decom posed so i/

Fig. 1 C ro ss-S ectio n s through D e co m p o se d G n eiss

S ection s transversales de terrains de d éc o m p o sitio n de g neiss

later on, by boulders bound together in a matrix o f residual P o ro u s R e sid u a l C la y o f S o u th ern B razil
soil. The process continues until the rock has been transformed
into a peculiar type o f soil. In the case o f igneous rocks the In the highlands o f Southern Brazil that superficial layer
feldspars and som e micas, under the action o f slightly acid reaches tens o f metres o f thickness, giving rise to many troubles
water, gives origin to the clay fraction o f the residual soil and connected with building foundations, earth dams and cuts,
the quartz crystals form the sandy fraction o f the soil. In the due to its high com pressibility and permeability.
early phases o f weathering there are many intact feldspars and Lixiviation and oxidation occurs in that layer with a lateritic
mica crystals in the sandy fraction but, as those crystals are process o f evolution o f the soil which gives to it a peculiar
being decom posed, an increase in the clayey character o f the redish color. Lixiviation causes soil porosity to increase co n ­
residual soil is observed. The structure o f the parent rock is siderably; in m any cases the volum e o f the voids reaches about
preserved until a very advanced stage o f decom position is 60% o f the total volum e. A s its water contents are low , there
reached. is not enough water to saturate the voids. This is the cause
After throroughly decom posed, or sim ultaneously with the o f its high compressibility.
final stages o f decom position o f the rock, a new process o f Underlying this layer there is often a hard clay layer where
transformation o f the residual soil begins, which is referred to the lixiviated elem ents o f the superior horizons precipitate;
here as “ evolution o f the residual s o il” and which gives origin this causes an increase in the soil density resulting in an un­
to the yellowish or reddish superficial soil very com m on in usual com pactness or hardness. There is also an intense oxida­
Southern Brazil. tion resulting in a peculiar form ation o f lim onite concretions.
From what was said, soils originated from the decom posi­ Evolution is the principal cause o f increase in thickness o f
tion o f rock in Southern Brazil, can be divided— from the en- the “ porous clay layer” . In young soils, it is alm ost absent

6 8
and, consequently, no hard layer occurs. M ature soils, in turn, grains were observed to be fragments o f intact or incipiently
processes a very thick “ porous clay layer” . weathered rock; the sand fraction was constituted, in all cases,
Fig. 2 show s as an exam ple, a soil profile in a zone o f de­ by intact crystals o f the mineral constituents o f the parent rock
com posed basalt, which is very com m on in the interior of as indicated in Fig. 3.
Southern Brazil. There is, under a 2.5 m thick fill, a “ porous Fig. 4 show s a plasticity-chart where 589 liquid-limit and
cla y ” layer o f 5 m thickness; underlying that layer there is plasticity index pairs o f values obtained from Atterberg tests
a stiff clay layer and finally a desintegrated basalt layer over- on residual clays from Southern Brazil were plotted. Each
lying sound rock. The figure show s also results o f grain size point was classified according to the nature o f the parent rock
analyses o f the several layers. By these analyses we can see in zones limited by two inclined parallel lines and tw o vertical
that the clay content decreases with depth, in accordance with lines. Each o f these zones covers the total range o f occurrence
for soils originated by decom position o f four types o f rock.
Penetration res/s/ance In each o f these zones the regions where the m ost frequent
M ows/' / f o o f p e n e f-ra fio n
IP 20 30
Om _ Void ra tio and
G ra /n S iz e moisture co nte nt'
= F ill A n a lyse s: £ =2OS ; 0J - 32%,

28% fin e sand go/ id A ir Wafer

LL 8 2 : P I 29
5m ' 1 — £=¿76 ; Cü-2&%
m .
3/%> fin e S3nd S o /id A ir V/ater
U S3; P I !0

32% c /a y Y /////A ^ l
32% s i / t S c / / d /,/• Wafer
36% s a n d
L L S 3 ;P I 9

h-0 50 , 60
L iq u id L im ii C '/ ° ) —

F ig. 2 S o il Profiles in D esin teg ra ted B asalt Fig. 4 R esid u al P orous C lays— P lasticity C hart
Profils du so l en terrain de basalte d éco m p o sé A rgiles résiduelles p oreuses - D iagram m e de p lasticité

w hat w as previously said. It show s also graphs indicating the values fall are indicated by dashed lines. It is interesting to
relative volum es occuppied by solid grains, water and air, in notice that alm ost all soils plot below the /4-line and show a low
the several layers. The voids are larger at the surface o f the plasticity. This fact can be understood by remembering that, in
soil and decrease with depth, but the saturation increases with all the studied soils, the clay fraction was o f the kaolin group.
depth. Fig. 5 presents the variation with depth o f the Atterberg
lim its, moisture content, grain-size distribution and porosity
Grain-Size Distribution, Atterberg Limits, and Porosity o f a residual clay from the decom position o f a clayey-sand-
stone, from Campinas (State o f S. Paulo). The superficial
o f Residual Clays
layer o f porous sandy-clay, with a constant and low water
Fig. 3 show s grain size distribution curves o f soils for the content, over a layer o f stiff clay is clearly shown. T he grain-
decom position o f ten different parent rocks. The coarser size distribution is alm ost uniform but the porosity varies with

1 ofrock -

î / Rock
v so C layey san dston cfCam pinas)
B a sa // ( Londrina)
^S 40
/ G n eiss f R ib eira o do Campo)
Schisi( Cubatëo)

Granité ( M&ndaqji)
G ranife( Itapevi)
Gneiss (Vi/a Anas^acioJ
GneissCCorrego Zïgario)
L im e s Z o n e f P e r d s ) F ig. 3 G rain S ize D istribution or
S c / rfs - / Ç ^ e r d s jj R esidual C lays
D istrib u tion granulom é-
OJ / 10
trique d ’argiles résiduelles
o f G ra in , D f m m )

depth. It has an average value o f 55% in the upper layer and Virtual Pre-Consolidation Load in Residual Clays
only 40% in the lower one. A lso, as the water content is
alm ost constant, the air content is high in the upper layer and The concept o f pre-consolidation load, introduced by
alm ost absent in the lower layer. A. Casagrande, is plainly defined and explainable in the parti­
High porosity and non-saturation o f residual clay only occur cular case o f sedimentary clays. It has no meaning on residual

Afterberg Limits
and Moisture Confe/rffy.) Grain Size Distribution f a ) Porosity C/ i )
25" SO o so /oo O 50 lo o

porous c/ay
re d c
brown "S'
S tiff *
sandy clay,
and red

'5 -, Compact
coarse Sard

Fig. 5 P o ro u s R esid u a l C lay (C am p inas) from D e co m p o sitio n o f a C layey S an d ston e. V ariation o f C on sistan ce, G rain-Size D istrib u tion and
P o ro sity w ith D ep th
A rg ile résidu elle p o reu se (C am p inas) p rovenant de la d écom p osition d ’un grès argileux. V ariation de la con sistan ce, distribu tion gra-
nu lom étriq u e et p o r o sité selon la profon deur

in superficial layers. Fig. 6 show s the sam e variation o f Atter- clays. H owever, consolidation tests show that there is, for the
berg limits, grain-size distribution and porosity with depth for latter clays, som ething similar to the pre-consolidation pres­
a layer o f residual clay from the decom position o f gneiss, never sures. T hat is, up to a certain load the decrease in void-ratio
exposed to the atmosphere. In that case the evolution which by consolidation is very sm all; after the applied load exceeds
brings the residual soil to the porous state could not progress that limit, the relation between void-ratio and applied pressures
and the porosity is alm ost constant with depth. follow s the consolidation law. This critical load which lim its
Similar distribution o f Atterberg lim its and grain-size distri­ both behaviours o f clays can be determined by Casagrande's
bution was observed in several borings where such observa­
tions were made. The occurrence o f the porous state was ob­ Sedimentary
served in superficial layers o f granite, gneiss, schist, sandstones, . . W .L.

claystones and basalt. A lso the superficial layers o f tertiary £ 6,15

Sa n d and A tte rb e rg L im its G ra in S / z e
clays suffer the sam e phenom enon and the result is a porous g ra v e t a n d M oisture C onte# /fâ) D is trib u tio n (° / i) P o ro sity ('/ • )

clay w hose properties are very similar to those originated from . 25* 50 „r .0 SO 100 .o so too
igneous and sedimentary rocks. rCJay tr<action A,
Consolidation and Shearing Resistance o f Residual Clay ) i Sotd
Experience has shown that the decrease o f void-ratio with
} l
Water '

applied normal pressure in residual clays follow s the sam e law D > 50fj
w hich governs the consolidation phenom enon for sedimentary -W Xfradioi
Y& sû
clays. T hat is, there is a minor decrease o f void-ratio when
the applied loads are smaller than a certain value and when
they exceed this value the decrease o f void-ratio is proportional ->
to the logaritm o f the relation between the final and the initial 1
pressure. 1
Experience has shown also that the shearing resistance o f
a sam ple o f residual clay is a function only o f the void-ratio 1
in the m om ent o f rupture, whatever the type o f test, provided
that the samples submitted to the test had all the sam e degree Fig. 6 R esid u al C lay (B elo H o rizo n te) from D e co m p o sitio n o f G n eiss.
o f saturation at the m om ent o f rupture. V ariation o f C on sistan ce, G rain -S ize D istrib u tion and P orosity
w ith D epth
Shearing resistance o f residual clays w as treated with som e A rgile résidu elle proven an t de la d écom p osition du gneiss.
detail by the author in another paper submitted to the 3rd V ariation de la con sistan ce, distribu tion granulom étrique et
C onference on Soil M echanics and Foundation Engineering. p o ro sité selon la p rofon d eu r

empirical m ethod in the sam e way as for the sedimentary clays. consolidation curves” ; in connection with it we can observe
U nder such consideration we decided to call this limit load, a “ virtual pre-consolidation pressure” defined as above.
“ virtual pre-consolidation pressure” . The explanation o f the For a shallow sam ple o f a residual clay, when the earth
existence o f such value can be m ade as fo llo w s: Let us suppose pressure above the sam ple is less than the “ virtual pre-
a certain superficial portion o f a rock decom poses and trans­
form s into a uniform and hom ogeneous soil. Such a soil will V irtu a l P re - C onsolidation P re ssu re s ( Ag/cm 2) -~-
have a certain void-ratio, w hich depends entirely on the 0 ____________ ___________ i ___________6
nature and structure o f the parent rock. If we remould this soil,
increasing its water-content until slightly above the liquid limit
we, certainly, will obtain a sam ple with a void-ratio eLL su­
perior to e0. If we run a consolidation test on this sam ple we
shall obtain a consolidation curve similar to A ' B ' (see Fig. 7).
If w e com pact the soil in its optim um m oisture and maximum ¡5
density and then carry out a consolidation test we will obtain €
a curve like A" B ". Finally if we remould the clay at its natural “5>
water content, w e shall have a consolidation curve, intermediate
between A' B ' and A" B" (see curve A " 'B " ' in Fig. 7). I
If, however, w e run a consolidation test on an undisturbed
sam ple o f the residual clay soil w e w ill see that the resulting r /o

F ig. 8 V irtual P re-C on solid ation Pressures A gain st D ep th o f Sam ples

Pressions virtuelles de p r é co n so lid a tio n dans le sens contraire
—( Voie/- ratio in th e fo rm a tio n à la p rofon d eu r des éch an tillon s
o f c/a y )
R e m o ld e d a t th e liq u id
tim /t-
consolidation lo a d ” , the consolidation test will show the real
Undisturbed “ virtual pre-consolidation pressures” o f the residual soil. But
fP e m o td e d a t
na tu re! water for deep samples, when the earth pressure is bigger than the
c o n te n f. “ virtual pre-consolidation pressure” , the pre-consolidation
C o m p a cted <st
optim u m m o is tu re . pressures observed in the test will constitute a real pre-con­
solidation load equal to the earth pressure above the sample.
In the majority o f cases residual soils cannot be represented
by only one “ basic consolidation cu rve” . There will be at
Fig. 7 C o n so lid a tio n Curves fo r R esid ual C lays least a basic curve for each layer o f parent rock o f different
C ourbes de c o n so lid a tio n pour argiles résidu elles
kind. So there will be no correlation between the depth o f
sam ple and the “ virtual pre-consolidation pressure” above
curve A B cannot coincide with any o f the three above m en­ a certain elevation. U nder such an elevation there w ill be
tioned curves (except in extreme cases with A'" B ’"). The observed a pre-consolidation pressure similar to the classical
only possibility is a curve like A B, which w e shall call “ basic one, regardless o f the soil nature and properties (see Fig. 8 ).