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Residual deformation and stiffness changes of frozen soils
subjected to high- and low-amplitude cyclic loading
Qionglin Li, Xianzhang Ling, Jinjun Hu, and Zhiwei Zhou

Abstract: The present paper reports the results of a laboratory experiment that aimed to investigate the residual deformation
and stiffness changes of frozen silty clays under cyclic triaxial loading. Two sets of cyclic stress magnitude — namely, low and
high level — were applied to the reconstituted artificial frozen soil specimens with identical properties, and the effect of
six levels of confining pressure was examined. The results indicate that two distinct development categories of residual axial
strain with number of loading cycles are induced by the low- and high-level cyclic stress. The dynamic Young’s modulus derived
from each test experiences a significant increase with the number of loading cycles, which is partly attributed to the cyclic
densification. A special observation from the tests under high-level cyclic stress along with a confining pressure of 0.3 MPa also
indicates that the dynamic Young’s modulus keeps as a relatively constant value when the change of residual volumetric
deformation transfers from compression to dilation. The empirical relationships were proposed to properly reflect the devel-
opment of the residual axial strain and dynamic Young’s modulus with the number of loading cycles.

Key words: frozen soils, cyclic triaxial test, residual strain, stiffness, deformation mechanism.

Résumé : Le présent article rapporte les résultats d’une expérience en laboratoire visant à étudier les changements de défor-
mation résiduelle et de rigidité des argiles silteuses gelées sous chargement triaxial cyclique. Deux séries d’amplitudes de
contraintes cycliques, à savoir des niveaux faibles et élevés, ont été appliquées aux échantillons de sol artificiel gelé reconstitué
avec des propriétés identiques, et l’effet de six niveaux de pression de confinement a été examiné. Les résultats indiquent que
deux catégories distinctes de développement de la déformation résiduelle axiale avec le nombre de cycles de chargement sont
induites par la contrainte cyclique de niveau faible et élevé. Le module dynamique de Young dérivé de chaque essai est
significativement augmenté avec le nombre de cycles de chargement, qui est en partie attribué à la densification cyclique. Une
observation spéciale des essais sous contrainte cyclique de haut niveau avec la pression de confinement de 0,3 MPa indique
également que le module de Young dynamique reste une valeur relativement constante lorsque le changement de déformation
volumétrique résiduelle passe de la compression à la dilatation. Les relations empiriques ont été proposées pour refléter
correctement le développement de la déformation résiduelle axiale et du module de Young dynamique avec le nombre de cycles
de chargement. [Traduit par la Rédaction]

Mots-clés : sols gelés, essais triaxiaux cycliques, contrainte résiduelle, rigidité, mécanisme de déformation.

1. Introduction providing temporary support for excavations, tunnels, and mine-

Frozen soil is a composite material composed of mineral and shafts; this approach requires detailed knowledge of the mechan-
(or) organic particles, polycrystalline ice, liquid water (unfrozen ical behaviour of frozen soil (Jessberger 1980; Kayastha 2011; Kim
water and tightly bound water), and gaseous inclusions (water et al. 2012). In cold regions, cyclic loading situations such as earth-
vapour and air) (Andersland et al. 2004; Chamberlain et al. 1972). quake, traffic, and wind loadings may induce a decrease in bear-
Relative to soils in the unfrozen state, frozen soils typically ex- ing capacity in addition to settlement or displacement, which
hibit distinct mechanical behaviour under both monotonic and leads to damage to structures built on frozen ground. In construc-
cyclic loading, and such behaviour is influenced significantly by tion with an artificial ground freezing aid, certain construction
temperature (Chamberlain et al. 1972; Czajkowski and Vinson applications (e.g., pile driving, tunnelling, and blasting) may gen-
1980; Li et al. 2015; Ma et al. 1999; Ting et al. 1983; Xu et al. 2016a, erate vibrations that propagate through or impinge on artificial
2017; Zhu et al. 1997). At present, the strength and deformation frozen soil.
characteristics of frozen soils under static or dynamic loading are Researchers have previously conducted cyclic triaxial tests or
an important subject in China mainly due to the increasing num- resonant column tests on frozen soil, demonstrating that such soil
ber of construction projects in cold regions (Cheng 2003; Lai et al. exhibits pronounced nonlinear, hysteretic, and strain-accumulated
2000; Ling et al. 2009; Sheng et al. 2014; Xu et al. 2016b). Further- behaviours under cyclic loading (Czajkowski and Vinson 1980;
more, artificial ground freezing is an effective construction aid, Jiao et al. 2010; Li et al. 2015; Ling et al. 2009, 2015; Vinson et al.

Received 12 December 2017. Accepted 17 May 2018.

Q. Li. Key Laboratory of Earthquake Engineering and Engineering Vibration, Institute of Engineering Mechanics, China Earthquake Administration,
Heilongjiang, Harbin 150080, China; State Key Laboratory of Frozen Soil Engineering, Chinese Academy of Science, Gansu, Lanzhou 730000, China.
X. Ling. School of Civil Engineering, Harbin Institute of Technology, Heilongjiang, Harbin, 150090, China.
J. Hu. Key Laboratory of Earthquake Engineering and Engineering Vibration, Institute of Engineering Mechanics, China Earthquake Administration,
Heilongjiang, Harbin 150080, China.
Z. Zhou. State Key Laboratory of Frozen Soil Engineering, Chinese Academy of Science, Gansu, Lanzhou 730000, China.
Corresponding author: Qionglin Li (email: qionglin_li@126.com).
Copyright remains with the author(s) or their institution(s). Permission for reuse (free in most cases) can be obtained from RightsLink.

Can. Geotech. J. 56: 263–274 (2019) dx.doi.org/10.1139/cgj-2017-0720 Published at www.nrcresearchpress.com/cgj on 30 May 2018.
264 Can. Geotech. J. Vol. 56, 2019

Table 1. Grain-size distribution of test soil.

<0.005 mm 0.005–0.05 mm 0.05–0.075 mm 0.075–0.10 mm 0.10–0.25 mm >0.25 mm
31.3% 48.7% 12.1% 3.9% 3.7% 0.3%

1978). Two properties commonly used to define the dynamic be- soil that separates a stable condition from an unstable condition.
haviour of frozen soil are the residual deformation and stiffness. Furthermore, numerous studies have been performed to charac-
The application of loading cycles on frozen soil, however, reveals terize the changes in stiffness with the number of loading cycles
that nonnegligible plastic strain occurs even at small strain levels for multiple soils in the unfrozen state. Depending on the stress
due to hysteresis loops that are not perfectly closed. With an history of a soil and the drainage conditions, cyclic loading may
increasing number of loading cycles, the residual strain, including decrease or increase the soil’s resistance to deformation (Ishihara
the deviatoric and volumetric components, accumulates continu- 1996; Lee and Sheu 2007; Moses et al. 2003; Sun et al. 2016;
ously. The effects of cyclic stress amplitude, loading frequency, Verrucci et al. 2015; Vucetic 1994). Based on a literature review, the
frozen temperature, moisture content before freezing, and sev- following conclusions can be made:
eral other critical factors in the accumulated behaviour of resid-
ual strain have been evaluated in detail (Jiao et al. 2010; Li et al. 1. The soil stiffness changes remarkably with the number of
2016; Liu et al. 2016; Zhu et al. 1997). A uniform observation on the loading cycles once the strain amplitude exceeds a threshold.
effect of cyclic stress amplitude is that the residual strain in- 2. For saturated or near-saturated soils in undrained conditions,
creases rapidly under high cyclic stress and that the strain accu- the stiffness frequently decreases with the number of loading
mulation rate within the number of loading cycles is higher for cycles, which occurs primarily through the generation of ex-
tests performed at a higher amplitude of cyclic stress (Jiao et al. cess positive pore pressure. Moreover, a complete loss of stiff-
2010; Li et al. 2016). However, a detailed treatment of residual ness occurs when saturated soils reach a state of liquefaction.
strain with increasing loading cycles has not been forthcoming, 3. The stiffness of soils with low moisture content or soils in
and challenges still exist in analysing differences in the deforma- drained conditions often increases with increasing loading
tion mechanism of specimens under high- and low-level cyclic cycles mainly due to cyclic densification.
stresses. For various types of frozen soils, the stiffness, typically 4. Other factors, such as friction sliding, loss of soil structure,
characterized by the dynamic Young’s modulus or dynamic shear and particle breakage and reconfiguration, also affect the soil
modulus, depends on the amplitude of the cyclic strain. As with stiffness; however, these factors are rarely studied due to lim-
soils in the unfrozen state, the stiffness of frozen soils decreases itations in the experimental technology.
markedly with an increase in the strain amplitude once the
Unlike the research on unfrozen soil, although some analysis
threshold strain is exceeded (Li et al. 2015; Ling et al. 2009, 2015;
has been performed, frozen soil dynamics are still in the initial
Vinson et al. 1978). Published test data show the changes in stiff-
research stage. During freezing, soil can rapidly reach high levels
ness with the number of loading cycles, and researchers have
of strength and stiffness, mainly due to the ice lens and ice ce-
attempted to investigate this evolution in behaviour. However, no
menting between soil particles (Chamberlain et al. 1972), which
consensus has yet emerged. For example, Ling et al. (2013) and Li
suggests that well-established approaches to residual deforma-
et al. (2016) reported that the stiffness increases with the number
tion and stiffness changes in unfrozen soil are not applicable to
of repeated loading cycles and tends towards stability for frozen
frozen soil. This condition is the starting point of the present
soil. Moreover, in their work, tests with a higher amplitude of
study. Furthermore, uncertainty remains as to how frozen soils
cyclic stress indicated greater stiffness after an initial stage of
behave under different cyclic stress levels; this work attempts to
100 cycles, and the compaction effect was attributed to this special
clarify this topic.
feature. In contrast, recent tests conducted by Liu et al. (2016)
In this context, a series of triaxial cyclic tests were conducted on
showed that the dynamic axial stiffness of frozen silty sand de-
frozen silty clay, and the test data for residual strain and changes
creases rapidly in the initial cycles and then approaches a stable
in stiffness with the number of loading cycles are presented. A
value with an increasing cycle number. Nevertheless, the reasons
residual deformation analysis based on the growth rate of residual
for the different changes in stiffness must be clarified so that they
may be better understood. axial strain is described, and an attempt is made to determine the
For different types of soil in the unfrozen state (e.g., soft soils, mechanism that induces residual axial deformation. Changes in
clay, and unbound granular materials), more comprehensive ex- stiffness as a function of the number of loading cycles are then
perimental studies on residual deformation behaviour have been investigated in detail, and the differences derived from tests un-
conducted, and the effect of cyclic stress level has been evaluated der low and high cyclic stress levels are compared. Empirical for-
in detail (Cerni et al. 2012; Li et al. 2011; Ni et al. 2015; Puppala et al. mulations for the development of residual axial strain and
2009; Sun et al. 2016; Werkmeister et al. 2005). Based on the con- stiffness in conjunction with the number of loading cycles are also
cept of the growth of residual deformation of soils and granular presented in this work and are found to be useful for predicting
materials, three mechanisms, namely, plastic shakedown, plastic the evolution in behaviour of frozen soil under cyclic loading.
creep, and incremental collapse (e.g., plastic collapse), have been
2. Experimental programme
advanced to describe the development of residual strain with the
number of loading cycles (Cerni et al. 2012; Sun et al. 2016; 2.1. Material properties
Werkmeister et al. 2005). Residual deformation gradually stabi- The soil tested was a silty clay, which is a typical in situ soil of
lizes with increasing loading cycles only when the applied cyclic Beiluhe Basin in Qinghai Province of China. Prior to testing, the
stress is low. In this case, the material leads to shakedown and soil was air-dried for 2 weeks and passed through a sieve with an
does not reach failure. At high stress levels, however, the residual aperture size of 2.0 mm. Basic index properties of the soil (after
strain is likely to increase rapidly, resulting in a gradual collapse. removal of material >2.00 mm) were determined using standard
When the residual strain rate decreases in the initial stage and procedures (GB/T50123-1999; Ministry of Construction of the People’s
then reaches a constant value, plastic creep behaviour is observed. Republic of China 1999) and were summarized as follows. The liq-
In this case, permanent deformation is acceptable; however, the uid limit and plastic index are 19.5% and 8, respectively. Standard
material may fail after a large number of loading cycles. The test compaction tests were conducted to determine the maximum dry
data suggest the existence of a critical cyclic stress level for each density and the optimum moisture content, which were 2.01 g/cm3

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Li et al. 265

Fig. 1. Schematic illustration of (a) applied stress on specimen, (b) cyclic stress, and (c) cyclic stress–strain relationship. ␴1, total axial
stress; ␴1,0, initial axial stress; ␴3, confining pressure.

and 14%, respectively. The grain-size distribution of this soil is tion are controlled through servo valves. A special triaxial cell
shown in Table 1. incorporates temperature control by a refrigeration system and
temperature sensors, and the minimum temperature can reach
2.2. Specimen preparation –30 °C. A high-pressure syringe pump is used to apply cell pressure
In this study, the reconstituted artificial frozen soil specimens in the range of 0.3–20 MPa and tracks changes in volume of the
were prepared in the laboratory, and the procedures were per- test specimen by monitoring the oil flow out of or into the triaxial
formed as follows. The test specimens were prepared in such a cell. The vertical loading system incorporates a load frame and a
way that the cyclic test results would be consistent, repeatable, hydraulic servo actuator capable of performing strain- or stress-
and less influenced by the specimen preparation. The optimum controlled tests. This configuration can apply stress or strain load-
water content (e.g., 14%) was added to the soil and mixed uni- ing with a maximum frequency of 50 Hz using built-in sine,
formly. Then, a predetermined amount of silty clay was placed in triangular, and square waveforms or any other random wave-
a special steel mould and statically compacted by applying ap- forms defined by means of external input. Many Chinese research-
proximately 8 kN vertical loads at a suitable speed using the
ers have conducted triaxial tests on various types of frozen soils
sample-marking machine. Before placing the soils into the mould,
using this system.
lubricating oil was smeared on the inner surface of the mould to
During the test, the prepared frozen specimen was placed into
reduce the friction between the soil and the mould. Each sample
the triaxial cell, where the surrounding temperature was –5 °C
was removed from the steel mould, and a cylindrical specimen
with a precision of ±0.1 °C. Each sample was first subjected to a
61.5 mm in diameter and 125 mm in height was produced with a
determined isotropic confining pressure for 10 min, and then
dry density of 1.80 g/cm3. Each specimen was then installed in a
one-way cyclic stress, ␴cyc, expressed as additional force to the
steel split mould, which was specially manufactured and fixed at
two ends by a steel frame. To avoid large frost heaving and signif- initial axial stress, was imposed in the axial direction, and the
icant moisture movement during freezing, the steel mould was loading pattern was a sine wave as shown in Figs. 1a and Fig. 1b,
then placed in a freezer at a temperature of –30 °C for 12 h to where ␴d denotes the amplitude of ␴cyc. In each test, cyclic stress
achieve rapid freezing. This quick-freezing procedure can prevent with identical amplitude was applied to the specimen in a stress-
the formation of a massive ice lens and produce a relatively ho- controlled mode and 2 Hz frequency. Changes in the axial defor-
mogeneous structure for the frozen soil sample. Finally, each fro- mation, axial stress, and volume were measured during cyclic
zen specimen was removed from the split mould, covered with a loading. The cyclic loading was suspended after 20 000 cycles or
rubber membrane and then stored in a freezer of predetermined when the axial strain had reached the failure limit of the speci-
temperature for another 24 h before testing. In this study, the men (e.g., 20% axial strain). A hysteresis loop can be obtained by
temperature of the tested specimens was –5 °C. plotting the axial stress versus the axial strain, as shown in Fig. 1c,
from which the dynamic Young’s modulus Ed(N) and the residual
2.3. Equipment and test scheme axial strain ␧1,R(N) can be derived. N denotes the number of load-
A triaxial test system for frozen soils, which was modified from ing cycles. In accordance with the sign convention in soil mechan-
the MTS-810 material test system in the State Key Laboratory of ics, compressive stress and contraction are defined as positive,
Frozen Soil Engineering of China, was used to perform the cyclic whereas tensile stress and elongation are defined as negative.
triaxial test on the frozen specimens. The system is equipped with All tested frozen soil specimens were prepared with identical
signal conditioning, a servo amplifier, a computer interface, and properties (e.g., moisture content before freezing, temperature
data acquisition units. Vertical loading and cell pressure applica- history, and dry density). The effect of cyclic stress amplitude

Published by NRC Research Press

266 Can. Geotech. J. Vol. 56, 2019

Fig. 2. Results of triaxial tests under axial monotonic loading. Table 2. Summary of cyclic triaxial tests of frozen
Test No. ␴3 (MPa) ␴d (MPa) Nmax
Low amplitude
DC01 0.3 2.1 20 000
DC02 0.3 2.4 20 000
DC03 0.3 2.7 20 000
DC08 0.6 2.1 20 000
DC09 0.6 2.4 20 000
DC10 0.6 2.7 20 000
DC15 0.9 2.1 20 000
DC16 0.9 2.4 20 000
DC17 0.9 2.7 20 000
DC21 1.2 2.1 20 000
DC22 1.2 2.4 20 000
DC23 1.2 2.7 20 000
DC27 1.5 2.1 20 000
DC28 1.5 2.4 20 000
DC29 1.5 2.7 20 000
DC33 1.8 2.1 Failure
DC34 1.8 2.4 20 000
DC35 1.8 2.7 20 000
along with various confining pressures on residual deformation High amplitude
and stiffness changes in frozen soil is investigated in this work. To DC04 0.3 4.2 713
determine the amplitude of cyclic stress in the dynamic triaxial DC05 0.3 4.5 208
tests, six monotonic triaxial compression tests at confining pres- DC06 0.3 4.8 109
sures of 0.3, 0.6, 0.9, 1.2, 1.5, and 1.8 MPa were conducted with an DC07 0.3 5.1 45
identical axial strain rate of 1%/min. The test results are shown in DC11 0.6 4.2 1233
Fig. 2, from which the strengths of frozen soil samples (e.g., the DC12 0.6 4.5 460
peak deviator stresses below axial strain of 20%) at different con- DC13 0.6 4.8 222
fining pressures can be derived. The strength values fall into the DC14 0.6 5.1 117
DC18 0.9 4.5 736
range of 4.3 to 6.5 MPa and it supports a reference to determine
DC19 0.9 4.8 431
the amplitude of cyclic stress in the dynamic triaxial tests. How-
DC20 0.9 5.1 179
ever, it is not the sole reference because frozen soil usually DC24 1.2 4.5 1089
achieves a higher strength and stiffness under a higher loading DC25 1.2 4.8 496
rate. Then, at least six amplitudes of cyclic stress were used to DC26 1.2 5.1 197
conduct cyclic triaxial tests at the same confining pressure. DC30 1.5 4.8 1077
Based on the end criterion of these tests, two test groups, DC31 1.5 5.1 349
namely, low-amplitude and high-amplitude group, are deter- DC32 1.5 5.4 212
mined. In the low-amplitude group, each test was suspended after DC36 1.8 4.8 787
20 000 cycles. The high-amplitude group includes all tests that DC37 1.8 5.1 382
end once the specimen axial strain reaches 20%; however, the DC38 1.8 5.4 186
number of loading cycles of these tests is less than 20 000. The Note: ␴3, confining pressure; Nmax, maximum number
details of each test are listed in Table 2. of cycles.

3. Experimental results and discussion number of load cycles. The influence of cyclic stress amplitude on
3.1. Residual deformation behaviour the residual axial strain can also be detected in Fig. 3. At the same
Residual strain (including axial strain and volumetric strain) is number of load cycles, the sample under higher cyclic stress ac-
generated by the increasing number of loading cycles. Figure 3 cumulates more permanent axial strain. Note that for the test
presents the residual strain as a function of the number of applied with cyclic loading amplitude of 2.7 MPa under a confining pres-
load cycles N. The N-axis is scaled logarithmically. Note that the sure of 0.3 MPa, the failure mechanism does not fall under plastic
development of the residual axial strain is highly dependent on creep. The residual axial strain of this specimen initially under-
the magnitude of the applied cyclic stress, and two distinguish- goes a near-linear increase with log N, but with continuous load-
able categories of the deformation mechanism are clearly ob- ing cycles, ␦␧1,R/␦N begins to increase at a cycle number of
served in response to ␴d, namely, category I: plastic creep in the approximately 10 000. This phenomenon indicates that there is
low-level range of cyclic stress amplitude and category II: plastic another category between plastic creep and plastic collapse,
collapse in the high-level range of cyclic stress amplitude. which is generated by the medial-level cyclic stress. However, this
special failure mechanism is not observed in the tests under a
3.1.1. Category I: plastic creep confining pressure from 0.6 to 1.8 MPa. The lack of such a phe-
The residual axial strain of the frozen specimens subjected to nomenon indicates that the limits of cyclic stress amplitude ␴d
low-level cyclic stress (␴d ≤ 2.7 MPa for the frozen soil in this study) between different categories is dependent on the applied confin-
increases with the number of loading cycles. The axial strain ac- ing pressure ␴3, and a lower confining pressure ␴3 yields a lower
cumulated rate ␦␧1,R/␦N, defined as the increment of permanent limit of ␴d.
axial strain per load cycle, progressively decreases to a relatively As shown in Fig. 3, at low-level cyclic stress, the specimens
low, nearly constant level with an increasing number of loading undergoe an overall volumetric compression up to the end of the
cycles and a near-linear increase in residual strain with increasing loading cycles. With an increasing number of loading cycles, the
log N. This mechanism is defined as plastic creep. In this case, the residual volumetric strains, ␧v,R, show a nonlinear increase, and
specimens would eventually fail due to ratcheting after a large the volumetric strain accumulated rate, ␦␧v,R/␦N, which is defined

Published by NRC Research Press

Li et al. 267

Fig. 3. Residual strain response ␧1,R and ␧v,R under cyclic loading versus number of cycles N.

Published by NRC Research Press

268 Can. Geotech. J. Vol. 56, 2019

Fig. 4. Variation in final residual strain ratio df with cyclic stress Table 3. Summary of coefficients for empirical equations of
amplitude ␴d. Category I, low-level cyclic stress; category II, high-level residual axial strain.
cyclic stress. [Colour online.] Low amplitude
Test No. Measured ␧1,R (%)* a1 R2
DC01 0.64 0.7622 0.9979
DC02 0.76 1.1271 0.9987
DC03 1.33 — —
DC08 0.90 0.7382 0.9949
DC09 1.08 1.0594 0.9979
DC10 1.48 1.4053 0.9995
DC15 0.66 0.6955 0.9945
DC16 0.88 1.0559 0.9943
DC17 1.62 1.5608 0.9938
DC21 1.16 0.7929 0.9913
DC22 1.20 1.1000 0.9953
DC23 1.83 1.4806 0.9952
DC27 1.19 0.7144 0.9935
DC28 1.37 1.0672 0.9881
DC29 1.64 1.4323 0.9927
DC33 — — —
DC34 1.42 1.1460 0.9922
DC35 1.84 1.3364 0.9902
High amplitude
Test No. Measured ␧1,R (%)* b1 R2
DC04 3.47 0.8477 0.9998
as the increment of permanent volumetric strain per load cycle, DC05 6.11 0.7223 0.9997
tends to increase to the end of the test. Although there are some DC06 7.90 0.7265 0.9993
exceptions, most results of the residual volumetric strain as a DC07 10.47 0.8374 0.9993
function of loading cycles, N, scaled logarithmically show a clear DC11 5.18 0.6245 0.9981
dependence on the cyclic stress amplitude. At the same loading DC12 6.35 0.6727 0.9994
cycle, the specimen under a higher cyclic stress experiences a DC13 7.85 0.6652 0.9986
higher volume compaction. DC14 9.10 0.7101 0.9994
DC18 6.77 0.5760 0.9998
3.1.2. Category II: plastic collapse DC19 7.12 0.6186 0.9999
As shown in Fig. 3, for those specimens under high-level cyclic DC20 9.11 0.6111 1.0000
stresses (for example, ␴d ≥ 4.2 MPa for the specimens under ␴3 = DC24 6.36 0.5616 0.9996
0.3 MPa), specimen failure can occur in the form of plastic collapse DC25 7.62 0.5663 0.9999
within a small number of load cycles. This deformation mecha- DC26 9.18 0.5876 1.0000
nism is defined as plastic collapse in this study. In this case, the DC30 6.36 0.5586 0.9999
permanent axial strain accumulates at an increasing rate, and the DC31 8.38 0.5543 1.0000
sample reaches the failure limit of ␧1 = 20% rapidly. The influence DC32 9.27 0.5686 1.0000
DC36 7.10 0.5403 1.0000
of the magnitude of applied cyclic stress on these curves is also
DC37 8.33 0.5452 1.0000
significant in this category. Moreover, at a certain confining pres-
DC38 9.95 0.5362 1.0000
sure, the specimen under a higher cyclic stress reaches the failure
limit within a lower number of loading cycles. *N = 10.
The residual volumetric strains versus the number of loading
cycles are also plotted in Fig. 3. Those specimens with high cyclic the end of the test. Although the volume of the sample com-
stresses exhibit an overall compressive volumetric strain. The im- presses towards the end of the test and no peak value or subse-
portance of the confining pressure ␴3 in characterizing the evolu- quent dilation is detected, the volumetric strain accumulation
tion of residual volumetric strain in conjunction with loading rate ␦␧v,R/␦N shows a reduction (e.g., volumetric strain shows a
cycles is also shown in this figure. For the test under a confining linear increase with the logN, which indicates that ␦␧v,R/␦N de-
pressure of 0.3 MPa, the residual volumetric strain increases first creases with the loading cycles N), which indicates that the phase
and then decreases with increasing accumulated axial strain. A transformation state is approaching. These observations suggest
peak value is observed, and the residual volumetric change trans- that all the evolutions of residual volumetric strain induced by
forms from compression to dilation at this point. In this study, high-level cyclic stress follow a similar path. The phase transfor-
this point is referred to as the phase transformation state. The mation state and subsequent volume dilation occur at a relatively
deformation of frozen soils under cyclic triaxial test can be inter- large strain for tests under a confining pressure from 0.6 to
preted as a combination of two different mechanisms, namely 1.8 MPa, which exceeds the test limit of ␧1 = 20%.
volumetric compaction and frictional sliding. During testing, the To explore the deformation mechanism of frozen soil under
absolute volumetric compaction occurs due to cyclic mean stress, different cyclic stresses, the final residual strain ratio df ⫽
f f f
while shear deformation and volumetric dilation occurs during ␧v,R /␧1,R is defined in this study. For the tests in category I, ␧v,R and
frictional sliding. When the compaction and dilation change ␧1,R are the final residual volumetric and axial strain, respectively,
reach the same rate, the total volume exhibits a peak value, which at a test limit of N = 20 000. For tests under high-level cyclic stress,
f f
is the so called phase-transformation state. Relative to the test ␧v,R and ␧1,R are the residual volumetric and axial strain, respec-
results shown in Figs. 3b–3f, the residual volumetric strain in- tively, at the last cycle before the test limit of ␧1 = 20% is reached.
creases with an increasing number of loading cycles during the With the exception of some indirectly obtained data, Fig. 4 shows
entire test process, and the final reduction is not observed until that df derived from category I shows a range of relative high

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Li et al. 269

Fig. 5. Variation in model parameter a1, with (a) cyclic stress amplitude ␴d and (b) confining pressure ␴3.

Fig. 6. Variation in model parameter b1, with (a) cyclic stress amplitude ␴d and (b) confining pressure ␴3.

values; however, df derived from category II is relatively small.

This observation indicates that the deformation mechanism of
(1) ␧1,R(N) ⫽ ␧1,R(N ⫽ 10) ⫹ a1 log 共10N 兲
frozen soil under high and low cyclic stress is different. In cate-
gory I, the volume compression is changing as the dominant de- where ␧1,R (N = 10) is the residual axial strain after the 10th cycle of
formation mechanism at the end of the test. Furthermore, Fig. 4 cyclic loading and a1 is a model parameter. For the test under
also shows that df exhibits a clear decrease with increasing cyclic high-level cyclic stress, however, the exponential function as
stress in this case, which indicates that the mechanism of volume shown in eq. (2) is proposed to describe the dependence of resid-
compression is more prominent under lower cyclic stress. However, ual axial strain on the number of loading cycles under high-
the small df in category II indicates that the large axial strain of amplitude cyclic stress
frozen soil under high cyclic stress is induced primarily by the mech-

关 共10N 兲兴
anism of friction sliding. Another notable phenomenon is that the
variation in df with cyclic stress amplitude in this case is slight. Rel- (2) ␧1,R(N) ⫽ ␧1,R(N ⫽ 10) exp b1 log
ative to the other test data in this category, df derived from tests
under a confining pressure of 0.3 MPa is near zero because the vol-
umes of these specimens have been exposed to a range of dilation. where b1 is a modelling parameter. For the sake of detecting the
influence factors of a1 and b1, each test result on variations of
3.2. Empirical equation for residual axial strain residual strain with the number of cycles is fitted by eq. (1) or
Based on the large amount of test results, as shown in Fig. 3, the eq. (2), and the fitted values of a1 and b1 are listed in Table 3. Table 3
trends in residual axial strain as a function of number of loading also provides the associated R2 of each fitted curve, whose value is
cycles differ for specimens under a high or low range of cyclic close to 1.0. This result illustrates that the evolution of residual
stress. For tests under low-level cyclic stress, a linear function that axial strain can be described well by eqs. (1) and (2).
includes log N can be used to predict the residual axial strain after The large influence of the cyclic stress amplitude ␴d on a1 is
N loading cycles shown in Fig. 5a. The value of a1 increases as the cyclic stress

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270 Can. Geotech. J. Vol. 56, 2019

Fig. 7. Dynamic Young’s modulus (Ed) changes with number of cycles (N).

amplitude ␴d increases. Furthermore, all data points for speci- The dependence of parameter a1 on the applied confining pres-
mens with the same cyclic stress, but different confining pres- sure ␴3 is plotted in Fig. 5b. The value of a1 is found to be indepen-
sures fall within a relatively narrow band, and the dependence on dent of the confining pressure ␴3. For the test series under the
␴d can be described by the following linear fit: a1 = –1.72 + 0.12(␴d/ same cyclic stress, the changes in a1 can be neglected.
pa). Under this formulation, pa is atmospheric pressure with a The influences of the cyclic stress amplitude and confining pres-
value of 0.101 MPa. sure on parameter b1 are presented in Figs. 6a and 6b, respectively.

Published by NRC Research Press

Li et al. 271

Fig. 8. Dynamic Young’s modulus (Ed) changes with residual volumetric Table 4. Summary of coefficients for empirical equations of
strain (␧v,R). Stage I, compaction; stage II, dilation. [Colour online.] stiffness changes.
Low amplitude
Test No. Fitted Ed (MPa)* c1 R2
DC01 1174.30 66.27 0.9285
DC02 1295.03 75.36 0.9333
DC03 1168.61 99.45 0.9299
DC08 1123.39 170.44 0.9507
DC09 1270.71 99.2 0.9465
DC10 1210.42 125.42 0.9345
DC15 1433.68 129.20 0.9838
DC16 1261.21 111.54 0.9740
DC17 1246.75 160.02 0.9566
DC21 1237.28 214.57 0.9734
DC22 1345.62 135.00 0.9670
DC23 1302.35 147.06 0.9659
DC27 1352.18 192.45 0.9874
DC28 1223.11 154.16 0.9900
DC29 1388.93 170.26 0.9528
DC33 — — —
DC34 1449.06 187.50 0.9815
DC35 1448.44 185.98 0.9767
High amplitude
Test No. Fitted Ed (MPa)* d1 R2 NT

No significant influence of the amplitude of cyclic stress ␴d on b1 is DC04 953.85 282.97 0.9817 337
found in Fig. 6a. However, in Fig. 6b, all data points for the values DC05 821.52 346.45 0.9973 87
DC06 779.75 361.45 0.9913 43
of b1 fall within a relatively narrow band. The trend in these data
DC07 677.81 284.31 0.9931 17
band clearly shows that b1 decreases nonlinearly with increasing DC11 1000.69 246.15 0.9671 —
confining pressure. The observed dependence is well described by DC12 897.93 318.95 0.9873 —
the function b1 = 0.46 + 0.78/(1 + 0.47␴d/pa). DC13 849.72 371.32 0.9889 —
DC14 774.84 430.69 0.9986 —
3.3. Stiffness changes behaviour DC18 950.67 331.50 0.9847 —
The stiffness of frozen soil can be evaluated in terms of the DC19 905.35 351.49 0.9947 —
dynamic Young’s modulus, Ed, as shown in Fig. 1. To characterize DC20 841.62 467.82 0.9974 —
the stiffness changes of frozen soil, the dynamic Young’s modulus, DC24 1007.74 338.95 0.9872 —
Ed, is determined by the hysteresis loop for each cycle, and these DC25 937.71 391.64 0.9932 —
values are plotted against the number of loading cycles in Fig. 7. DC26 888.05 482.40 0.9985 —
The variations in the dynamic Young’s modulus, Ed, exhibit a DC30 1067.53 314.82 0.9845 —
significant increase with an increasing number of loading cycles DC31 961.46 436.41 0.9961 —
N. However, the change rates of Ed with different values of N differ DC32 922.48 465.49 0.9951 —
DC36 1056.01 338.48 0.9835 —
significantly for low- and high-level cyclic stress. The increase
DC37 1001.97 433.68 0.9958 —
rates of Ed as a function of N for the test in the plastic creep DC38 944.94 513.24 0.9953 —
category fall within a low range, while Ed derived from tests under
*N = 10.
high cyclic stress increases rapidly with N. The increase in Ed with
each successive cycle can be attributed, at least partly, to cyclic
densification. As ␧v,R increases with increasing N, leading to a Fig. 9. Variation in fitted Ed (N = 10) with the measured Ed (N = 10) in
reduction in the void ratio and an associated increase in stiffness, tests. [Colour online.]
the progression of Ed with N as shown in Fig. 7 is expected. As a
result, a more rapid increase in axial strain under high cyclic
stress leads to a higher increase rate of Ed with N. Furthermore, by
comparing the test results under high-level cyclic stresses along
with the same confining pressure, a trend whereby the test with
lower cyclic stress generates a higher dynamic Young’s modulus,
Ed, can be observed. However, the Ed derived from the tests under
low-level cyclic stress changes slightly with the increasing ␴d. This
observation is in agreement with the well-accepted calculation
that the dynamic Young’s modulus, Ed, of soils typically keeps as a
constant in a small strain range, and then degrades with an in-
creasing strain level once the strain amplitude exceeds a thresh-
old. A notable observation from Fig. 7a is that for samples DC04,
DC05, DC06, and DC07, (i.e., ␴d = 4.2, 4.5, 4.8, and 5.1 MPa, respec-
tively), the dynamic Young’s modulus, Ed, undergoes a sharp in-
crease first, and then the value of Ed is expected to remain
relatively constant over the subsequent stress cycles. As presented
in Fig. 3a, the volumetric residual strains derived from these tests
also show a notable evolution relative to that of other tests. For
the sake of exploring the dependence between them, the changes

Published by NRC Research Press

272 Can. Geotech. J. Vol. 56, 2019

Fig. 10. Variation in model parameter c1, with (a) cyclic stress amplitude ␴d and (b) confining pressure ␴3.

Fig. 11. Variation in model parameter d1, with (a) cyclic stress amplitude ␴d and (b) confining pressure ␴3.

Ed in values with residual volumetric strain ␧v,R have been evalu- where Ed (N = 10) is the dynamic Young’s modulus at cycle N = 10
ated for these tests as presented in Fig. 8. and c1 is the model parameter. For the samples under high-level
The evolution of Ed with ␧v,R includes two stages. Stage I denotes cyclic stress, changes in Ed with N are expected to exhibit two
the initial phase, in which Ed increases during specimen compac- stages and can be represented as follows:
tion. In stage II, the change in specimen volume switches to dila-
tion, while Ed reaches a relatively constant value. This observation
further confirms that cyclic densification contributes to the in-
crease in stiffness. Moreover, the dilation of specimen volume in
(4) Ed(N) ⫽ 再 Ed(N ⫽ 10) ⫹ d1 log
Ed(NT) (N ⬎ NT)
共10N 兲 (N ≤ NT)

stage II is not expected to produce a degradation in stiffness,

which shows that many other factors also determine the change
where d1 is the model parameter and NT is the number of loading
in stiffness: deviatoric deformation, microcrack generation, and
cycles at which the change in residual volumetric strain transfers
an ice–water phase change during cyclic loading are expected to
from compression to dilation. In eqs. (3) and (4), the parameters c1
be included in these factors. However, further testing with an
and d1 control the increasing rate of Ed with N. To achieve more
advanced device to detect the indexes that affect the stiffness of
frozen soil and rationally quantify them is needed, which is out- accurate and reasonable values of c1 and d1, Ed (N = 10) is also
side the scope of the current study. regarded as a fitted parameter in the process of test data fitting.
Ed (N = 10), and the c1 or d1 values for each fitted function and the
3.4. Empirical equation for dynamic Young’s modulus associated coefficient of determination (R2 values) are presented
The test results under low-level cyclic stress show that a linear in Table 4. The worst-case value for the linear regressions on the
function as shown in eq. (3) can describe changes in Ed with log N: data (e.g., the value farthest from 1) is 0.9285, indicating a strong
approximation of the real data from the trend lines. Furthermore,
(3) Ed(N) ⫽ Ed(N ⫽ 10) ⫹ c1 log 共10N 兲 the measured and fitted values of Ed (N = 10) are shown in Fig. 9.
Most data points are close to the one-to-one relationship line,

Published by NRC Research Press

Li et al. 273

which indicates that the fitted values of Ed (N = 10) is very approx- in Ed with each successive cycle can be attributed, at least
imate to the measured ones. In other words, the measured Ed (N = partly, to cyclic densification.
10) can be used in these empirical equations within a certain range 5. For tests with a confining pressure of 0.3 MPa, the evolution of
of accuracy, which will reduce the difficulties in getting the values Ed comprises two stages. In the initial stage, Ed increases dur-
of this parameter. In addition, the number of cycles NT for tests ing specimen volume compaction. Subsequently, the change
DC04, DC05, DC06, and DC07 is also presented in this table. in specimen volume switches to dilation, while Ed reaches
The dependency of the model parameters c1 or d1 on the cyclic a relatively constant value. This observation indicates that
stress amplitude ␴d and confining pressure ␴3 are shown in Fig. 10 many other factors in addition to cyclic densification deter-
and Fig. 11, respectively. Figure 10 shows that the model parameter mine the change in stiffness.
c1 is independent of ␴d, while ␴3 affects the value of c1 signifi- 6. Based on the test results derived from the tests under both
cantly. Although scatter exists, the dependence between c1 and ␴3 high- and low-level cyclic stresses, empirical equations for the
can be represented accurately by the function c1 = 62.02 + 7.24(␴3/ residual axial strain and dynamic Young’s modulus are devel-
pa). The model parameter d1 is found to depend on ␴d. All of the oped in this study. Furthermore, the effects of confining pres-
data and the associated fitted function of d1 = –542.62 + 19.35(␴d/pa) sure and cyclic stress amplitude on each model parameter are
are shown in detail in Fig. 11a. Additionally, the R2 value is near 1, evaluated in detail.
which indicates that the linear regression is adequate with re-
spect to the influence of ␴d. In contrast, the data in Fig. 11b indi- Acknowledgements
cate that the influence of ␴3 on the value of d1 is slight and can be The authors gratefully acknowledge their colleagues of the
ignored. State Key Laboratory of Frozen Soil Engineering of China and the
financial support of (i) Scientific Research Fund of Institute of
4. Conclusions Engineering Mechanics, China Earthquake Administration (Grant
In this study, a series of cyclic triaxial tests were conducted to No. 2017B06), (ii) the National Nature Science Foundation of China
investigate the combined effect of cyclic stress level together with (Grant No. 51708522 and 41627801), and (iii) the Open Research
confinement on the deformation and stiffness of frozen silty clay. Fund Program of State Key Laboratory of Frozen Soil Engineering
The residual axial strain, residual volumetric strain, and dynamic of China (Grant No. SKLFSE201609).
Young’s modulus of each test are evaluated and compared under
different levels of cyclic stress amplitude and confining pressure. References
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