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Introduction

The term "soil" can have different meanings, depending upon the field in which it is considered.

To a geologist, it is the material in the relative thin zone of the Earth's surface within which roots occur, and which are formed as the products of past surface processes. The rest of the crust is grouped under the term "rock".

To a pedologist, it is the substance existing on the surface, which supports plant life.

To an engineer, it is a material that can be:

  • built on: foundations of buildings, bridges
  • built in: basements, culverts, tunnels
  • built with: embankments, roads, dams
  • supported: retaining walls

Soil Mechanics is a discipline of Civil Engineering involving the study of soil, its behaviour, and application as an engineering material.

Soil Mechanics is the application of laws of mechanics and hydraulics to engineering problems dealing with sediments and other unconsolidated accumulations of solid particles, which are produced by the mechanical and chemical disintegration of rocks, regardless of whether or not they contain an admixture of organic constituents.

The soil consists of a multiphase aggregation of solid particles, water, and air. This fundamental composition gives rise to unique engineering properties, and the description of its mechanical behavior requires some of the most classic principles of engineering mechanics.

Engineers are concerned with soil's mechanical properties: permeability, stiffness, and strength. These depend primarily on the nature of the soil grains, the current stress, the water content and unit weight.

 

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Formation of soils

In the Earth's surface, rocks extend upto as much as 20 km depth. The major rock types are categorized as igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphic.

  • Igneous rocks: formed from crystalline bodies of cooled magma. 
  • Sedimentary rocks: formed from layers of cemented sediments.
  • Metamorphic rocks: formed by the alteration of existing rocks due to heat from igneous intrusions or pressure due to crustal movement.

Soils are formed from materials that have resulted from the disintegration of rocks by various processes of physical and chemical weathering. The nature and structure of a given soil depend on the processes and conditions that formed it:

  • Breakdown of parent rock: weathering, decomposition, erosion.
  • Transportation to site of final deposition: gravity, flowing water, ice, wind. 
  • Environment of final deposition: flood plain, river terrace, glacial moraine, lacustrine or marine.
  • Subsequent conditions of loading and drainage: little or no surcharge, heavy surcharge due to ice or overlying deposits, change from saline to freshwater, leaching, contamination.

All soils originate, directly or indirectly, from different rock types

Physical weathering reduces the size of the parent rock material, without any change in the original composition of the parent rock. Physical or mechanical processes taking place on the earth's surface include the actions of water, frost, temperature changes, wind, and ice. They cause disintegration and the products are mainly coarse soils.


The main processes involved are exfoliation, unloading, erosion, freezing, and thawing. The principal cause is climatic change. In exfoliation, the outer shell separates from the main rock. Heavy rain and wind cause erosion of the rock surface. Adverse temperature changes produce fragments due to the different thermal coefficients of rock minerals. The effect is more for freeze-thaw cycles.

Chemical weathering not only breaks up the material into smaller particles but alters the nature of the original parent rock itself. The main processes responsible are hydration, oxidation, and carbonation. New compounds are formed due to the chemical alterations.

Rainwater that comes in contact with the rock surface reacts to form hydrated oxides, carbonates, and sulphates. If there is a volume increase, the disintegration continues. Due to leaching, water-soluble materials are washed away and rocks lose their cementing properties.

Chemical weathering occurs in wet and warm conditions and consists of degradation by decomposition and/or alteration. The results of chemical weathering are generally fine soils with altered mineral grains.

The effects of weathering and transportation mainly determine the basic nature of the soil (size, shape, composition, and distribution of the particles).

The environment into which deposition takes place, and the subsequent geological events that take place there, determine the state of the soil (density, moisture content) and the structure or fabric of the soil (bedding, stratification, the occurrence of joints or fissures)

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Transportation agencies can be combinations of gravity, flowing water or air, and moving ice. In water or air, the grains become sub-rounded or rounded, and the grain sizes get sorted so as to form poorly-graded deposits. In moving ice, grinding and crushing occur, size distribution becomes wider forming well-graded deposits.

In running water, soil can be transported in the form of suspended particles, or by rolling and sliding along the bottom. Coarser particles settle when a decrease in velocity occurs, whereas finer particles are deposited further downstream. In still water, horizontal layers of successive sediments are formed, which may change with time, even seasonally or daily.

Wind can erode, transport and deposit fine-grained soils. Wind-blown soil is generally uniformly-graded.

A glacier moves slowly but scours the bedrock surface over which it passes.

Gravity transports materials along slopes without causing many alterations.

The document Introduction to Soil Mechanics | Soil Mechanics - Civil Engineering (CE) is a part of the Civil Engineering (CE) Course Soil Mechanics.
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FAQs on Introduction to Soil Mechanics - Soil Mechanics - Civil Engineering (CE)

1. What is soil mechanics in civil engineering?
Soil mechanics in civil engineering is a branch of engineering that deals with the behavior and properties of soil as a construction material. It involves studying the physical, chemical, and mechanical properties of soil to understand its suitability for various engineering projects such as foundations, retaining walls, and embankments.
2. What are the key properties of soil that are studied in soil mechanics?
The key properties of soil that are studied in soil mechanics include: - Particle size distribution: This refers to the proportion of different-sized particles in the soil, which affects its strength and permeability. - Atterberg limits: These are tests used to determine the moisture content at which soil transitions between solid, plastic, and liquid states. - Compaction characteristics: This involves studying the relationship between soil moisture content and its compacted density to ensure proper compaction during construction. - Shear strength: This property measures the resistance of soil to deformation and failure under applied loads. - Permeability: Permeability refers to the ability of soil to allow water or other fluids to flow through it. It is an important property for drainage and seepage control in civil engineering projects.
3. How is soil mechanics used in civil engineering projects?
Soil mechanics is used in civil engineering projects in various ways, including: - Foundation design: Soil mechanics helps in determining the type and size of foundation suitable for a structure based on the soil's bearing capacity and settlement characteristics. - Slope stability analysis: It is used to assess the stability of slopes and embankments to prevent landslides or failures. - Earthwork construction: Soil mechanics is essential for proper compaction of soil during earthwork construction to ensure the stability and performance of engineered structures. - Retaining wall design: The properties of soil studied in soil mechanics are crucial for designing safe and stable retaining walls that can withstand lateral earth pressures. - Pavement design: Soil mechanics plays a role in determining the strength and load-bearing capacity of soil beneath pavements to ensure their durability and performance.
4. What are the common tests conducted in soil mechanics?
Common tests conducted in soil mechanics include: - Atterberg limits test: This test determines the liquid limit, plastic limit, and plasticity index of soil. - Grain size distribution test: It involves sieving soil samples to determine the percentage of different-sized particles present. - Compaction test: This test measures the relationship between moisture content and dry density of soil to assess its compaction characteristics. - Shear strength test: Various tests, such as direct shear test or triaxial shear test, are conducted to determine the shear strength parameters of soil. - Permeability test: This test measures the rate of water flow through a soil sample to determine its permeability.
5. How does soil mechanics contribute to geotechnical engineering?
Soil mechanics is a fundamental aspect of geotechnical engineering. It provides the necessary knowledge and understanding of soil behavior to analyze and design structures built on or with soil. Geotechnical engineers use soil mechanics principles to assess the stability of slopes, analyze foundation conditions, design earthworks, evaluate soil properties for construction projects, and mitigate potential geotechnical hazards. Without a solid understanding of soil mechanics, geotechnical engineering would not be able to effectively address the challenges and complexities associated with soil-related issues in civil engineering.
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