Mechanisms of failure in saturated and unsaturated clayey geomaterials subjected to (total) tensile stress

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The paper presents an experimental investigation into the mechanisms of tensile failure in clayey geomaterials under saturated and unsaturated conditions. An experimental apparatus was developed to test specimens in uniaxial tension with the facility to monitor suction (pore-water tension) using high-capacity tensiometers. This allowed interpretation of failure data in terms of effective stress and average skeleton stress for saturated and unsaturated specimens respectively. Experimental data from normally consolidated samples showed that failure under uniaxial tension occurs in shear and tensile cracks form as a combination of Mode I and Mode II fracture. In the saturated range when samples were prepared with de-aired water, tensile failure occurred at deviatoric stresses corresponding to the critical state line derived from triaxial and uniaxial compression tests. When using non-de-aired water and at suction levels approaching the air-entry value, failure occurred at deviatoric stresses lower than the ones corresponding to the critical state line derived from compression tests. It has been suggested that water cavitation may be one of the mechanisms that control premature rupture of saturated clay when subjected to a (total) tensile stress state. Finally, tensile failure data from unsaturated samples showed that there is continuity between saturated and unsaturated states.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)701-712
Number of pages12
Issue number8
Early online date12 Jul 2019
Publication statusPublished - 31 Aug 2019


  • clay
  • tensile failure
  • high-capacity tensiometer
  • plastic limit
  • cavitation

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