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Long-term matric suction measurements in highway subgrades



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The performance of Thin Membrane Surface (TMS) highways is largely controlled by the strength of the subgrade soil which in turn is a function of the soil suction (Fredlund and Morgenstern, 1977). Thermal conductivity suction sensors can be used to indirectly measure in situ matric suction. Thirty two (32) thermal conductivity sensors were installed under Thin Membrane Surface (TMS) in two highway locations; namely, Bethune and Torquay, Saskatchewan, in September 2000. The sensors were installed beneath the pavement, shoulder and side-slope to monitor matric suction and temperature changes with time. The monitoring system at Bethune was damaged after two years of operation. The thermal conductivity sensors at Torquay all appear to have been working well and data are still being collected.Other attempts had been made in the past to use thermal conductivity sensors for field suction measurement, but all were terminated within a short period of time due to limitations associated with the equipment. The long-term suction measurement at the Torquay site is unique and provides valuable field data. This research project presents and interprets the long-term matric suction measurements made between the years 2000 to 2005 at the Torquay site and from 2000 to 2002 at the Bethune site. To help in the interpretation of the data, a site investigation was undertaken along with a laboratory testing program that included the measurement of Soil-Water Characteristic Curves (SWCC). As well, a limited laboratory study was undertaken on several new thermal conductivity matric suction sensors. The matric suction readings in the field showed a direct relationship to rainfall and regional evaporation conditions at the test sites. At the Bethune and Torquay test sites, the changes in matric suctions appeared to be mainly due to the movement of moisture through the edge of the road. Relatively constant equilibrium suctions were encountered under the driving-lanes. Conversely, matric suctions under the side-slopes were found to vary considerably with time and depth. Matric suctions under the driving-lanes ranged from 20 to 60 kPa throughout the years. Matric suctions on the side-slopes changed from 100 to 1500 kPa over the years. The greatest variation of soil suctions occurred in the month of April from location to location in the subgrade. The soil suctions became less variable in June while larger variations again occurred from July to October. The matric suction measurements obtained from the thermal conductivity sensors showed a general agreement with the values estimated using the soil-water characteristic curves, SWCC, measured in the laboratory.



hysteresis correction, temperature correction, thermal conductivity sensors, soil suction measurement, Matric suction, microclimate.



Master of Science (M.Sc.)


Civil Engineering


Civil Engineering


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