Volume 33, Issue 4 (July 2010)
An Experimental Technique for Determining the Hydraulic Properties of Unsaturated Pyroclastic Soils
The experimental technique proposed in the paper was designed to rapidly and reliably determine both the water retention curve and the permeability function of undisturbed natural pyroclastic soil samples. The technique was developed in the framework of an experimental research project on mudflows in pyroclastic soils in the southern Italian region of Campania (Italy). Grain-size distribution and void ratio of the particular pyroclastic soils suggested investigation of the hydraulic behavior for matric suction values in the range between 0 and 100 kPa. Our experimental technique consisted of a sequence of testing phases to be conducted on a single undisturbed soil sample: A constant head permeation test, a forced evaporation test, and finally a drying test in a pressure plate apparatus. Interpretation of the experimental data was based on inverse modelling and allowed both water retention curves and permeability functions to be determined. The six parameters of the Mualem–van Genuchten model were adopted to describe the hydraulic behavior of the tested soils. Each testing phase supplied experimental data to be used in the interpretation procedure: The permeation phase provided a matching data point for the permeability function near saturation; the forced evaporation test was related to the hydraulic behavior for matric suction values ranging from a few kPa to less than 80–90 kPa (i.e., mini-tensiometer functioning range); and the drying steps in the pressure plate apparatus provided information about the retention properties for matric suction values up to 1 MPa. The results shown in the paper clearly confirm the goodness of the experimental design and the interpretation procedure.