Measurement of the Hydraulic Conductivity of Fine-Grained Soils

    Published: Jan 1981

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    The purpose of this paper is to review the state of the art in the measurement of hydraulic conductivity of fine-grained soils. Both field and laboratory tests for saturated and partially saturated soils are considered.

    For saturated soils, field tests are to be preferred because they permeate a larger volume of soil, thus taking into account the effects of macrostructure better than laboratory tests. Field tests are generally best performed by using a cylindrical piezometer tip, installed by methods that minimize disturbance, and measuring flow under a constant head. Laboratory tests offer the advantage of economy. Laboratory specimens should be as large as practical and should be oriented to produce flow in the direction of maximum hydraulic conductivity. The permeant should be a fluid similar to that encountered in the field. Without proper experimental technique, the conductivity measured in the laboratory may differ from the field value by several orders of magnitude.

    Field tests for unsaturated soils are not well developed and can only be recommended for cases where water will be ponded on the surface of a site. The most versatile laboratory techniques are the instantaneous profile method using tensiometric or psychrometric probes, and the pressure plate outflow method. The best method to use depends on the soil suction expected in the field.


    permeability, hydraulic conductivity, soils, fine-grained soils, clays, sample preparation, laboratory tests, field tests, suction, unsaturated soils, groundwater

    Author Information:

    Olson, RE
    Professor and assistant professor of Civil Engineering, University of Texas, Austin, Tex.

    Daniel, DE
    Professor and assistant professor of Civil Engineering, University of Texas, Austin, Tex.

    Committee/Subcommittee: D18.14

    DOI: 10.1520/STP28316S

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