Journal Published Online: 17 September 2021
Volume 45, Issue 1

Reappraisal of Fall-Cone Flow Curve for Soil Plasticity Determinations



Several attempts have been made to devise alternate plastic limit (PL) determination methods, targeting higher degrees of repeatability and reproducibility. Among these, empirical-type correlations linking the plasticity index (PI) to the flow index (FI)—the slope magnitude of the flow curve—seem to be gaining increased attention, particularly for the fall-cone (FC) approach, and hence demand further examination. To better understand the true potentials and limitations of this emerging practice for soil plasticity determination, this study presents a critical statistical appraisal of FI-based correlations—using a large and diverse database of 230 FC tests (for the 80 g–30° cone)—in estimating the PI (and hence the PL). It is demonstrated that the so-called “strong” correlation between the PI and FI reported in some literature, favoring the use of FI as a PI estimator, is an overlooked “statistical pitfall” originating from an over-reliance on the coefficient of determination (R2) statistic. Employing appropriate error-related statistics, it is shown that the PI predictions made by FI-based correlations are associated with high average errors of 22–33 %. Hence, such correlations, at best, can only provide a rough approximation of the actual PI (and hence PL). An attempt is also made to assess the validity of FI-based correlations in the context of soil classification using the Casagrande-style plasticity chart. The agreement level between the conventional classification approach and that performed using PI deduced from FI-based correlations was 75–80 %. This analysis, however, did not account for errors in the rolling-thread plastic limit data, maintaining a strong possibility that FI-based correlations may be suitable for routine soil classification purposes.

Author Information

Soltani, Amin
School of Engineering, Information Technology, and Physical Sciences, Federation University, Churchill, Australia
O’Kelly, Brendan C.
Department of Civil, Structural, and Environmental Engineering, Trinity College Dublin, Dublin, Ireland
Pages: 19
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Stock #: GTJ20200312
ISSN: 0149-6115
DOI: 10.1520/GTJ20200312