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Collapsibility, composition, and microstructure of loess in China

TitleCollapsibility, composition, and microstructure of loess in China
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2016
AuthorsLiu Z, Liu F, Ma F, Wang M, Bai X, Zheng Y, Yin H, Zhang G
JournalCanadian Geotechnical Journal
Start Page673
Date Published04/2016
Keywordscollapsibility, loess, Microstructure, mineralogy, particle morphology, silt

The collapse potential, mineralogy, microstructure, and particle morphology of a loess from the Loess Plateau, China, were characterized by double oedometer testing, X-ray diffraction, scanning electron microscopy with energy-dispersive X-ray spectroscopy, and image analysis to elucidate the origin of its collapse behavior. Results show that the loess is highly collapsible with a maximum collapse index of 6.7% at a vertical stress of ∼200 kPa. The deposit contains both nonclay (i.e., quartz, albite, muscovite, and calcite) and clay (i.e., two chlorites) minerals. Microstructural, chemical, and image analyses indicate that interparticle calcite and clay cementation and silt particle morphology render the intact soil a metastable structure. Wetting-induced collapse is attributed to both primary and secondary microstructure features. The former is the abundance of weakly cemented, unsaturated, porous pure clay and clay–silt mixture aggregates whose slaking upon wetting initiates the overall structural collapse, while the latter consists of high porosity, unstable particle contacts, and clay coating on silt particles that act synergistically to augment the collapse. A conceptual microstructural model of a four-tiered hierarchy (i.e., primary clay and silt particles, clay aggregates and clay-coated silt particles, clay–silt mixture aggregates, and cemented aggregate matrix) is proposed to represent its structural characteristics and to account for its high collapsibility.