Constitutive modelling of state-dependent behaviour of unsaturated soils: an overview

C.W.W. Ng, C. Zhou, C. F. Chiu

Research output: Journal article publicationReview articleAcademic researchpeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)


An unsaturated soil is a three-phase material that is ubiquitous on the earth’s surface. The fully saturated and completely dry states are just two limiting conditions of an unsaturated soil. The state and properties of unsaturated soils can change significantly with external loads, weather conditions and groundwater level. Proper modelling of the state-dependent behaviour of unsaturated soils is crucial for analysing the performance of almost all civil engineering structures. So far, there are many unsaturated soil models and several relevant review papers in the literature. None of the existing review papers, however, focused on the state dependency of unsaturated soil behaviour. Moreover, some aspects of soil behaviour have not been reviewed, including small strain stiffness, dilatancy and stress-dependence of water retention curve. In the current review paper, the state dependency of unsaturated soil behaviour is reviewed, with a particular attention to the three missing parts. The review is carried out in a unified and relatively simple constitutive framework, which adopts a three-by-three compliance matrix to link incremental volumetric strain, deviator strain and degree of saturation to incremental mean net stress, deviator stress and suction. All of the nine variables in the proposed three-by-three compliance matrix have clear physical meanings and can be measured through compression, shearing and water retention tests. Theoretical models based on other constitutive stress variables can be also converted to this framework by matrix transformation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2705-2725
Number of pages21
JournalActa Geotechnica
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2020


  • Constitutive modelling
  • Hydromechanical coupling
  • State dependency
  • Unsaturated soil

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geotechnical Engineering and Engineering Geology
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)

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