Construction of soil–water characteristic curve of granular materials with toroidal model and artificially generated packings

Bate Bate, Shaokai Nie, Zejian Chen, Fengshou Zhang, Yunmin Chen

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)


The soil–water characteristic curve (SWCC) of granular materials is crucial for many emerging engineering applications, such as permeable pavement and methane hydrate extraction. Laboratory determination of the SWCC of granular materials suffers from inaccurate volume readings by the diffused air bubbles in the hanging column and sudden desaturation at small matric suction intervals. Theoretical determination of the SWCC of granular materials also suffers from semi-empirical nature in the prediction from grain size distribution, or from the limitation of assumed cubic packing or face-centred cubic packing with a toroid meniscus water model. In this study, real three-dimensional particle packing was first rendered with the discrete element method using approximation of spheres. Then, the Young–Laplace equation was applied to calculate the volume of toroidal meniscus water between each pair of spheres, which adds to the water content in the pendular regime of the SWCC. Additionally, a digitized image algorithm was used to identify the pore throats and calculate the air entry value and residual matric suction, the connection of which yields a straight line approximating the funicular regime. The SWCC was thus constructed. Comparison with laboratory-measured SWCCs suggested that although reasonable agreement was reached in general for glass beads, residual water content was underestimated, especially for non-spherical granular materials. Several possible reasons were discussed including the existence of patchy water accounting for the major portion of water in the beginning of pendular regime of granular materials, which was also observed in microscopic photographs through a special desaturation experiment.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1949-1960
Number of pages12
JournalActa Geotechnica
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2021


  • Discrete element method
  • Granular materials
  • Packing
  • Soil–water characteristic curve
  • Toroidal model

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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