Measurement and Modeling of Thermo-Hydro-Mechanical Behaviors of Frozen Clays: Frost Susceptibility and Compressibility

Weiling Cai, Cheng Zhu, Wade Lein

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The risk of geohazards associated with frozen subgrades is well recognized, but a comprehensive framework to evaluate frost susceptibility from microstructural characteristics to macroscopic thermo-hydro-mechanical (THM) behaviors has not been established. This study aims to propose a simple framework for quantitatively assessing frost susceptibility and compressibility in frozen soils. A systematic THM model was devised to predict heat transfer, soil freezing characteristics, and stress states in frozen soils. Constant freezing experiments and oedometer compression tests were performed on bentonite clays under varying temperatures (−5°C, −10°C, and −20°C) and stress levels to validate the proposed model. Additionally, soil electrical conductivity measurements were employed to assess the temperature- and stress-dependent volumetric and mechanical properties of frozen soils. The model used Fourier’s law to compute the transient soil temperature profile and estimated the volume change and stress states based on the soil freezing characteristic curve. Experimental results showed that frost heave of bentonite reached between 9.0% and 26.6% of axial strain, which was largely predicted by the proposed model. It also demonstrated that the frost heave was mainly attributed to the fusion of the porewater. Additionally, the preconsolidation pressure of frozen soils exhibited a rapid increasing trend with decreasing temperature, which was explained by the temperature-dependent ice morphology in the soil interpore. Furthermore, the findings also demonstrated a remarkable sensitivity in the electrical conductivity in response to the soil temperature during the frost heave process and the stress state under the loading or unloading path.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalTransportation Research Record
StateAccepted/In press - 2024
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Civil and Structural Engineering
  • Mechanical Engineering


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