An investigation of the microstructural features of a high-plasticity clay, in both its natural conditions and reconstituted in the laboratory, is described. Scanning electron microscopy is used here to characterise the fabric at different magnifications, while image processing of the micrographs delivers a quantitative assessment of the fabric orientation. The results of energy-dispersive X-ray spectroscopy and swelling tests, as reported in a previous study by the authors, are used to characterise the bonding nature and strength, as well as mercury intrusion porosimetry to investigate clay porosimetry. Despite their identical composition, the natural and the reconstituted clay have experienced different deposition and loading history, generating different microstructural features that are shown to underlie their differences in state. For both clays, one-dimensional (1D) compression to medium–high pressures is seen to determine a well-oriented medium magnification fabric. However, larger-scale observations and the corresponding image processing results reveal non-uniform local fabric features, hence making fabric characterisation dependent on the scale of analysis and bringing about the issue of identifying the clay micro-scale representative element volume relating to the clay macro-behaviour. The micro-REV is identified for the clays under study and its connection with the macro-behaviour characterised. The microstructural evolution induced by 1D compression to very high pressures is shown to concern mainly the clay porosity and porosimetry, the fabric orientation being steady, thus explaining the isotropic hardening observed in laboratory tests.

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Published on 01/01/2019

DOI: 10.1680/jgeot.18.00230
Licence: CC BY-NC-SA license

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