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Black Cotton Soil Modification using

Sea Salt
Rajesh Prasad Shukla

Former undergraduate Student

Government Engineering College, Rewa, (M.P.), India

Niraj Singh Parihar

Former undergraduate Student

Government Engineering College, Rewa, (M.P.), India

Rajendra Prasad Tiwari

Government Engineering College, Nowgong (M.P.), India

Bal Krishna Agrawal

Head of Department
Department of Civil Engineering,
Government Engineering College, Rewa, (M.P.), India

Black Soil is a most common soil in India, which covers more than 20 percentage land area of
India and is also known as regur. This soil is spread over Madhyapradesh, Gujarat,
Andhrapradesh, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Karnataka and other parts of India as well. Presence of
montmorillonite clay minerals is mainly responsible for swelling and shrinkage characteristic of
black cotton soil. The swelling and shrinkage characteristics of black cotton soil pose a serious
threat to foundations and structures constructed on them. Light weight and small structures are
generally more susceptible to damage due to their less amount of overburden pressure. In this
study, experiments have been conducted to find out the effect of addition of sea salt on the
behaviour of black cotton soil. From the laboratory test results it is observed that the addition of
salt in black cotton soil significantly reduces the liquid limit, plastic index, swelling and plasticity
index of soil with a minimum cost. Optimum moisture content and dry density of soil has also
found to be changed with addition of sea salt.

KEYWORDS: Black cotton soil, Swelling, Sea salt, Clay, Soil modification.

The swelling soil used for study is popularly known as black cotton soil, the name black
cotton has been given due to its black colour and its favourability for production of cotton. This
soil covers about 73 million hectare area of India which is more than 22% of total geographical
area of India [1]. It is widely found in Madhyapradesh, Gujarat, Andhrapradesh, Tamil Nadu,
Maharashtra, Karnataka and other parts of India as well. These soils are not only widespread in
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India but also at many other parts of the world. Black Cotton Soils consist of a variety of minerals
such as montmorillonite, kaolinite and illite. Its expansive characteristic mainly depends on
content of montmorillonite and illite minerals. Its chemical composition consists of silica dioxide,
aluminium oxide, calcium carbonate and iron oxide [2]. These soils exhibit a very high affinity
towards water, which may be attributed to their small grain size and positive ions present in the
particles [3]. Black cotton soil undergoes a drastic volume change when it comes in contact with
excess water content. These soils swell and shrink with increase and decrease in water content
respectively [4].
In the rainy season, the expansive clay minerals attract water molecules and water enters into
the inter-plane space between the minerals that leads to an increase in volume. The loss of water
from soil minerals results in the reduction in volume which causes the shrinkage of soil and
desiccation cracks [5-7]. The location of free water table and its seasonal variation affects the
swelling potential of the soil to a large extent. Small structures with shallow foundation and light
weight are generally more susceptible to damages and cracks due to less overburden pressure.
Uneven swelling and contraction do cause reduction in serviceability, emergence of hairline
cracks and many a times differential settlements with severe cracks which can even lead to total
collapse. The performances of the structures as well as foundations on expansive soils generally
depend on the engineering properties, type of loading, composition of soil and climatic
conditions. The most important engineering properties of expansive soils include water content,
shear strength, dry density and other index properties of soils. These all properties change with
change in constituents of soil and water content.
Literature is full of studies and discussion about problems and damages posed by the black
cotton soil. A lot of research has been done on improvement of expansive soils with some good
and useful come outs, but some results are contradicting and show that the plasticity of soil and
characteristics of water has a crucial role in soil behaviour [8-11]. There are lots of solutions
available to reduce or avoid the losses due to hazardous behaviour of soil such as, to remove the
black cotton soil up to a particular depth, increase the backfill pressure, soil mixing, and provision
of proper drainage, keeping the water table constant and altering the soil properties with some
additives. After certain depth, removal of soil may not be an option and water table variation
may not be fully controlled. Most of the time, addition of additives proves to be a good option to
modify the composition of soil to improve the performance of soil. The black cotton soil causes
loss of billions of dollars in the USA due to damage and has proven to be a big source of damage
[3, 12, 13]. Swelling behaviour and effects of additives have been studied by many researchers
[11, 14-19]. In this experimental study, the effect of salts on index properties of black cotton soil
has been studied.


A typical black cotton soil sample was collected from eastern part of Madhya Pradesh at a
depth of 1.5m below the ground surface. This area comes under hot and sub humid region and
consist of red soil mixed with clay and black cotton soil as well. Colours of soil found in this area
vary mainly from dark black to reddish grey. In this region, cracks are common in houses as soils
have medium to high shrinkage and swelling potential. Figure 1 shows the cracks on the field, on
typical mud house and cracks in PCC roads in north-eastern part of Madhya Pradesh.

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Figure 1: (a) Cracks in the field; (b) Typical cracks in houses; (c) Cracks in PCC roads in
north-eastern part of Madhya Pradesh
Samples were collected from ten different places and the variation has been observed in their
properties and their composition as well. The average shear strength of soil samples compacted to
OMC was 315.00 kPa. The material properties determined in laboratory are shown in table 1.0. A
typical grain size distribution of a sample of soil is shown in figure2.0. Figure 3 shows the stress
strain behaviour of black cotton soil.

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Percentage finer (%)




Particle size (mm)


Figure 2: Grain size distribution of a sample of soil


Stress (kPa)


Strains (%)



Figure 3: Stressstrain behavior of Black cotton soil

Table 1: Properties of Expansive Soil used in study

Soil Properties
Clay %
Silt %
Sand %
Liquid Limit
Plastic Limit
Specific Gravity
Plasticity Index


Soil Properties
Free Swell Index, FSI (%)
Cohesion (kN/m2)
Angle of internal friction
Maximum Dry Density (kN/m3)
Unsoaked CBR (%)
Soil Classification


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There are two methods namely direct and indirect methods available for determination of
swelling properties of soil. Indirect methods are based on the empirical correlation of different
physical properties, chemical properties and mineralogical composition of the soils whereas direct
methods mainly consist of laboratory tests. Here both methods have been used to determine the
swelling properties of the soil.
First of all, the soil samples were collected from field and soil were preserved in desiccator.
First, the index properties; liquid limit, plastic limit, shrinkage limit, in-situ moisture content,
grain size distribution curve and maximum dry density of all soil samples were determined in
laboratory as per the Indian standard codes. Then the compaction properties were also determined
in the laboratory. All the tests were again repeated with the addition of sea salt. From literature
review it is found that the optimum amount of salt used varies from 15mg/l to 20mg/l and in the
present study 17mg/l of salt concentration was used.
The specific gravity, water content, liquid limit, plastic limit, shrinkage limit and grain size
distribution curve of the black cotton soils samples were determined as per IS: 2720( Part III
:(1980)19, IS : 2720 (Part II) 1973 [20], IS : 2720 (Part V ) 1985 [21], IS : 2720 (Part VI)
1972 [22], and IS : 2720 ( Part IV ) 1985 [23] respectively. The procedure for determination of
OMC was determined by same method as described in IS: 2720, Part VII: 1980 [24]. For the
determination of free swell index of soils, the method described in IS: 2700(Part XL): 1997 [25]
have been used in this study. Similarly, for determination of swelling pressure of soil, a method
described in IS: 2700, Part XLI: 1997, second section [26] has been used.
Indirect classification of potential swell of a soil can be easily assessed based on empirical
equation given by Casarandes plasticity chart [27] and physical properties of soils. Chleborad et
al., 2005 [28] has provided a chart to assess the presence of type of clay mineral in soil. Holtz and
Gibbs, 1956 [29] presented a method to assess the potential swell based on the Atterbergs limit
of soil. Potential swell of soil can be also classified based on the physical properties of soils.
Skempton, 1953 [30], Seed, et al., 1960 [31], Van Der Merw, 1964 [32], Carter and Benley, 1991
[33] have established some very easy and useful empirical relationships between the physical
properties of soils such as colloids contents (clay contents) and soil suction and expansion


Index Properties
Addition of salt in black cotton soil reduces the average liquid limit of all samples to 46.82%
from 68%. It may be concluded that the sea salt has reduced the thickness of the diffused double
layer by flocculation of clay particles that leads to the reduction of liquid limit of black cotton soil
clay. [33-37] have made similar observations.
After addition of salt in black cotton soil, average value of plastic limit reduced to 14.84%
from 27%. [33], [34] and [35] have concluded the same outcome.
Plasticity index is decreased to 28.78% from 44%. This reduction is huge compared to plastic
limit. [33] and [34] observed a reduction in plasticity index of expansive soil after addition of salt.
High value of plasticity index and high activity of a soil indicates the high swelling potential. So
addition of sea salt do cause reductions in plasticity.

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Optimum Moisture Contents and Maximum Dry Density

Optimum moisture content and max dry density has been found to be decreasing and
increasing respectively with mixing of salt. An increase of 4.39% in dry density of soil and
12.77% decrease in optimum moisture content was observed and shown in figure 4.0. [34-38]
have made similar observations.

Maximum dry density (gm/cc)


with sea salt

without salt







Water content(%)

Figure 4: Optimum Moisture content

Swell Potential
The soil analysed in present study has liquid limit more than 70% and the plasticity index
more than 35% and according to Holtz and Gibbs, 1956 [29], it can be concluded that soil has
very high potential swell. Swell potential has also been determined from Seed, et al., 1960 [31]
that confirms that soil has high potential swell. The swelling potential as determined from the
chart for swelling potential proposed by Cartel et al., 1991 [33] comes out to be 24%.

Percentage Swell
Total ten samples were tested in laboratory and it was found that the free swelling has been
reduced by a considerable amount as shown in figure 5. Percentage average swell reduced to
71.316% from 93.877%. Observations are well matching with [37, 42, 43].

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Figure 5: Influence of sea salt on swell percentage of soil

Soil Minerals
Soil minerals composition have been predicted through a chart presented by Chleborad et al.,
2005 [28] that confirms that soil samples used in present analysis contains a large amount of
montmorillonite and illite clay minerals.

Activity of soil samples have been determined using relationship given by Seed et al., 196031
and Van Der Merwe D. H., 1964 [32]. Both method confirm that the soil is active. All theoretical
formulations give different values of soil activity that are not discussed here.

Swell Pressure
The swell pressure of black cotton soil was determined by conducting constant volume
method. Without salt addition, an average swell pressure was 75.74054 kN/m2. With the addition
of salt, the average swell pressure reduced to 71.6820 kN/m2. So, due to addition of salt, swell
pressure was reduced by approximately 5%. Effect of sea salt in the swelling potential of soil is
shown in figure 6.0. Some researchers such as [39-41] have made similar observations.

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Figure 6: Influence of sea salt on swell pressure of soil

All the laboratory tests were conducted as per Indian standards. Index properties of black
cotton soil were determined in laboratory. A reduction in value of index properties such as liquid
limit, plastic limit and plasticity index of black cotton soil have been observed with addition of
sea salt in black cotton soil. The most interesting change observed in swelling potential of black
cotton soil with the addition of salt is that the swelling has been reduced with a significant
amount. The reaction between sea salt and fine grained black cotton soil is mainly responsible for
the flocculation of soil particles and decrease in thickness of double diffused layer. This may have
resulted in increase in density and shear strength of soil. Optimum moisture content was
decreased with addition of salt in soil.


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