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JUNE, 2019

The stability and durability of the embankments and subgrades depends on

the improvement of shear strength of the soil as well as the restriction of

settlements or deformation within permissible limits. The strength and deformation

characteristics of embankments and subgrades depend directly on the density of the


Soil is used as a construction material for constructing embankments and

subgrades. Embankments are constructed to raise the ground level above the

existing level up to the formation level to support buildings, roads, or railways or

other structures and also to retain water as in the case of earth dams or canal banks.

Subgrades are constructed to provide support to the roads as a base to withstand

the traffic loads.

The higher the density, the higher is the strength and lesser is the settlement

under loads. The seepage of water through embankments and subgrades acts to

reduce the strength due to its erosive nature. Higher density will result in reduced

permeability of the soil, thereby reducing the seepage of water.

Densification of soils during construction of embankments and subgrades is

achieved by compaction. Higher density of embankments and subgrades is

achieved by compacting the soil by rollers usually in layers, known as lifts.

During compaction the reduction in volume is mainly due to expulsion of

pore air and rearrangement of particles resulting in their closer packing.

Compaction of a soil mass results in increase in dry density. The dry density

attained depends on water content, amount and type of compaction. The amount

and type of compaction determine the compactive effect. For a specific amount of

compactive energy applied on soil, the mass attains maximum dry density at

particular water content. This water content is referred to as optimum water


Definition of Compaction

Compaction is the artificial and mechanical process of decreasing the

volume of the soil rapidly by the expulsion of air voids in the soil resulting in the

increase in density.

Densification of soil also occurs naturally due to consolidation of foundation

soils by expulsion of pore water due to loads from the structure. This is a rather

long-term process compared to compaction.

The difference between compaction and consolidation is given below:


 1. Artificial process caused by mechanical means such as rollers.

 2. Decrease in volume and increase in the density of soil occurs by expulsion

of air from the voids.

 3. Compaction occurs in partially saturated soils.

 4. Compaction is completed within minutes-and hence is a short-term


 5. Compaction is effective in well-graded soils containing gravel and sand,

and to a less extent in silts and clays.

 6. Compaction is caused by short-term dynamic load, which are removed

after compaction.

 Compaction:

 1. Natural process caused by stresses due to foundations or superstructures.

 2. Decrease in volume and increase in the density occurs by expulsion of

pore water from the voids.

 3. Consolidation takes place in fully saturated soils.

 4. Consolidation takes several months to years and hence is a long-term


 5. Consolidation although in principle occurs in all soils but is significant for

clayey soils from engineering point of view due to consequent long-term

 6. Consolidation is caused by long-term static loads, which continue to exist

after the completion of consolidation.

 Principle of Compaction:

 The principle of compaction was developed by R. R. Proctor in 1933 during

construction of earth dams in California. The objective of compaction is to

achieve maximum possible dry density of the compacted soil.

 At this stage, the soil particles come to the closest possible state of contact.

On increase of water content beyond optimum moisture content (OMC), the

volume of soil does not decrease further by compaction and water starts to

occupy additional space causing an increase in the volume of voids and the

total volume, and resulting in a decrease in dry density.

At low water content, the soil is stiff and the particles offer resistance to come

closer, resulting in low dry density. As the water content is increased, water forms

a lubricating film around particles causing them to be compacted to a closer state

of contact resulting in higher dry density. The dry density increases with increase

in the water content until maximum dry density (MDD) is reached.

The water content at which the dry density is maximum after compaction is

known as optimum moisture content or optimum water content. In general, water

equal to OMC is added in the field for effective compaction, except in some
specific cases. Compactive effort or compaction energy also controls the

effectiveness of compaction. Higher the compactive effort, higher will be the dry

density achieved for the same soil.

The type of soil and its gradation and plasticity characteristics also influence

the degree of compaction achieved. Coarse-grained soils can be compacted to a

higher dry density than fine-grained soils. Cohesionless soils can be similarly

compacted to a higher dry density than cohesive soils. A well-graded soil is

compacted more effectively as compared to a poorly graded soil. Addition of fines

to a coarse-grained soil, by an amount just required to fill the existing voids,

greatly enhances the dry density.

For the compaction of a given soil, the sample of soil is compacted in the

laboratory applying standard compaction energy at different water contents. The

dry density of the compacted soil at each of the water content is determined and a

graph is plotted with the water content on the x-axis and the dry density on the y-


The water content corresponding to maximum dry density is determined,

which gives optimum water content. For the compaction of soil in the field, water

equal to OMC, or less (dry of OMC) or more (wet of OMC) water is used

depending on the objective of compaction and type of construction. Same

compaction energy per unit volume of soil, as used in the laboratory compaction

test, is used to compact the soil in the field.

The following are some of the objectives of compaction:

i. Increase the shear strength of soil.

ii. Decrease the undesirable settlement of structures.

iii. Control undesirable volume change.

iv. Decrease permeability of soil.

v. Increase the bearing capacity of foundations.

vi. Increase the stability of slopes.

Effect of Compaction on Engineering Properties of the Soil:

Compaction improves the strength and deformation characteristics of the soil,

improving their stability and durability. Lambe (1958) found that the properties of

soil after compaction depend on the soil structure, which, in turn, is influenced by

the type of soil, amount of water relative to OMC, and the compaction energy

The effect of compaction is discussed on the following soil properties

1. Soil Structure:

Soil compacted at the water content less than OMC (dry of optimum) will

have flocculent structure with edge-to-face particle arrangement, irrespective of

method of compaction. The structure of soils compacted at water content greater

than OMC (wet of optimum) depends on the magnitude of the shear strain. Soils

compacted wet of optimum, which undergo relatively small shear strain during

compaction, will have flocculent structure. Soils compacted wet of optimum,

which undergo large shear strains during compaction, usually have a dispersed

structure with face-to-face (oriented) particle arrangement.

The degree of orientation of soil particles increases gradually with increase

in water content and the soil still possesses a flocculated structure up to the OMC.

The orientation of particles increases more rapidly with increase in water content

for soils compacted wet of optimum.

2. Shear Strength:

Soils compacted dry of optimum have more shear strength than those compacted

wet of optimum. The cohesion and friction angle are both higher for soils

compacted dry of optimum. Thus, the Mohr-Coulomb strength envelope is steeper

for soils compacted dry of optimum and also lies above that of soils compacted wet

of optimum. However, the difference in shear strength of soils compacted dry and

wet of optimum decreases when the compacted soils are fully saturated.

It may be noted that soils with a flocculent structure possess more shear

strength. This is because the attractive forces are predominant in flocculent

structure and also because the soil offers higher resistance to deformation due to

particle interference in edge-to-face particle arrangement existing in flocculent


On the other hand, repulsive forces are predominant in soils with dispersive

structure resulting in lower shear strength. The particle interference and hence the

resistance to deformation is also less in dispersed structure, which has relatively

oriented particle arrangement.

Saturation of compacted soils increases the repulsive forces, causing a decrease in

shear strength.

3. Pore Water Pressure:

As the water content is less for soils compacted dry of optimum, there is

zero or negligible pore water pressure (due to discrete and local pockets of
saturation). Soils compacted wet of optimum show higher pore water pressure,

which reduces the effective stress and frictional component of shear strength.

4. Stress-Strain Relationship:

Soils compacted dry of optimum possess a steeper stress-strain relationship

compared to those compacted wet of optimum. Consequently, the deformation and

settlement are less for soils compacted dry of optimum, and show relatively sudden

and brittle failure. Soils compacted wet of optimum show large strains and

settlements and the failure is gradual and plastic.

5. Compressibility:

Soils compacted dry of optimum are less compressible due to their flocculent

structure and greater particle interference and resistance to deformation. Soils

compacted wet of optimum are initially less compressible at low stresses due to

their dispersed structure and predominance of repulsive forces.

However, when the stresses are increased further to overcome the repulsive forces,

such soils show high compressibility resulting in large deformation. The face-to-

face particle arrangement in dispersed structure of such soils also offers less

resistance to deformation and increases the compression.

6. Shrinkage:
Shrinkage is the decrease in the volume of soil due to the evaporation of water.

Soil compacted dry of optimum undergoes less shrinkage due to random particle

arrangement and particle interference that offers more resistance to deformation.

Shrinkage is more for soils compacted wet of optimum due to dispersed structure

and lesser particle interference and resistance to deformation.

7. Swelling:

A clay soil compacted dry of optimum has more water deficiency and large void

ratio and hence imbibes more water resulting in larger swelling, compared to the

soil at the same dry density compacted wet of optimum.

8. Permeability:

Soils compacted at low water content possess low dry density and large void ratio

and hence are more permeable. With increase in water content dry of optimum, the

dry density increases and void ratio decreases causing a decrease in permeability.

Thus, permeability of soils compacted dry of optimum decreases with increase in

water content. Permeability is minimum at or slightly above the OMC. With

further increase in water content, permeability slightly increases due to decrease in

dry density. However, permeability of soils compacted wet of optimum is always

much less than those compacted dry of optimum.

Factors Affecting Compaction

1. Water content.

2. Type of soil and its gradation.

3. Gradation of Soil

4. Compaction energy.

5. Method of compaction.

1. Effect of Water Content:

Increase of water content used for compaction increases the dry density

initially until the dry density reaches its maximum. After reaching MDD, further

increase in the water content decreases the dry density.

2. Type of Soil:

The type of soil used for compaction primarily decides MDD achievable by

the compaction. Figure 12.8 shows the compaction curves for different types of

Coarse-grained soils can be compacted to a higher dry density than fine-

grained soils. Cohesive soils usually have high air voids content. The void ratio of

cohesive soils increases with increase in plasticity index. Thus, coarse-grained

soils have higher MDD and lower OMC than fine-grained soil. The MDD

decreases and OMC increases for low plastic silt, high plastic silt, and high plastic


3. Gradation of Soil:

For a given soil, a well-graded soil has higher MDD and lower OMC then a

poorly graded soil. This is because a well-graded soil contains particles of all sizes

and the finer size particles fill the void space between the coarser particles

resulting in lower air voids and higher MDD.

Addition of small amount of fines to a coarse-grained soil increases its MDD

for the same reason. However, when the amount of fines added is more than that

needed to fill the voids of coarse-grained soil, the MDD again decreases.

4. Compaction Energy

The compaction energy applied to the soil during compaction has a

significant influence on the MDD. In general, the higher the compaction energy or

compactive effort, the higher will be the MDD and lower will be the OMC. This is
the reason why the subgrades of airfield pavements are compacted using heavy

compaction. Thus, the compaction curve of a modified Proctor test, which uses

more compactive effort on the soil, is above and to the left of that of standard

Proctor test or IS light compaction test.

The increase in dry density due to the increase in compactive effort is more

at water content less than OMC (dry of optimum) than that on the wet of optimum.

It may be noted that the increase in compactive effort does not go on

increasing the MDD indefinitely. When compactive effort is increased in equal

increment, the increment in MDD becomes smaller and smaller with each

increment of compactive effort. Finally, a stage is reached where further increase

of compactive effort does not bring any significant increase in MDD.

Care should be taken to see that the compactive effort does not cause a stress

on the soil particles beyond their crushing strength, in which case the higher

compactive effort crushes the individual particles, causing a reduction in MDD in

some soils.

The line joining the peak points of different compaction curves of the soil

compacted with different compactive effort is known as line of optimums and is

roughly parallel to the ZAVL.

Method of Compaction

Compaction of soils in the field can be done by a variety of compaction equipment.

The following are the different actions or effects of various compaction

equipment on soils:

1. Static compaction – smooth wheel rollers.

2. Kneading compaction – sheep’s foot rollers.

3. Vibration compaction – vibratory rollers.

4. Tamping – tampers.


Soil compaction is an important part of the construction process. It is used for

support of structural entities such as building foundations, roadways, walkways,

and earth retaining structures to name a few. In general, the preselected soil should

have adequate strength, be relatively incompressible so that future settlement is not

significant, be stable against volume change as water content or other factors vary,

be durable and safe against deterioration, and possess prop


Das, Braja M. (2002). Principles of Geotechnical Engineering.fourth edition. P100

IS: 2720-1983 (Part-14)- Determination of density index (Relative Density) of


New & Used Heavy Equipment

Engineering Properties of Soils Based on Laboratory Testing

Prof. Krishna Reddy, UIC

Das, Braja M. (2002). Principles of Geotechnical Engineering.fourth edition. P100