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Subsurface exploration and sampling

Soil classification
References:
1. Holtz, Robert, D., Kovacs, Williams, D. An Introduction to Geotechnical
Engineering. Englewoods Cliffs, New Jersey; Prentice-Hall, 1981.
2. Schroeder, W.L., Dickenson, S.E, Warrington, Don, C. Soils in Construction. Fifth
Edition. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey; Prentice Hall, 2004.

Learning objectives:
1. Background of soil classification
2. How to classify soil using the Unified Soil Classification System (USCS)
3. How to classify soil using the American Association of State Highway and
Transportation Officials (AASHTO) System.
4. How to classify soil using US Department of Agriculture
5. Solve the most likely problems on the PE Exam.

Background of soil classification:


Reason for classification: Soil classification is like a language between engineers.
The known soil classification communicates their probable engineering behavior,
and allows engineers access to the accumulated experience of other engineers.
Soil classification does not remove the need for detailed soil investigations or
testing of the soil, but it gives the engineer the general behavior of the soil.
The Unified Soil Classification System (USCS) and the American Association of
State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) system are the common
classification system we use in civil engineering practice.

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Subsurface exploration and sampling


Soil classification - USCS
Developed by Professor A. Casagrande in
1948 for airfield construction during World
War II, and modified in 1952 for the US
Bureau of Reclamation and US Army Corps
of Engineers to make the system applicable
to dams, foundations, and other
construction.
The basis concept is soils in which the
fines do not affect the engineering
performance are classified according to their
grain size characteristics, and soils in which
fines do control the engineering behavior
are classified according to their plasticity
characteristics.
Only a sieve analysis and Atterberg limits
are required to completely classify the soil
using USCS.
The four major divisions of soil are
1. course-grained
2. fine-grained
3. organic soils
4. Peat

The highly organic soils and peat can be identified visually. The Course grained soils
are those having more than 50% of soil being retained on the No. 200 sieve. Fine
grained soils are those that allow more than 50% to pass through the No. 200 sieve.
Gravel fraction = percent retained on the number 4 sieve = R4
Sand fraction = percent passing through the number 200 sieve = F200
The Course grained soils are then divided into Gravel (R4 > 50) and Sand (R<= 50) are
then divided into four secondary groups, GW and SW(<5% passing the No. 200 sieve),
GP and SP (little or no nonplastic fines), GM and SM, GC and SC. This depends on the
grain size distribution and nature of fines in the soils.

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Subsurface exploration and sampling


Soil classification
Well-graded (W) has good distribution of all particle sizes. Poorly graded (P) could be
uniform or skip a size. You figure out if the soil is well graded or not by the Coefficient of
uniformity (Cu ) and the Coefficient of Curvature (Cc ).
Cu = D60 / D10
Cc = D230 / ( D10 x D60)
D60 = grain diameter at 60 % passing
D30 = grain diameter at 30 % passing
D10 = grain diameter at 10% passing by weight
The fine grained soils ( > 50% passing the No. 200) are subdivided in silts (M) and
clays(C). These are determined by the liquid limit and plasticity index.
Plasticity Index (PI) = Liquid Limit (LL) Plastic Limit (PL)
Fine-grained soils are silts (M) if their liquid limits and plasticity indices plot below the
A-line on Casagrandes plasticity chart.
The Fines are clay(C) if the Liquid Limit and PI plot above the A-line.
A-line separate the claylike material from those that are silty and the organics from the
inorganics. The exception to this rule is organic clays (OL and OH) which plot below the
A-line and behave similarly to soils of lower plasticity.
L = low plasticity (liquid limit less than 50)
H = high plasticity (liquid limit more than 50)

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Subsurface exploration and sampling


Soil classification
Use these following two charts and the formulas on the previous page to easily classify the
soil in accordance with USCS.

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Subsurface exploration and sampling


Soil classification

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Subsurface exploration and sampling


Soil classification
Question #1: The laboratory gradation analyses and Atterberg Limits
were performed on two soil samples. Results are summarized below.
During testing no organic odor or materials were noted in either
sample.
Soil A:
U.S. Sieve Size
Percent Passing
No. 4
100
No. 10
91
No. 40
83
No. 200
51
liquid limit (LL) = 35%
plastic limit (PL) = 22%
Soil B:
U.S. Sieve Size
No. 4
No. 10
No. 40
No. 200

Percent Passing
80
72
35
20

liquid limit (LL) = 37%


plastic limit (PL) = 20%

1a) What is the classification of Soil A according to the Unified Soil Classification
1b)What is the classification of Soil B according to the Unified Soil Classification

Answer # 1
a.
CL,SC
b.
SL, OH
c.
CH, GC
d.
ML, SM
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Subsurface exploration and sampling


Soil classification
Answer #1: a = CL, SC
Easiest Way is to use the Use USCS chart
Step 1: Classify Soil A: use the USCS Flow chart to find classification:
Since 51% passing #200 sieve that is > 50 Fine-grained soil
LL is 35 which is < 50 follow the top row of chart
no organic odor or color follow the inorganic
Find PI ; PI = LL PL = 35 22 = 13 so PI > 7 and plots above the
A line.
So Soil A is classified as

CL (Lean Clay)

Step 2: Classify Soil B: use the USCS Flow chart to find classification:
Since only 20% passes #200, more than 50 % retained Coursegrained soils
% passing #4 which is > 50 Sands
% passing #200 (i.e., % fines) > 12% Sands with fines
Plot on the plasticity chart to classify
LL =37, PL = 20: PI = 17 falls above the A line in the region CL
So Soil B is classified as

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SC (Clayey Sand)

c.

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Subsurface exploration and sampling


Soil classification - AASHTO
The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials(AASHTO)
and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) use the classification system to
indicate the behavior of materials used as highway sub-grades.
The AASHTO System uses seven basic soil groups designated A-1 through A-7, the soil
is placed in the groups by performance characteristics. A-1 is the best and A-7 is the
worst. A-1 to A-3 are sands and gravels, A-4 to A-7 are silts and clays. There is a A-8
which is reserved for unusable peat. The following is the chart to use to find the
designated soil group.

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Subsurface exploration and sampling


Soil classification - AASHTO
The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials(AASHTO)
and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) use the classification system to
indicate the behavior of materials used as highway sub-grades.
The AASHTO System uses seven basic soil groups designated A-1 through A-7, the soil
is placed in the groups by performance characteristics. A-1 is the best and A-7 is the
worst. A-1 to A-3 are sands and gravels, A-4 to A-7 are silts and clays. There is a A-8
which is reserved for unusable peat.

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Subsurface exploration and sampling


Soil classification - USDA
This chart is used for basic identification of soil using US Department of Agriculture. To
read the chart you use the following convention. Clay is read straight across to the right,
sand is up and to the left and silt is down and to the left.

Example: The USDA soil classification of 60% clay, 20% sand and 20% silt is?
Answer: Clay

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