Date of Award


Degree Name

MS in Civil and Environmental Engineering


Civil and Environmental Engineering


James L Hanson


A laboratory test program was conducted to determine the moisture-suction relationships of geosynthetic clay liners (GCLs). Moisture-suction relationships were determined by combining suction data from pressure plate tests, contact filter paper tests, and relative humidity tests, then fitting water retention curves (WRCs) to the data. WRCs were determined for wetting processes and drying processes in terms of gravimetric moisture content and volumetric moisture content.

The effects of GCL type, hydration solution, wet-dry cycles, and temperature on the moisture-suction relationships were analyzed. The three GCLs of the test program consisted of configurations of woven and nonwoven geotextiles reinforced with needlepunched fibers. A geofilm was adhesively bonded to the nonwoven side of one of the GCL products. The hydration solution tests involved hydrating GCLs with deionized water, tap water, 0.1 M CaCl2, or soil water from a landfill cover test plot for a 30-day conditioning period prior to testing. Cyclic wet-dry tests were conducted on the GCL specimens subjected to 20 wet-dry cycles from 50% to 0% gravimetric moisture content prior to testing. Temperature tests were conducted at 2°C, 20°C, and 40°C.

GCL type affected moisture-suction relationships. The GCLs with an adhesively-bonded geofilm exhibited lower air-entry suction and higher residual suction than GCLs without a geofilm. The degree of needlepunched fiber pullout during hydration contributed to hysteresis between wetting WRCs and drying WRCs. Hysteresis was high for suction values below air-entry suction and was low for suction values greater than air-entry suction.

Cation exchange reduced the water retention capacity for all three GCL types. The saturated gravimetric moisture contents were reduced from approximately 140% to 70% for wetting WRCs and 210% to 90% for drying WRCs for GCLs hydrated in deionized water compared to CaCl2 solution. Hysteresis of the nonwoven product decreased from 71%, to 62%, to 28% with respect to deionized water, tap water, and CaCl2 solution. Hysteresis of the woven product exposed to soil water was 24% and 0%, in terms of saturated gravimetric moisture content and saturated volumetric moisture content, respectively. The swell index, Atterberg Limits, mole fraction of bound sodium, and scanning electron microscopy images that were determined of bentonite from the conditioned GCLs indicated that changes in water retention capacity corresponded with cation exchange.

Wet-dry cycles and temperature affected the moisture-suction behavior for GCLs. Wet-dry cycles reduced hysteresis and increased the swelling capacity of GCL specimens. Microscopy images indicated that wet-dry cycles caused weak orientation of the clay particles. Increasing temperature resulted in a small decrease in water retention capacity.

Results of the test program provided a means for predicting unsaturated behavior for GCLs.