Date of Award


Degree Name

MS in Civil and Environmental Engineering


Civil and Environmental Engineering


James L. Hanson


An investigation was conducted related to the dimensional stability of geosynthetic clay liners (GCLs) in landfill applications. Multiple occurrences of panel separation of overlap seams in GCLs have been documented; however, explanation for the relative contribution of various mechanisms causing shrinkage has been limited. A systematic test program was conducted to determine the effects of a variety of conditions on GCL dimensional stability.

Effects of initial moisture content, permeant type, and overburden pressure were tested by subjecting various GCL products to wet-dry cycles and measuring the dimensional change with each cycle. Different GCL types were each tested under various combinations of initial moisture content (as-received, 50, 75, 100, and 125%), permeant types (tap water, distilled water, and 0.1 M CaCl2), and overburden pressures (0, 6, and 20 kPa). Thermal expansion tests were conducted by heating or cooling GCL test specimens to temperatures of 0, 10, 40, 60, and 80°C at constant moisture content. Subgrade tests were conducted by placing GCL test specimens on compacted clay and sand subgrades in different orientations and hydration conditions in sealed containers and measuring dimensional change over time. Mechanical necking tests were conducted by subjecting GCL specimens to varying levels of tension and measuring the longitudinal and transverse strains at each load increment. Field simulation tests were conducted by placing specimens on a compacted sand subgrade beneath an exposed geomembrane liner outdoors in late summer.

Initial moisture content tests resulted in shrinkage strains as high as 20% after 20 wet-dry cycles. GCLs ranged from slightly anisotropic [approximately 1.1:1 ratio of machine (MD) to cross-machine (XMD) shrinkage] to highly anisotropic (approximately 3:1 ratio of MD to XMD shrinkage). Most combinations of GCL type and initial moisture content resulted in GCL MD shrinkage strains greater than a value that would cause panel separation (termed panel separation threshold, PST) at roll ends during the first wet-dry cycle. All test specimens contracted beyond the PST in the MD within 3 wet-dry cycles. GCL specimens without attached geomembranes contracted beyond the PST in the XMD within 5 cycles. Permeant type tests demonstrated that hydration with 0.1 M CaCl2 reduced shrinkage by 50-80% compared to permeation with tap water. Overburden tests demonstrated that applying 6 kPa and 20 kPa reduced specimen shrinkage by at least 60% and 80%, respectively. Thermal expansion tests indicated that temperature changes at constant moisture content had little effect on GCL dimensional stability. Subgrade tests demonstrated that subgrade type and moisture as well as GCL type and orientation had effects on dimensional stability. Tensile necking tests demonstrated that transverse shrinkage occurred due to tensile forces in GCLs, but shrinkage was nearly always less than PST. Field simulation tests demonstrated that wet-dry cycles in the field were less intense and/or less frequent than in the laboratory. Results of this testing provide a basis for GCL overlap specifications necessary to maintain full coverage and future research to confirm a suggested method of preconditioning bentonite to prevent shrinkage.