Centrifuge modelling of capillary rise

N. Depountis, M. C R Davies, C. Harris, S. Burkhart, L. Thorel, A. Rezzoug, D. König, C. Merrifield, W. H. Craig

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    This paper reports results from centrifuge tests designed to investigate capillary rise in soils subjected to different gravitational fields. The experimental programme is part of the EU-funded NECER project (Network of European Centrifuges for Environmental Geotechnic Research), whose objective is to investigate the appropriateness of geotechnical centrifuge modelling for the investigation of geoenvironmental problems, particularly with reference to partially saturated soils. The tests were performed at the geotechnical centrifuge laboratories of Cardiff, Bochum, Manchester, and LCPC in Nantes. The aim was to determine the scaling laws of capillary rise under both equilibrium and transient conditions. In all laboratories, column wetting tests in fine poorly graded sands (Congleton Sand, Bochum Normsand, HPF5 Sand, and Fontaineblau Sand) were performed. Capillary rise above the phreatic surface of the sand model was distinguished in a continuous capillary zone (completely saturated) and a discontinuous capillary zone (partially saturated). The Cardiff Geotechnical Centrifuge Laboratory used matrix potential probes to follow the capillary rise of the continuous zone and, therefore, determine the suction above the phreatic zone during centrifuge testing. At Bochum, two cameras were used for optical and volumetric measurements, in order to follow the rise of the visible wetting front (upper limit of discontinuous zone) in the sand within the sample column. At Manchester, the movement of the wetting front was observed by video cameras over periods up to 8 h, whereas in LCPC pore pressure transducers recorded the changes in pressure caused by capillarity. A simple centrifuge similitude law for capillary rise in these sands has been established and the kinetic phenomena have been measured as a function of the gravitational field. The results from these experiments verify that both the continuous and discontinuous capillary zones are scaled at a factor 1/N whereas the time for rise seems to be scaled at a factor 1/N2. This research suggests that capillary phenomena can be modelled using a geotechnical centrifuge. Therefore, centrifuge testing can be a useful tool for future modelling of boundary value problems involving complex transport phenomena. © 2001 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)95-106
    Number of pages11
    JournalEngineering Geology
    Issue number1-4
    Publication statusPublished - Jun 2001


    • Capillary rise
    • Centrifuge
    • Continuous capillary zone
    • Gravity
    • Scaling law


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