Damage caused by frost heave leads to costly maintenance in cold regions, like Hokkaido, Japan. Therefore, the study of the frost mechanism with experimental and numerical methods has been of great interest. Numerous models have been developed to describe the freezing process of saturated soil, which differs from the partially saturated conditions in the field. In fact, most subsurface soils are unsaturated. The freezing process of partially saturated soils is more complex than saturated soils, as the governing equations show strongly nonlinear characteristics. This study proposes a thermo-hydro-mechanical coupled model considering the heat transfer, water infiltration, and deformation of partially saturated soil to reproduce the freezing process of partially saturated frost susceptible soils distributed in Hokkaido. This model better considers the water-ice phase change and soil freezing characteristic curve (SFCC) during freezing under field conditions. The results from the multiphysics simulations agree well with the frost heave and water migration data from frost heave tests of Touryo soil and Fujinomori soil. In addition, this study discussed the influence of the various factors on frost heave amount, including temperature gradients, overburden pressures, water supply conditions, cooling rates, and initial saturation. The simulation results indicate that the frost heave ratio is proportional to the initial degree of saturation and is inversely proportional to the cooling rate and overburden pressure.
Moreover, simulation under the open system generates much more frost heave than under the closed system. Finally, the main features of the proposed model are revealed by simulating a closed-system frost heave test. The simulation results indicate that the proposed model adequately captures the coupling characteristics of water and ice redistribution, temperature development, hydraulic conductivity, and suction in the freezing process. Together with the decreased hydraulic conductivity, the increased suction controls the water flow in the freezing zone. The inflow water driven by cryogenic suction gradient feeds the ice formation, leads to a rapid increase in total water content, expanding the voids that exceed the initial porosity and contributing to the frost heave.