Sciences in Cold and Arid Regions ›› 2021, Vol. 13 ›› Issue (2): 87-94.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1226.2021.20051

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Frost susceptibility of soils―A confusing concept that can misguide geotechnical design in cold regions

DaiChao Sheng1,2()   

  1. 1.School of Civil & Environmental Engineering, University of Technology Sydney, Sydney Australia
    2.National Engineering Laboratory for High-Speed Railway Construction, Central South University, Changsha, Hunan 430074, China
  • Received:2020-06-12 Accepted:2021-02-02 Online:2021-04-30 Published:2021-05-11
  • Contact: DaiChao Sheng


Frost susceptibility is a concept widely used in cold region geotechnical design, to quantify the capacity of a soil in generating frost heave and frost damage. The laboratory test used to verify frost susceptibility of a soil is based on the measurement of frost heave generated in the soil under specific conditions. In reality this concept is, however, more related to the soil's potential to thaw weakening than to frost heave. Recent experimental studies show that frost non-susceptible soils like clean sand and clean gavel can also generate much ice segregation and frost heave if the conditions are favourable, hence challenging the usefulness and suitability of soil classification based on frost susceptibility. It is further shown that the concept is not suitable for design scenarios where frost heave itself is a serious hazard, such as in high-speed rail embankments.

Key words: frost susceptibility, frost heave, thaw weakening, high-speed rail

Figure 1

Frost susceptibility test (after Chamberlain, 1981)"

Figure 2

Moisture migration and ice segregation in clean sand (after Teng et al., 2019)"

Figure 3

Moisture migration in gravel after 96 hours of freezing (after Bai et al., 2018)"

Figure 4

Moisture migration in gravel after 48 hours of freezing (after Zhang et al., 2019)"

Figure 5

Particle size distributions of tested soils"

Figure 6

Particle size distributions of tested soils"

Figure 7

Predicted and measured frost heave and frost depth at site K977 along Harbin-Dalian High-Speed Railway, with and without vapour flow (marks: measured; solid lines computed with vapour flow; dashed lines: computed without vapour flow, after Teng et al., 2020)"

Figure 8

Simulated ice lens formation in subgrade at site K977 along Harbin-Dalian High-Speed Railway (after Teng et al., 2020)"

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