Assessment of Skempton’s pore water pressure parameters B and A using a high-capacity tensiometer

March 2024

Philip Sanlon, AMCE’s Principal Engineer, was awarded the Adrian Long Medal for the best paper published in one of ICE Journals for his ‘Assessment of Skempton’s pore water pressure parameters B and A using a high-capacity tensiometer’.


Saturation of soils is a prerequisite in many laboratory tests involving consolidation, permeability and stress–strain behaviour. The saturation process is usually time consuming, particularly in clay-rich soils, and this can incur substantial cost and potential delays in reporting findings. The saturation of samples is assessed using the well-established Skempton’s pore water pressure parameter B.

In a situation where the soil is fully saturated, the B-value is approximately one. It is often the case that fine soil samples extracted from the ground, particularly those from below the water table, remain saturated. However, current testing protocols require evidence to verify a complete saturation prior to subsequent laboratory investigations. This paper reports experimental results exploring the hypothesis that, if the sample is ‘perceived’ to be saturated, then further saturation procedures may not be necessary to obtain reliable geotechnical parameters. Laboratory investigations were conducted on three different clays (kaolin clay, Belfast clay and Oxford clay) in a testing chamber instrumented with a high-capacity tensiometer. The confining pressures were applied in a ramped fashion under undrained conditions.

The response of the tensiometer confirmed that the samples were saturated from the very beginning of the loading process, as implied by the B-value being close to one. Further supplementary investigations were carried out to assess the Skempton’s pore water pressure parameter A and the stress–strain behaviour of the soils.

The combined finding provides further evidence to suggest that the saturation process as suggested in standards may not be necessary for fine-grained soils to establish reliable geotechnical design parameters.

Full text

Available here: Géotechnique

Keywords: clays laboratory tests mineralogy pore pressures sampling suction

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