Theoretical analysis of desiccation crack spacing of a thin, long soil layer

Susanga Costa, Jayantha Kodikara, S. L. Barbour, D. G. Fredlund

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

44 Citations (Scopus)


Soil desiccation cracking is important for a range of engineering applications, but the theoretical advancement of this process is less than satisfactory. In particular, it is not well understood how the crack spacing-to-depth ratio depends on soil material behaviour. In the past, two approaches, namely stress relief and energy balance, have been used to predict the crack spacing-to-depth ratio. The current paper utilises these two approaches to predict the approximate spacing-to-depth ratio of parallel cracks that form in long desiccating soil layers subjected to uniform tensile stress (or suction profile) while resting on a hard base. The theoretical developments have examined the formation of simultaneous and sequential crack patterns and have identified an important relationship between the stress relief and energy approaches. In agreement with experimental observations, it was shown that the spacing-to-depth ratio decreases with layer depth, and crack spacing generally increases with layer depth. The influence of the stiffness at the base interface indicated that decreasing the basal interface stiffness makes the crack spacing to increase in sequential crack formation. The experimental observations also show a decrease in cracking water content with the decrease in layer thickness, and this behaviour was explained on the basis of a critical depth concept.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)39-49
Number of pages11
JournalActa Geotechnica
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2018


  • Cracking
  • Desiccation
  • Fracture toughness
  • Moisture
  • Soil
  • Tensile strength

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