Effect of compression and shear on particle breakage of silica and calcareous sands

Andrzej Głuchowski, Linzhu Li, Magued Iskander

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Changes in particle granulometry could lead to significant changes in a soil’s behavior, making an understanding of micro-scale granulometry essential for practical applications. Changes in particle size, shape, and particle size distribution could result from a combination of applied normal and shearing stresses, which can in turn influence further response of the material. This study explored particle breakage during both compressive and shear loading under typical stresses. A deeper understanding of the phenomenon requires distinguishing broken and unbroken grains at the particle scale. Dynamic Image Analysis (DIA) was therefore employed to quantify changes in particle granulometry in two sands, a siliceous Ottawa sand and a calcareous sand known as Fiji Pink. Pre-sorted specimens having similar size, granulometry, and particle size distributions were tested using both oedometric and direct shear tests having the same aspect ratio, facilitating a direct comparison of the effects of shearing and compression on similar materials having different mineralogy. A breakage index was used for prognosis of particle breakage at key reference diameters. During oedometric tests, grain breakage was limited in both sands at stresses up to 1.2 MPa, but it increased significantly during direct shear tests. A conceptual model was proposed to explain the particle breakage mechanism during shear, at four key phase points representing (1) maximum compaction, (2) transition from compaction to dilative behavior, (3) maximum shear stress, and (4) peak test strain. In addition, a loading intensity framework was adopted to explain the relative roles of normal and shearing stresses on particle breakage. An increase of fines in soil during shearing was also observed and related to two sources: coarser grain abrasion and finer particle crushing. The vulnerability of grains with more anisotropic shapes was also observed. The loading intensity framework suggested that attrition of particle diameter could be divided into two phases, with a transitional critical loading intensity that appeared constant for each sand. For Ottawa sand, abrasion was the primary mechanism observed, causing a significant increase in Aspect Ratio (AR) and Sphericity (S) for finer grains. For Fiji sand, a transition from abrasion to attrition was noted, leading to limited sphericity decrease for the largest particles. Finer particles cushioning larger Fiji sand particles are more prone to breakage, resulting in increased AR and S. Finally, test results were used to propose a simple hyperbolic model to predict evolution of the particle size distribution during shear, for sands. The model was also verified using published data on grain evolution during shear of a different sand, not employed in its development.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalActa Geotechnica
StateAccepted/In press - 2024


  • Calcareous sands
  • Direct shear
  • Loading duration
  • Oedometric
  • Particle breakage index
  • Particle shape and size descriptors
  • Silica sands

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geotechnical Engineering and Engineering Geology
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)


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