Abstract: The physical process of compaction of clay sediments and the inverse process of swelling can be discussed in terms of particle interaction forces. The swelling pressure in a given situation equals the net repulsive force per unit area between the particles. The net repulsive force is the resultant of various repulsive and attractive forces. Two stages of swelling or compaction can be distinguished, one in which the particles are relatively far apart, and a second in which they are separated by only a few monomolecular layers of water.
In the first stage the swelling pressure is primarily due to double-layer repulsion (“osmotic swelling”). The pressures range from a fraction of one atmosphere to several times ten atmospheres. These pressures are of particular interest for foundation engineering problems.
In the second stage the swelling pressures are dominated by the work of adsorption of the water layers on the clay surfaces. Tile pressures may reach several thousand atmospheres. Quantitative data on the swelling pressures in this range are derived from water vapor sorption isotherms combined with X-ray data on the c-spacing of expanding clays during dehydration.
It is concluded that overburden pressures in nature will seldom be high enough to remove all adsorbed water from between parallel grain surfaces.