Rama Subbarao G.V., Associate Professor, Department of Civil Engineering, S.R.K. Institute of Technology, Enikepadu, Vijayawada.

Expansive soils popularly known as Black cotton soils in India are highly problematic, as they swell on absorption of water and shrink on evaporation thereof. Because of this alternate swell and shrinkage, distress is caused to the foundations of structures laid on such soils. Extensive research is going on to find the solutions to black cotton soils. The present paper reviews innovative solutions along with conventional foundation practices to counteract the dual problem of swelling and shrinkage posed by expansive soils. Besides, the present paper throws a light on causes of distress in lightly loaded structures founded on expansive soils and also various measures to rehabilitate the distressed structure founded on them.


Expansive soil is commonly known as black cotton soils, because of their color and their suitability for growing cotton. Black cotton soil is one of the major regional soil deposits in India, covering an area of about 3.0 lakh sq.km. Expansive soils are problematic soils because of their inherent potential to undergo volume changes corresponding to changes in the moisture regime. When they imbibe water during monsoon, they expand and on evaporation there of in summer, they shrink. Because of this alternate swelling and shrinkage, structures founded on them are severally damaged. The annul cost of damage to the civil engineering structures is estimated at £150 million in the UK, $1000 million in the USA and many billion of pounds worldwide (Gourley et al. 1993).

In India, black cotton soils have liquid limit values ranging from 50 to 100%, plasticity index ranging from 20 to 65% and shrinkage limit from 9 to 14%. The amount of swell generally increases with increase in the plasticity index. The swelling potential depends on the type of clay mineral, crystal lattice structure, cation exchange capacity, ability of water absorption, density and water content. Swell in the vertical direction is called heave. Among the illite, kaolinite and montmorillinite clay minerals, the montmorillinite possesses the greatest ability to swell by illite. The Kaolinite does not swell. Black cotton soils are very hard in dry state and possess high bearing capacity. In summer, it is very common to see shrinkage cracks with hexagonal columnar structure, with vertical cracks as wide as 10mm extending up to a depth of 3m or more. Soils containing expansive clays become very sticky when wet and usually are characterized by surface cracks or a "popcorn" texture (Fig.1) when dry. Therefore, the presence of surface cracks (Fig.2) is usually an indication of an expansive soil.

NBM&CW June 2011