The Mineralogy and Strength Characteristics of Selected Glaciolacustrine Clays in the Puget Sound Region
The combination of rainy climate, glaciolacustrine clays, and steep topography of the Puget Lowland creates slope stability issues for the regional population. Several glaciolacustrine deposits of laminated silt and clay of different ages contribute to the likelihood of slope failure. The glaciolacustrine deposits are generally wet, range in thickness from absent to >30m, and consist of laminated silt and clay with sand interbeds at the tops and bottoms, sandy laminae throughout the deposits, occasional dropstones and shear zones. The glaciolacustrine deposits destabilize slopes by 1) impeding groundwater flow percolating through overlying glacial outwash sediments, 2) having sandy laminae that lower strength by increasing pore pressure during wet seasons, and 3) increasing the potential for block-style failure because of secondary groundwater pathways such as laminae and vertical fractures. Eight clay samples from six known landslide deposits were analyzed in this study for their mineralogy, clay fraction and strength characteristics. The mineralogy was determined using X-ray Diffractometry (XRD) which revealed an identical mineralogic suite among all eight samples consisting of chlorite, illite and smectite. Nonclay minerals appearing in the X-ray diffractogram include amphibole and plagioclase after removal of abundant quartz grains. Hydrometer tests yielded clay-size fraction percentages of the samples ranging from 10% to 90%, and ring shear tests showed that the angle of residual shear resistance (phi_r) ranged from 11° to 31°. Atterberg limits of the samples were found to have liquid limits ranging from 33 to 83, with plastic limits ranging from 25 to 35 and plasticity indices ranging from 6 to 48. The results of the hydrometer and residual shear strength tests suggest that phi_r varies inversely with the clay-size fraction, but that this relationship was not consistent among all eight samples. The nature of the XRD analysis only revealed the identity of the clay minerals present in the samples, and provided no quantitative information. Thus, the extent to which the mineralogy influenced the strength variability among the samples cannot be determined given that the mineral assemblages are identical. Additional samples from different locations within each deposit along with quantitative compositional analyses would be necessary to properly account for the observed strength variability.