The objectives of this research were to 1) measure the extent to which water vapor movement results in water accumulation in freezing base materials; 2) evaluate the effect of soil stabilization on water vapor movement in freezing base materials; 3) determine if the corresponding changes in water content are sufficient to cause frost heave during winter; 4) determine if the corresponding changes in water content are sufficient to cause reductions in stiffness during spring; 5) evaluate relationships between selected material properties, freezing conditions, and the occurrence and impact of water vapor movement; and 6) numerically simulate heat and water movement in selected pavement design scenarios. The research involved extensive laboratory and field testing, statistical analyses, and numerical modeling. The results of the laboratory testing, which included gradations, Atterberg limits, soil classifications, specific gravity and absorption values, electrical conductivity values, moisture-density relationships, soil-water characteristic curves, moisture-stiffness curves, hydraulic conductivity values, and frost susceptibility assessments, were used to characterize each material and enable subsequent statistical analyses. Testing of both treated and untreated materials enabled investigation of a wide variety of material properties. The results of the field testing, which included temperature, moisture content, water potential, elevation, and stiffness data over time, provided the basis for comparing pavement sections with and without capillary barriers and established the framework for numerical modeling. In a pavement section with a capillary barrier underlying the base layer, water vapor movement from the subgrade through the capillary barrier may be expected to increase the water content of the base layer by 1 to 3 percent during a typical winter season in northern Utah for base materials similar to those studied in this research. During winter, cold temperatures create an ideal environment for water vapor to travel upward from the warm subgrade soil below the frost line, through the capillary barrier, and into the base material. Soil stabilization can lead to increased or decreased amounts of water vapor movement in freezing base materials depending on the properties of the stabilized soil, which may be affected by gradation, mineralogy, and stabilizer type and concentration. Accumulation of water from long-term water vapor movement into frost-susceptible base materials underlain by a capillary barrier can lead to frost heave of the base layer as it approaches saturation, as water available in the layer can be redistributed upwards to create ice lenses upon freezing. However, the incremental increase in total water content that may occur exclusively from water vapor movement during a single winter season in northern Utah would not be expected to cause measurable increases in thaw weakening of the base layer during spring. Because water in a base layer overlying a capillary barrier cannot drain until nearly reaching positive pore pressures, the base layer will remain indefinitely saturated or nearly saturated as demonstrated in this research. For materials similar to those studied in this research, potentially important material properties related to the occurrence of water vapor movement during freezing include dry density, percent of material finer than the No. 200 sieve, percent of material finer than 0.02 mm, apparent specific gravity, absorption, initial water content, porosity, degree of saturation, hydraulic conductivity, and electrical conductivity. The rate at which water vapor movement occurs is also dependent on the thermal gradient within the given material, where higher thermal gradients are associated with higher amounts of water vapor movement. The numerical modeling supported the field observations that the capillary barrier effectively trapped moisture in the overlying base material, causing it to remain saturated or nearly saturated throughout the monitoring period. Only non-frost-susceptible aggregate base materials should be specified for use in cold climates in conjunction with capillary barriers, and the base material in this case should be assumed to remain in a saturated or nearly saturated condition during the entire service life of the pavement. Further study is recommended on water vapor movement in freezing aggregate base materials.



College and Department

Ira A. Fulton College of Engineering and Technology; Civil and Environmental Engineering



Date Submitted


Document Type





aggregate base material, capillary barrier, cement treatment, water vapor, freezing, frost heave, pavement, SHAW model, soil stabilization, soil-water characteristic curve