Quick clay


Quick clay

Quick clay, also known as Leda clay and Champlain Sea clay in Canada, is a unique form of highly sensitive marine clay, with the tendency to change from a relatively stiff condition to a liquid mass when it is disturbed.

Undisturbed quick clay resembles a water-saturated gel. When a mass of quick clay undergoes sufficient stress, however, it instantly turns into a flowing ooze, a process known as liquefaction. A small block of quick clay can liquefy from a stress as simple as a modest blow from a human hand, while a larger deposit is mainly vulnerable to greater stresses such as earthquake vibrations or saturation by excess rainwater.

Quick clay behaves this way because, although it is solid, it has a very high water content, up to 80%. The clay retains a solid structure despite the high water content, because surface tension holds water-coated flakes of clay together in a delicate structure. When the structure is broken by a shock, it reverts to a fluid state.

Quick clay is only found in the northern countries such as Russia, Canada, Norway, Sweden, and Finland, and in the Alaskan region of the USA, which were glaciated during the Pleistocene epoch.

Quick clay has been the underlying cause of many deadly landslides. In Canada alone, it has been associated with more than 250 mapped landslides. Some of these are ancient, and may have been triggered by earthquakes. [ [http://geoscape.nrcan.gc.ca/ottawa/landslides_e.php Natural resources Canada - Landslides] ]

Formation of quick clay

At the height of the past glaciation (about 10,000 years ago), the land was 'pushed' down by the weight of the ice (isostatic depression). All of the ground-up rock was deposited in the surrounding ocean, which had penetrated significantly inland.

The loose deposition of the silt and clay particles in the marine environment, allowed an unusual flocculation to take place. Essentially, this formed a strongly bonded soil skeleton, which was 'glued' by highly mobile sea-salt ions. [http://www.swedgeo.se/publikationer/Rapporter/pdf/SGI-R65.pdf]

At this point, there was only the formation of very strong marine clay, which is found all over the world and highly stable, but with its own unique geotechnical problems. When the glaciers retreated, the land mass rose (post-glacial rebound), the clay was exposed, and formed the soil mass for new vegetation.

For various reasons, the rainwater in these northern countries was quite aggressive to these clays, either because it was softer (containing less calcium), or the higher silt content allowed more rainwater and snowmelt to penetrate. The final result was that the ionic 'glue' of the clay was weakened, to give a weak, loose soil skeleton, enclosing significant amounts of water (high sensitivity with high moisture content).

Quick clay deposits are rarely located directly at the ground surface, but are typically covered by a normal layer of topsoil. While this topsoil can absorb most normal stresses, such as normal rainfall or a modest earth tremor, a shock that exceeds the capacity of the topsoil layer — such as a larger earthquake, or an abnormal rainfall which leaves the topsoil fully saturated so that additional water has nowhere to run off except into the clay — can disturb the clay and initiate the process of liquefaction.

Potential disaster

Because the clay layer is typically covered with topsoil, a location which is vulnerable to a quick clay landslide is usually identifiable only by soil testing, and is rarely obvious to a casual observer. Thus human settlements and transportation links have often been built on or near clay deposits, resulting in a number of notable catastrophes.

The most disastrous such landslide occurred in 1908, when a slide into the frozen Du Lièvre River propelled a wave of ice-filled water into Notre-Dame-de-la-Salette, Quebec, causing the loss of 33 lives and the destruction of 12 homes. On May 4, 1971, 31 lives were lost when 40 homes were swallowed up in a retrogressive flowslide in Saint-Jean-Vianney, Quebec [ [http://www.trivia-library.com/a/landslide-in-saint-jean-vianney-canada-in-1971.htm St-Jean-Vianney Landslide] ] , resulting in the relocation of the entire town when the government declared the area uninhabitable due to the presence of Leda clay.

The experience of Saint-Jean-Vianney contributed to the abandonment of the town of Lemieux, Ontario in 1991, after a 1989 study showed it was also located on the same type of clay along the South Nation River. In 1993, those findings were borne out when town's abandoned main street was swallowed by a massive 17 hectare landslide. [ [http://www.canadiangeographic.ca/magazine/so05/indepth/soc_lemieux.asp Lemieux Ottawa Valley Ghost Town - Canadian Geographic Magazine ] ]

Another famous flow of quick clay at Rissa, Norway, in 1978 caused about 33 hectares (82 acres) of farmland to liquefy and flow into the lake Botn over a few hours, with the loss of one life. The Rissa slide was well recorded by local citizens and a documentary film was made about it in 1981.Fact|date=August 2007

These landslides are progressive, meaning they usually start at a river, and progress upwards at slow walking speed. They have been known to penetrate kilometers inland, and consume everything in their path.Fact|date=August 2007

In modern times, areas known to have quick clay deposits are commonly tested in advance of any major human development. It is not always possible to entirely avoid building on a quick clay site, although modern engineering techniques have found technical precautions which can be taken to mitigate the risk of disaster. For example, when Ontario's Highway 416 had to pass through a quick clay deposit near Kemptville, lighter fill materials such as polystyrene were used for the road bed, vertical wick drains were inserted along the route and groundwater cutoff walls were built under the highway to limit water runoff into the clay. [ [http://www.mto.gov.on.ca/english/traveller/416/conquer.htm "Conquering the Leda clay"] , Ontario Ministry of Transportation.]

References

External links

* [http://www.swedgeo.se/upload/publikationer/Rapporter/pdf/SGI-R65.pdf Quick clay in Sweden] , by the Geotechnical Institute of Sweden

* [http://www.ce.washington.edu/~geotech/courses/cee522/RissaLandslide/rissa.html Rissa Landslide] , by University of Washington: short synopsis with link to video clips

* [http://geoscape.nrcan.gc.ca/ottawa/landslides_e.php Geoscapes Ottawa-Gatineau: Landslides] , by Natural Resources Canada: Leda clay landslides in the lower Ottawa River Valley


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