The liquid limit of peat and its application to the understanding of Irish blanket bog failures

Yang, J. and Dykes, A.P. (2006) The liquid limit of peat and its application to the understanding of Irish blanket bog failures. Landslides, 3(3), pp. 205-216. ISSN (print) 1612-510X


Catastrophic failures of blanket bogs, involving the escape and outflow of large volumes of semi-liquid basal peat, are well-known phenomena in Ireland but have only very rarely been reported from elsewhere in the world. Their precise causes and mechanisms are as yet unclear. The liquid limit (wL) was identified as a potentially useful indicator of the susceptibility of peat to such failure because peat has extremely high natural water contents and, as an index property, wL takes no account of the properties or structures of highly heterogeneous intact peat. However, the usual procedure for determining the wL of peat is not fully standardised. Prepared samples will normally include potentially highly reactive particles of disrupted fibres and wood fragments that would not be present in such freshly disintegrated form in the field. This paper presents results from wL determinations of peat obtained from the scar margins of three bog failures in northwest Ireland, using four different test procedures including a method involving wet-sieving of the peat to separate the humified <425-μm fraction for testing without incorporating artificially fragmented particles of fibres. The sampled peat was classified as H8–H10 according to the von Post humification scale. The fibre contents varied between the sites, but the ash contents were <3% in all but one test sample, and bulk densities (dry and field-wet) of the peat from all three sites were almost identical. wL results from the wet-sieving method were 708–785%, compared with 633–980% from the standard method. The highest measured field water contents exceeded the wet-sieved wL for all three of the field sites. Tests of cone penetration into intact peat cores demonstrated the influence of the reinforcing effect of in situ fibres. The results strongly suggest the need to adopt a fully standardised procedure for determining the wL of peat. Additional shear vane measurements of intact and remoulded peat from a bog failure in Northern Ireland indicated a very high ‘strength sensitivity’. This leads to the suggestion that a slight disturbance of basal peat can lead to a loss of strength that rapidly propagates as local stresses change and cause further remoulding as water contents exceed wL.

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