Water molecules consist of two hydrogen atoms sharing electrons with a single oxygen atom. The water molecule is electrically balanced but within the molecule, the offsetting charges are not evenly distributed. The two positively charged hydrogen atoms are grouped together on one side of the larger oxygen atom. The result is that the water molecule itself is an electrical “dipole”, having a positive charge where the two hydrogen atoms are situated and a negative charge on the opposite or bare oxygen side of the molecule.
The electrical structure of water molecules enable them to interact with other charged particles. The mechanism by which water molecules become attached to the microscopic clay crystals of black cotton soil is called “adsorption”. Because of their shape, composition and resulting electrical charge, the thin clay crystals or “sheets” have an electro-chemical attraction for the water dipoles. The clay mineral “montmorillonite”, which is the most notorious and rich component of black cotton soil, can adsorb very large amounts of water molecules between its crystalline sheets and therefore has a large shrink-swell potential.
|Dipolarity of Water Bonds|
When potentially expansive soil becomes saturated, more and more water dipoles are gathered between the crystalline clay sheets, causing the bulk volume of the soil to increase or swell. The incorporation of the water into the chemical structure of the clay will also cause a reduction in the capacity or strength of the soil.
|Black Cotton Soil in Shrinkage|
During periods when the moisture in the expansive soil is being removed, either by gravitational forces or by evaporation, the water between the clay sheets is released, causing the overall volume of the soil to decrease or shrink. As the moisture is removed from the soil, the shrinking soil can develop gross features such as voids or desiccation crack. These shrinkage cracks can be readily observed on the surface of bare soils and provide an important indication of expansive black cotton soil activity at the property.