We present a laboratory system designed for studying frost heave in fine-grained soils. The system consists of: a modified refrigerator; a frost heave test cell; a laser for measuring heave; a differential pressure transducer for measuring water intake; and platinum resistance temperature detectors for measuring pedestal temperatures. The frost heave test cell accommodates pre-test soil consolidation within the cell, freezing tests using a variety of freezing methods, triaxial tests on frozen soil, and thaw consolidation tests. The test cell design allows for visual observation of the sample during testing. The modified refrigerator maintains the specified temperature ±0.5oC during the full length of the test, which typically is not possible for larger cold rooms. Test results indicate repeatability of frost heave ratios to within ±4%, and average heave rates to within ±0.04 mm/hr.


Frost heaving is a major concern in design and construction in cold regions. It causes costly damage to roads, airfields, foundations, and utilities. In attempts to understand and predict frost heaving, numerous testing laboratories and frost heave cells have been created over the last 75 years. With the making of each successive frost heave test cell, there were design improvements that allowed for greater accuracy and stability. There was also increased specialization of test cells and laboratory systems in order to study specific details of the mechanism of frost heave. Certain drawbacks accompany this specialization, including the requirement of multiple test cell designs in a single laboratory to perform different freezing methods. The purposes of this paper are: 1) to describe a state-of-the-art frost heave test cell and laboratory system that can accommodate a variety of freezing methods; 2) to describe a testing procedure designed to yield reproducible results, and 3) to demonstrate the repeatability of the laboratory system by presenting the results of three sets of frost heave tests.

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