Compression behaviour of minerogenic low energy intertidal sediments

Matthew J. Brain, Antony J. Long, David N. Petley, Benjamin P. Horton, Robert J. Allison

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

45 Scopus citations


Existing geotechnical approaches that describe volumetric changes in intertidal sediments in response to applied vertical effective stresses are limited by a lack of empirical research into their one-dimensional compression behaviour. In this paper we address this deficiency by presenting the results of an investigation into the compression behaviour of minerogenic low marsh and tidal flat sediments. We have tested samples of these sediment types obtained from Greatham Creek (Cowpen Marsh, Tees Estuary, UK). Analysis of physical properties and oedometer compression tests demonstrates that, contrary to the implicit assumptions of existing models, the surface sediments studied are overconsolidated. Structural variability between samples arises due to sedimentological factors, notably variations in organic content. We attribute overconsolidation to tidal exposure and falls in groundwater level that permit desiccation and cause capillary suction stresses. Greater rates of compression with respect to effective stress occur in sediments with higher initial voids ratios and more open, unstable initial structures. Variability in structure decreases with application of higher effective stresses due to the destructuration of the sediments, which also creates increased homogeneity of compression behaviour under higher effective stresses. We subsequently develop a new conceptual framework to describe compression behaviour in minerogenic intertidal sediments that incorporates overconsolidation. We advocate a statistical approach that accounts for structural variability and variations in compression behaviour at effective stresses less than and greater than the yield stress. We argue that our conceptual framework is broadly applicable to minerogenic intertidal sediments at different locations and burial depths within Holocene stratigraphic sequences providing site-specific compression data are collected. Inter-site transfer and application of measured material properties should not be undertaken due to local variations in compression behaviour resulting from varying ecological, sedimentological, geochemical, climatic, geomorphic and hydrographic conditions. The individual characteristics of different field locations should be carefully considered before the suggested framework is routinely applied.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)28-41
Number of pages14
JournalSedimentary Geology
Issue number1-4
StatePublished - 2011

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geology
  • Stratigraphy


  • Autocompaction
  • Compression
  • Intertidal sediments
  • Mudflat
  • Salt marsh
  • Sea level


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