Nanoscale soil-water retention mechanism of unsaturated clay via MD and machine learning

Z Zhang and XY Song, COMPUTERS AND GEOTECHNICS, 163, 105678 (2023).

DOI: 10.1016/j.compgeo.2023.105678

In this article, we investigate the nanoscale soil-water retention mechanism of unsaturated clay through molecular dynamics and machine learning. Pyrophyllite was chosen due to its stable structure and as the precursor of other 2:1 clay minerals. A series of molecular dynamics simulations of clay at low degrees of saturation were conducted. Soil water was represented by a point cloud through the center-of-mass method. Water-air interface area was measured numerically by the alpha- shape method. The soil-water retention mechanism at the nanoscale was analyzed by distinguishing adsorptive pressure and capillary pressure at different mass water contents and considering the apparent capillary interface area (i.e., water-air interface area per unit water volume). The water number density profile was used to quantify the adsorption effect. A neural-network based machine learning technique was utilized to construct functional relationships among matric suction, the mass water content, and the apparent water-air interface area. Our numerical results have demonstrated from a nanoscale perspective that the adsorption effect is dominated by the van der Waals force and hydroxyl hydration between the clay surface and water. As the mass water content increases, the adsorption pressure decreases, and capillarity plays a prominent role in the soil-water retention mechanism at the nanoscale.

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