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Effect of groundwater and sea weathering cycles on the strength of chalk rock from unstable coastal cliffs of NW France

Abstract : The aim of this paper is to evaluate the role of groundwater and sea weathering on the strength of the chalk rocks exposed on the coastline of the English Channel in Normandy, NW France. We present a study of the rock strength variations of three representative chalk units (Lewes Chalk, Seaford Chalk and Newhaven Chalk) exposed at various locations on the coastal chalk cliffs. The combination of UCS tests and SEM observations have been used (1) on dry natural chalk samples, (2) on chalk samples at various moisture contents, (3) on dry chalk samples submitted to a 10-day cycle of alternating wetting and drying by distilled water and by sea water. Dry chalk samples show low UCS strength (3.46-4 MPa) indicative of very weak rocks. When chalk samples are submitted to progressive water wetting, they present a decrease of UCS strength and Young's modulus of 40% to 50%. This behaviour begins at low values of water content within the chalk, i.e., for a degree of water saturation ranging between 10% and 17%. When chalk samples are submitted to an artificial weathering cycle with distilled water, a decrease in strength is observed, whereas the Young's modulus increases. SEM observations indicate the occurrence of microcracks and particle aggregates in the sample. When chalk samples are submitted to an artificial weathering with sea water, the decrease of UCS strength and Young's modulus achieves a minimum. SEM observations indicate salt crystals within the chalk. On the coastal cliffs of NW France, weathering processes depend both on chalk lithology, which show a range of sensitivity to weathering and on the location of the chalk in the coastal area. Processes allied to the degree of weathering (e.g., salt crystallisation or fresh water disaggregation) differ in the chalk massif, on the cliff face and on the shore platform.
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Anne Duperret, Said Taibi, Rory N. Mortimore, Martin Daigneault. Effect of groundwater and sea weathering cycles on the strength of chalk rock from unstable coastal cliffs of NW France. Engineering Geology, Elsevier, 2005, 78, pp.321-343. ⟨10.1016/j.enggeo.2005.01.004⟩. ⟨insu-00799866⟩

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