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Whilst a wide range of soils and rocks may be encountered in desert areas, hot desert soils are typically characterized by:

  • being dry or partially saturated;

  • may have a high soluble salt content;

  • may be cemented.

Engineering works will generally lead to changes in stress or changes in moisture content in the ground, and this chapter outlines the soil mechanics frameworks that allow the response to these changes to be assessed.

In arid environments, wetting of the soil from its natural dry state is a common result of construction activity and urban development. Ground movements caused by swelling or collapse of the soil may result. These movements can be relatively large and are often more significant than those resulting from a change in total stress.

The arid conditions allow soluble salts to remain in the soil, and they are thus encountered at depths and at concentrations not normally found in wetter environments. If the equilibrium is altered by changes in the groundwater regime, ingress of water or in the amount of evaporation at the ground surface, then leaching or precipitation of salts may lead to volume changes or changes in strength and/or stiffness of the ground. Salts may also change from anhydrous to hydrated forms (or vice versa) with consequential volume changes and associated ground movements.

All of these characteristics may be present in a given soil, which could, for example, be partially saturated and weakly cemented by soluble salts, and expand when wetted at low stress but collapse when wetted under higher stresses. The engineering

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