PREPRINT (not yet peer-reviewed)
Origins of complexity in the rheology of Soft Earth suspensions

Shravan Pradeep, Paulo E Arratia, Douglas J Jerolmack, arXiv (2023).
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When wet soil becomes fully saturated by intense rainfall, or is shaken by an earthquake, it may fluidize catastrophically. Sand-rich slurries are treated as granular suspensions, where failure is related to an unjamming transition and friction is controlled by particle concentration and pore pressure. Mud flows are modeled as complex fluids akin to gels, where yielding and shear-thinning behaviors arise from inter-particle attraction and clustering. Here we show that the full range of complex flow behaviors previously reported for natural debris flows - dense slurries of soil and water - can be reproduced with suspensions made only of water, sand and clay. Going from sand-rich to clay-rich suspensions, we observe a continuous transition from brittle (Coulomb-like) to ductile (perfect plastic) yielding that is characterized by (i) a decrease in the stress drop associated with yielding, (ii) an increase in the shear-thinning exponent from zero to 1/2, and (iii) a decrease in the normal force. We propose a general constitutive relation for soil suspensions, with a particle rearrangement time that is controlled by yield stress. Our experimental results are supported by models for yielding of idealized amorphous solids, suggesting that the paradigm of non-equilibrium phase transitions can help to understand and even predict complex behaviors of Soft Earth suspensions.