This paper examines the environmental processes and mechanisms that govern differential heaving in steeply dipping claystone bedrock near Denver, Colorado. Three potential heave mechanisms and causal processes were evaluated: (1) rebound expansion, from reduced overburden stress; (2) expansive gypsum-crystal precipitation, from oxidation of pyrite; and (3) swelling of clay minerals, from increased ground moisture. First, we documented the effect of short-term changes in overburden stress, atmospheric exposure, and ground moisture on bedrock at various field sites and in laboratory samples. Second, we documented differential heaving episodes in outcrops and at construction and developed sites. We found that unloading and exposure of the bedrock in construction-cut areas are essentially one-time processes that result in drying and desiccation of the near-surface bedrock, with no visible heaving response. In contrast, wetting produces a distinct swelling response in the claystone strata, and it may occur repeatedly as natural precipitation or from lawn irrigation. We documented 2.5 to 7.5 cm (1 to 3 in.) of differential heaving in 24 hours triggered by sudden infiltration of water at the exposed ground surface in outcrops and at construction sites. From these results, we interpret that rebound and pyrite weathering, both of which figure strongly into the long-term geologic evolution of the geologic framework, do not appear to be major heave mechanisms at these excavation depths. Heaving of the claystone takes two forms: (1) hydration swelling of dipping bentonitic beds or zones, and (2) hydration swelling within bedrock blocks accommodated by lateral, thrust-shear movements, along pre-existing bedding and fracture planes.
Additional publication details
Steeply dipping heaving bedrock, Colorado: Part 3 - Environmental controls and heaving processes