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Soil Deformation and Fragmentation: Visualization, Measurements, Modelling and Functioning (2016)

Name of course:

Soil Deformation and Fragmentation: Visualization, Measurements, Modelling and Functioning

ECTS credits:


Course parameters:

Language: English

Level of course: PhD course

Time of year: March 2016

No. of contact hours/hours in total incl. preparation, assignment(s) or the like: 70/140

Capacity limits: 20 participants

Objectives of the course:

The course will present classical and new approaches for measurement, modelling, and visualization of soil deformation and fragmentation due to mechanical stress application.

Some of the concepts and theory classically used in agricultural soil mechanics and adopted from geomechanics (analytical solutions for stress propagation in soil, soil compressive strength) have limitations that will be illustrated with hands-on modelling and measurements in the lab and in the field.

As a new modelling approach for soil deformation, fragmentation and movement, Discrete Element Models (DEM) will be used to understand particle-particle contact problems, stress propagation, fragmentation and displacement behaviour of granular media. This approach will be combined with laboratory measurements of soil aggregate tensile strength and stability to explore the mechanical behaviour of agricultural soils at the macroscale in a context of mechanical tillage.

Three-dimensional imaging techniques will be used to characterize particle arrangements and initial conditions for DEM simulations and to see how and where the soil structure is affected by tillage and traffic (photoelastic methods, CT scan).

Simple experiments illustrating the consequences of soil mechanical stress application on soil physical functioning in terms of aeration, water transport and root penetration will be performed by the students. The course will last seven days.

There will also be a possibility of individual consultancy concerning experimental problems.

Learning outcomes and competences:

At the end of the course, the student should be able to:

- Determine traditional soil mechanics parameters from measurement in the field and the lab

- Determine air and water transport parameters from measurements in the lab

- Know the basics to build up a DEM

- Evaluate trafficability and workability in a given scenario

Compulsory programme:

Participants must be present and active during the whole week in order to have their performance assessed.

Course contents:

General Aspects of the Mechanical Behaviour of soils

  • Stress theory;
  • Strain theory;
  • Stress-strain relations.

Traditional Soil Mechanics Modelling

  • Elastic stress-strain relationships (Analytical solutions).

Traditional Soil Mechanics Measurement Methods

  • Laboratory and field methods to measure compressive behaviour of soil;
  • Laboratory and field methods to measure shear strength;
  • Laboratory method to measure tensile strength;
  • Laboratory method to measure aggregate stability;
  • Laboratory and field method to measure penetrometer resistance.

Consequences of soil deformation and fragmentation on soil physical functioning

  • Effects on aeration, water transport, root growth, crop establishment –theory and laboratory exercise 

New Approaches to Infer Soil Mechanical Models

  • Particle arrangements measurements using three-dimensional imaging techniques.

New Approaches to Model Soil Mechanical Behaviour

  • Distinct Element Modelling;
  • Lattice Element Modelling.


Course opened for PhD students with a background in soil science, environmental engineering, and numerical modelling.

Name of lecturers:

Markus Berli (DRI, NV, USA), Teamrat A. Ghezzehei (UCMerced, CA, USA), Jean-Yves Delenne (INRA Montpellier, F), Thomas Keller (Agroscope, CH), Lars Munkholm (AU), Per Schjønning (AU), Mathieu Lamandé (AU)

Type of course/teaching methods:

The course will last seven days. Each day will begin with a lecture session. The second half of the day will involve hands-on modelling and measurement activities.


The participants will get preparatory readings for one-week workload.

Course homepage:

Course assessment:

On the 7th day the participants must participate in a young scientist forum, where they will present the results of the hands-on modelling and measurement activities from the week.

Each student must also give a 5 min presentation of their own work to exchange knowledge, experience, and ideas with the group.


Department of Agroecology

Special comments on this course:



7-13 March 2016


Research Center Foulum, AU-Foulum, Blichers Allé 20, DK-8830 Tjele.


Deadline for PRE-registration is 15 February 2016. The detailed course planning will start in January 2016, and we contact you again shortly after.

For PRE-registration:

If you have any questions, please contact Jytte Christensen, e-mail:

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Revised 05.11.2018