Geosynthetics include a variety of synthetic polymer materials that are specially fabricated to be used in geotechnical, geoenvironmental, hydraulic and transportation engineering applications. It is convenient to identify the primary function of a geosynthetic as being one of: separation, filtration, drainage, reinforcement, fluid/gas containment, or erosion control. In some cases the geosynthetic may serve dual functions.
Separation: The geosynthetic acts to separate two layers of soil that have different particle size distributions. For example, geotextiles are used to prevent road base materials from penetrating into soft underlying soft subgrade soils, thus maintaining design thickness and roadway integrity. Separators also help to prevent finegrained subgrade soils from being pumped into permeable granular road bases.
Filtration: The geosynthetic acts similar to a sand filter by allowing water to move through the soil while retaining all upstream soil particles. For example, geotextiles are used to prevent soils from migrating into drainage aggregate or pipes while maintaining flow through the system. Geotextiles are also used below rip rap and other armour materials in coastal and river bank protection systems to prevent soil erosion.
Drainage: The geosynthetic acts as a drain to carry fluid flows through less permeable soils. For example, geotextiles are used to dissipate pore water pressures at the base of roadway embankments. For higher flows, geocomposite drains have been developed. These materials have been used as pavement edge drains, slope interceptor drains, and abutment and retaining wall drains. Prefabricated vertical drains (PVDs) have been used to accelerate consolidation of soft cohesive foundation soils below embankments and preload fills.
Reinforcement: The geosynthetic acts as a reinforcement element within a soil mass or in combination with the soil to produce a composite that has improved strength and deformation properties over the unreinforced soil. For example, geotextiles and geogrids are used to add tensile strength to a soil mass in order to create vertical or nearvertical changes in grade (reinforced soil walls)Reinforcement enables embankments to be constructed over very soft foundations and to build embankment side slopes at steeper angles than would be possible with unreinforced soil. Geosynthetics (usually geogrids) have also been used to bridge over voids that may develop below load bearing granular layers (roads and railways) or below cover systems in landfill applications.