Desiccation (water loss by drying or freeze-thaw sufficient to generate matric suction), can influence the performance of a tailings deposit both positively and negatively. The significance of desiccation is largest in tailings that have been dewatered prior to deposition, by thickening or filtration. Such tailings can be “stacked” or deposited with a significant slope, which usually implies that a substantial volume of tailings remain above water. Under such conditions the tailings, by accident or by design, may undergo desiccation before burial by fresh tailings. Desiccation can contribute substantially to strength, above and beyond the contribution arising from increase in density, through stress history effects. For some deposits, it is required practice that at least some tailings undergo desiccation to improve, particularly when those tailings for a structural part of a deposit. If, however, tailings remain exposed to the atmosphere in an unsaturated state for some period of time, this may have potential negative consequences through oxidation of sulphide minerals and the formation of acid drainage. This paper describes previous research on the strength gained through desiccation in tailings, and on modelling work that incorporates unsaturated soil phenomena into consolidation analysis. Both types of research are applied to a real field site, providing an example of how novel improvements to tailings management can arise out of application of principles of unsaturated soil mechanics.