Geotechnical investigation

A USBR soil scientist advances a Giddings Probe direct push soil sampler.

Geotechnical investigations are performed by geotechnical engineers or engineering geologists to obtain information on the physical properties of soil and rock around a site to design earthworks and foundations for proposed structures and for repair of distress to earthworks and structures caused by subsurface conditions. This type of investigation is called a site investigation. Additionally, geotechnical investigations are also used to measure the thermal resistivity of soils or backfill materials required for underground transmission lines, oil and gas pipelines, radioactive waste disposal, and solar thermal storage facilities. A geotechnical investigation will include surface exploration and subsurface exploration of a site. Sometimes, geophysical methods are used to obtain data about sites. Subsurface exploration usually involves soil sampling and laboratory tests of the soil samples retrieved.

Surface exploration can include geologic mapping, geophysical methods, and photogrammetry, or it can be as simple as a geotechnical professional walking around on the site to observe the physical conditions at the site.

To obtain information about the soil conditions below the surface, some form of subsurface exploration is required. Methods of observing the soils below the surface, obtaining samples, and determining physical properties of the soils and rocks include test pits, trenching (particularly for locating faults and slide planes), boring, and in situ tests.

Soil sampling

Borings come in two main varieties, large-diameter and small-diameter. Large-diameter borings are rarely used due to safety concerns and expense, but are sometimes used to allow a geologist or engineer to visually and manually examine the soil and rock stratigraphy in-situ. Small-diameter borings are frequently used to allow a geologist or engineer to examine soil or rock cuttings or to retrieve samples at depth using soil samplers, and to perform in-place soil tests.

Soil samples are often categorized as being either "disturbed" or "undisturbed;" however, "undisturbed" samples are not truly undisturbed. A disturbed sample is one in which the structure of the soil has been changed sufficiently that tests of structural properties of the soil will not be representative of in-situ conditions, and only properties of the soil grains (e.g., grain size distribution, Atterberg limits, and possibly the water content) can be accurately determined. An undisturbed sample is one where the condition of the soil in the sample is close enough to the conditions of the soil in-situ to allow tests of structural properties of the soil to be used to approximate the properties of the soil in-situ.

Offshore soil collection introduces many difficult variables. In shallow water, work can be done off a barge. In deeper water a ship will be required. Deepwater soil samplers are normally variants of Kullenberg-type samplers, a modification on a basic gravity corer using a piston (Lunne and Long, 2006). Seabed samplers are also available, which push the collection tube slowly into the soil.

Soil samplers

Soil samples are taken using a variety of samplers; some provide only disturbed samples, while others can provide relatively undisturbed samples.

In-situ tests

A flat plate dilatometer test (DMT) is a flat plate probe often advanced using CPT rigs, but can also be advanced from conventional drill rigs. A diaphragm on the plate applies a lateral force to the soil materials and measures the strain induced for various levels of applied stress at the desired depth interval.

In-situ gas tests can be carried out in the boreholes on completion and in probe holes made in the sides of the trial pits as part of the site investigation. Testing is normally with a portable meter, which measures the methane content as its percentage volume in air. The corresponding oxygen and carbon dioxide concentrations are also measured. A more accurate method used to monitor over the longer term, consists of gas monitoring standpipes should be installed in boreholes. These typically comprise slotted uPVC pipework surrounded by single sized gravel. The top 0.5 m to 1.0 m of pipework is usually not slotted and is surrounded by bentonite pellets to seal the borehole. Valves are fitted and the installations protected by lockable stopcock covers normally fitted flush with the ground. Monitoring is again with a portable meter and is usually done on a fortnightly or monthly basis.

Laboratory tests

A wide variety of laboratory tests can be performed on soils to measure a wide variety of soil properties. Some soil properties are intrinsic to the composition of the soil matrix and are not affected by sample disturbance, while other properties depend on the structure of the soil as well as its composition, and can only be effectively tested on relatively undisturbed samples. Some soil tests measure direct properties of the soil, while others measure "index properties" which provide useful information about the soil without directly measuring the property desired.

Atterberg limits 
The Atterberg limits define the boundaries of several states of consistency for plastic soils. The boundaries are defined by the amount of water a soil needs to be at one of those boundaries. The boundaries are called the plastic limit and the liquid limit, and the difference between them is called the plasticity index. The shrinkage limit is also a part of the Atterberg limits. The results of this test can be used to help predict other engineering properties.[3]
California bearing ratio 
ASTM D 1883. A test to determine the aptitude of a soil or aggregate sample as a road subgrade. A plunger is pushed into a compacted sample, and its resistance is measured. This test was developed by Caltrans, but it is no longer used in the Caltrans pavement design method. It is still used as a cheap method to estimate the resilient modulus.[4][5]
Direct shear test 
ASTM D3080. The direct shear test determines the consolidated, drained strength properties of a sample. A constant strain rate is applied to a single shear plane under a normal load, and the load response is measured. If this test is performed with different normal loads, the common shear strength parameters can be determined.[6]
Expansion Index test 
This test uses a remolded soil sample to determine the Expansion Index (EI), an empirical value required by building design codes, at a water content of 50% for expansive soils, like expansive clays.[7]
Hydraulic conductivity tests 
There are several tests available to determine a soil's hydraulic conductivity. They include the constant head, falling head, and constant flow methods. The soil samples tested can be any type include remolded, undisturbed, and compacted samples.[8]
Oedometer test 
This can be used to determine consolidation (ASTM D2435) and swelling (ASTM D4546) parameters.
Particle-size analysis 
This is done to determine the soil gradation. Coarser particles are separated in the sieve analysis portion, and the finer particles are analyzed with a hydrometer. The distinction between coarse and fine particles is usually made at 75 μm. The sieve analysis shakes the sample through progressively smaller meshes to determine its gradation. The hydrometer analysis uses the rate of sedimentation to determine particle gradation.[9]
R-Value test 
California Test 301 This test measures the lateral response of a compacted sample of soil or aggregate to a vertically applied pressure under specific conditions. This test is used by Caltrans for pavement design, replacing the California bearing ratio test.
Soil compaction tests 
Standard Proctor (ASTM D698), Modified Proctor (ASTM D1557), and California Test 216. These tests are used to determine the maximum unit weight and optimal water content a soil can achieve for a given compaction effort.
Soil suction tests 
ASTM D5298.
Triaxial shear tests 
This is a type of test that is used to determine the shear strength properties of a soil. It can simulate the confining pressure a soil would see deep into the ground. It can also simulate drained and undrained conditions.
Unconfined compression test 
ASTM D2166. This test compresses a soil sample to measure its strength. The modifier "unconfined" contrasts this test to the triaxial shear test.
Water content 
This test provides the water content of the soil, normally expressed as a percentage of the weight of water to the dry weight of the soil.

Geophysical exploration

Geophysical methods are used in geotechnical investigations to evaluate a site's behavior in a seismic event. By measuring a soil's shear wave velocity, the dynamic response of that soil can be estimated.[10] There are a number of methods used to determine a site's shear wave velocity:

Other methods:

See also

Notes and references

External links

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