Performance of nonnuclear devices for in situ moisture and density determination

Joshua E.R. Wells, L. Sebastian Bryson

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contributionpeer-review

1 Scopus citations


The largest portion of highway construction cost is in the earthwork phase. Inadequate soil subgrade compaction can cause structural failure of the roadway and infrastructure. Quality control of compacted soil subgrade is commonly performed using the nuclear density gauge. However, growing concerns over the safety of using the device with a radioactive source and training and calibration costs have warranted an effort to replace the nuclear density gauge. Several nonnuclear devices have been developed for the determination of in situ soil moisture density. These devices all utilize electromagnetic wave propagation theory to obtain frequency-dependent electrical measurements in a soil mass. These electrical measurements are subsequently related to soil properties such as moisture and density. Three of these devices were selected for this study to evaluate their performance and applicability for use in the field. The soil density gauge, electrical density gauge, and moisture and density indicator were examined at four construction sites to evaluate their reliability, repeatability, and usability under field conditions. In these tests, the density measurements of the devices were compared with densities obtained from a sand cone density apparatus and from a nuclear density gauge. Measurements of moisture content were compared with oven-derived moisture contents. Difficulties in device operation were also noted. This study found that the device based on electromagnetic impedance spectroscopy provided the most repeatable results and was easiest to use. Despite the criticism that its main algorithms are not accessible for user modification and site-specific calibration, this device appears to the most feasible device for replacement of the nuclear density gauge.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationGeo-Congress 2014 Technical Papers
Subtitle of host publicationGeo-Characterization and Modeling for Sustainability - Proceedings of the 2014 Congress
Number of pages10
Edition234 GSP
StatePublished - 2014
Event2014 Congress on Geo-Characterization and Modeling for Sustainability, Geo-Congress 2014 - Atlanta, GA, United States
Duration: Feb 23 2014Feb 26 2014

Publication series

NameGeotechnical Special Publication
Number234 GSP
ISSN (Print)0895-0563


Conference2014 Congress on Geo-Characterization and Modeling for Sustainability, Geo-Congress 2014
Country/TerritoryUnited States
CityAtlanta, GA

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Civil and Structural Engineering
  • Architecture
  • Building and Construction
  • Geotechnical Engineering and Engineering Geology


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