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What is Ground Penetrating Radar

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Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) provides a cost-effective, nondestructive and reliable tool for scanning and imaging of sub-surface defects, voids, and objects. GPR was primarily developed and used in geophysics and geology for subsurface scanning and imaging. Since then, the method has been successfully adapted in many other disciplines including civil engineering. The multipurpose nature of ground penetrating radar and its broad range of applications, make it distinct from existing NDT methods. GPR can detect subsurface events and objects using the electromagnetic radar impulse, ranging from 10 MHz to 3,000 MHz. The method has been standardized by ASTM D6432.

What is Ground Penetrating Radar

Application of nondestructive testing (NDT) methods are growing in condition assessment of civil structures. NDT methods are commonly used to evaluate the strength of materials (e.g. strength of concrete, consolidation of soil), to detect/localize embedded objects (e.g. pipe and tube, cables, manhole tunnel), to detect symptoms and side effects of damage mechanisms (e.g. delamination, internal cracking), to map the bed rock or boundaries in multi-layer media (e.g. asphalt/concrete/soil), and to detect the thickness or length of a medium (e.g. pile length, tunnel lining).

How GPR works?

Ground Penetrating Radar consists of a transmitter antenna and a receiver antenna, connected (wired or wireless) to a signal processing unit. GPR emits electromagnetic pulses (radar pulses) with specific central frequency to scan the subsurface medium. The reflected waves from subsurface layers, and objects are captured by the receiver antenna. Depending on impulse frequency, GPR is able to detect the internal events and objects at different depths. When there is a need for high resolution scanning, antenna with high frequency is required; however, the depth of penetration will be limited to the very first few centimetres. Lower frequencies are required when the objective is to detect very deep subsurface events and objects.

Applications of Ground Penetrating Radar

GPR is used in a wide range of civil engineering projects. The versatility of this NDT method makes it quite unique among other NDT methods. GPR can easily be used in subsurface scanning on soil, bridge decks, or simply locating rebar, live conduits, or other utility ducts.  The following briefly presents the most important applications of GPR in civil engineering area:

Concrete Scanning using GPR

  • Locating and Mapping embedded steel reinforcement (steel bars, prestressing tendons)
  • Predict the thickness of concrete elements
  • Locate potential defects and voids such as delaminated areas

Ground Penetrating Radar in Parking Garage Inspection

Bridge Inspection using GPR

GPR provides a cost-effective solution for rapid screening of potential delamination in bridge decks (Learn More: NDT Methods of Bridge Inspection) . The main advantage of GPR is that it can be used at the traffic speed, which will significantly reduce the inspection timelines, and eliminates the need for road closure and traffic control.

  • Mapping subsurface delamination in bridge deck
  • Reinforcement (steel rebar, prestressing tendons) locations

Utility Locate by GPR

Ground Penetrating Radar can be used to identify the location of sub-surface defects in soil. It can be used to map the location of water pipes, power and communication lines, storage tanks, etc.

  • Location of embedded objects such as cables, tanks, pipes and tubes


Practical Considerations

Despite this wide range of applications, there are some limitations associated with GPR. These limitations are related to the nature of electromagnetic impulses that are used for inspection purposes. High conductive environments (such as moisture environments, materials contaminated with sea water, clay, metallic materials) are problematic for electromagnetic probe waves. The ions and bipolar components that exist in high conductive environments absorbs/disrupts the electromagnetic probe waves, and decreases the amplitude of reflection. Weakened reflections lead to lower resolution results.

17 thoughts on “What is Ground Penetrating Radar”

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  2. Good, brief scenarios that explain some of the basics and help reinforce the extent and possibilities of this technology👍

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  7. I find it helpful to know that ground-penetrating radar allows professionals to locate and map embedded steel reinforcement and determine the concrete’s thickness. My dad recently bought a commercial building downtown that he plans to remodel. I’ll share this with him because I think ground-penetrating radar would be helpful for his remodeling plans.

  8. It was mentioned that GPR is used to see anything that may be laying just under the ground surface. My brother is wanting to dig a hole for a pool in his back yard. Would it be good to have this done before he starts digging?

  9. I had no idea that GPR could be utilized to locate rebar. My brother is thinking about opening a construction business and wants to install some fencing without damaging rebar under the concrete foundations that he will be working by. He should think about finding a service that can supply him with the GPR tools he needs.

  10. Thanks for helping me understand that there are options wherein one could find out what is underneath the ground through the electromagnetic pulses. It would be best for the property owners to have an idea regarding this before the professionals start digging to ensure that they would not be damaging anything that is important such as electricity or water source. I will share this with my neighbor because I heard that they want this done in our property this year.

  11. Thanks for pointing out that GPR provides a non-destructive and reliable tool for scanning sub-surface defects and voids. I would imagine that any industry would need to identify assets, such as pipes and cables, that are underneath and cannot be seen from the surface. I think they should look for GPR concrete scanning experts who can provide advanced inspections, including 3D and AR visualization and reporting.

  12. I like that you said that low frequency is required for the process. My brother is looking for a reliable scanning solution that can help them with underground utility information for his upcoming project and asked if I have any idea what is the best option to do. Thanks to this informative article, I’ll be sure to tell him that it will be much better if they consult a trusted GPR scanning solution service as they can answer all his inquiries.

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