Nuclear Instruments and Methods in Physics Research A ] (]]]]) ]]]–]]]

Development and calibration of radio-isotope cone penetrometers
Abhay K. ShrivastavaÃ
´ Visiting Scientist, M2C UMR 6143 CNRS, Centre de Geomorphologie, Universite de Caen, 24 rue des Tilleuls, 14000 Caen, France Received 27 August 2004; accepted 16 September 2004

Abstract Radio-Isotope cone penetrometers (RI-cones) are developed to measure the basic soil properties like water content and soil density under in situ conditions in real time along with other parameters such as soil strength and hydrogeologic conditions of subsurface soils. In this paper, a brief description of these cone penetrometers is followed by their calibrations and the use of single calibration curve for different types of soils is discussed. Two case studies have been presented. It has been shown that under marine conditions a correction is required for the measured water content as the presence of chloride ions, a very strong neutron absorber, can underestimate the measured water content. r 2004 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
PACS: 07.88.+y; 89.20.Bb; 93.85.+q Keywords: RI-cones; In situ testing; Water content; Density; Calibration curve; Neutron absorber

1. Introduction Cone Penetration Technology (CPT) has been in use for more than six decades for site characterization for geotechnical purposes. The last decade or so has seen a rapid development in sensor technology, in electronics, miniaturization of computers and augmentation of its processing power has facilitated the incorporation of various
ÃTel.: +33 231 56 5709; fax: +33 231 56 57 57.

E-mail address: (A.K. Shrivastava).

sensors in a cone penetrometer body for various applications. Site characterization whether for geotechnical or geoenvironmental purposes, can be very expensive and can sometimes account for more than 30 percent of the total budget. Before any foundation plan is laid, it is important to delineate the soil characteristics in detail. To measure some of the basic soil properties, like water content and the density of soil, samples are required which may be of suspected quality. This method is not only inefficient but also expensive. To determine such properties under in situ conditions, two different types of cone

0168-9002/$ - see front matter r 2004 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved. doi:10.1016/j.nima.2004.09.044

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penetrometers have been developed and are called neutron moisture cone penetrometer (NM-cone) and nuclear density cone penetrometer (ND-cone) and collectively referred to as RI-cones. NM-cone is essentially a four-component cone penetrometer which can measure the water content of the soil along with soil strength and delineate the hydrogeologic conditions in real time. ND-cone is a single component cone, originally also a fourcomponent one, as it uses the same hole as that of the NM-cone and measures the density of soil. In this paper, a brief description of these cone penetrometers is followed by their calibration and the use of a single calibration curve for different types of soils. RI-cones have been used at various sites and two field tests data are presented.



d d



a 1184 a: cable leading to the data collection system b: pre-amplifier; c: 3He-filled proportional tube d: 252Cf fast neutron source; e: porous ceramic filter (all dimension are in mm)
Fig. 1. Schematic diagram of NM-cone.

a: cable leading to data collection system b: pre-amplifier; c: photomultiplier tube d: lead (Pb) shield; e: 137Cs gamma source (all dimension in mm)
Fig. 2. Schematic diagram of ND-cone.

2. Description of RI-cones 2.1. Neutron moderation by hydrogen The design is based on the principle that when fast neutrons are emitted from the source, neutrons go through the process of slowing down, thermalization and diffusion. This process of slowing down from the initial energy to the epithermal (1 eV) or thermal energy (0.025 eV) is governed mainly by the elastic collisions with the hydrogen nuclei [1], which for all practical purposes is present in the form of water in the soil. Since neutrons do not react appreciably with electrons, they are always detected through the effects caused by their collision with nucleus. Over the years various reactions have been proposed for the detection of neutrons. The reaction used to detect neutrons in the construction of the NM-cone is

2.2. Principle of g-ray interaction with matter It is well known that a photon can interact with atoms through scattering, losing some or none of its energy (Compton or elastic scattering) or it can disappear in a single interaction (photoelectric effect or pair production) [2]. Every process contributes to the attenuation and is a function of atomic number (Z) of the element present in the soil. Therefore, considering the chemical composition of the soil, almost all interactions lead to the Compton process. The source of g-photon employed in the NDcone is 137Cs with a half-life of 36.5 years NaI(Tl) scintillator mounted on a photomultiplier tube is used in the ND-cone to detect the incoming photons. Fig. 2 shows the schematic diagram of the ND-cone.

He þ n ! T þ p þ 0:764 MeV;

sa ¼ 5400 b (1)

in which He is helium, n is the neutron, T is tritium, p is the proton, sa is the reaction cross-section and b is barns. The fast neutron source is 252Cf, the spontaneous fission source of neutron and the half-life of neutron source is 2.65 years. The detector used is the 3He-filled proportional tube. Fig. 1 shows the schematic diagram of the NM-cone.

3. Calibration of RI-cones Calibrations of both NM-, and ND-cones were carried out in a laboratory calibration chamber. The diameter of the calibration chamber was 650 mm and the height or the depth of the calibration chamber was 1000 mm. Two different


A.K. Shrivastava / Nuclear Instruments and Methods in Physics Research A ] (]]]]) ]]]–]]] 3

x 102

2 Rw = 0.065 + 2.936 WH - 1.417WH (r = 0997; N = 28)

standard count rate (CPM)

180 1.5 160

count rate ratio (Rw)


140 0 50 100 150 elapsed time (days)


Fig. 3. Decay curve of Cf.

types of calibrations were carried out in the calibration chamber. In the first case materials such as decomposed granite, coarse gravel, fine gravel and mountain sand were used and in the second case only water was used to carry out the calibration. The water content of the sample was increased slowly by means of an inlet valve located at the bottom of the calibration chamber. Sample was prepared by pouring known mass of sand into the calibration chamber. The water inlet valve was fitted with a meter to measure the total amount of water supplied to the calibration chamber. To obtain homogeneity in the sample and between different layers of the sample, a hammer with a mass of 10 kg was allowed to fall from a known or a predetermined height. Before either the NM- or ND-cone was installed into the calibration chamber, a background count was taken. In the calibration curve, we have used the count rate ratio instead of the simple count rate. The advantage of this method is that the count rate of the isotope will change with time such as the one shown for 252Cf (Fig. 3); however, the count rate ratio will remain the same. Calibration curves thus obtained are shown in Fig. 4a and b for NM- and ND-cones, respectively.

0 (a) 2.4 2.2



0.4 0.6 0.8 moisture density WH (t / m3)


Rγ = 9.3978 . e-1.0314ρt r = 0.994; N = 30

count rate ratio (Rγ)

2.0 1.8 1.6 1.4 1.2 1.3



1.6 density (t /

1.7 m3)





Fig. 4. Calibration curve of (a) NM-cone and (b) Calibration curve of ND-cone.

4. Applicability of single calibration curve for various soil types One may question the validity of using a single calibration curve for different types of soils. Soil is

basically composed of silica (Si) and oxygen (O) with other elements present in minor amounts. It is interesting to note that the commonly encountered elements in the soil have almost the same Z/A ratio which is approximately about 0.5 (Fig. 5). Though the Z/A ratio for hydrogen is about 0.99 the fact remains that hydrogen is present as water in the soil medium and the Z/A ratio for water is 0.5521. Similarly, if we look at the different materials such as concrete, sand, and glass, though they all have

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Atomic number / atomic weight (Z / A)

0.9 0.8 0.7 0.6 0.5 0.4 0.3 0.2 0.1 0 0


N O C Mg



Ca K Fe

Zn Cu

Al P



15 20 25 30 Atomic number (Z)



Fig. 5. Z/A ratio as a function of Z for commonly found elements in soil.

show the profile of water content and the density profile as measured by NM- and ND-cone, respectively. Also plotted are the laboratory data. It is interesting to note that though both the density profiles are in very good agreement, however, the water content profiles as measured by NM-cone and laboratory method show a big difference. This is attributed to the presence of chloride ions in the soil and is discussed below. Fig. 6B shows the RI-cone profile for the Hachirogata site. Here, a thick deposit of clay layer where the strength increases monotonically with depth. Fig. 6B(c) and (d) show the results obtained using NM- and ND-cones. Also plotted are the results from laboratory testing. For both water content and density, a very good agreement is seen.

very distinctively different material properties, the weighted averages of Z/A of these materials can be considered to be constant, which are 0.4878, 0.4959, and 0.4921, respectively. From the above discussion, it is clear that differences in soil types practically have no influence on the mass absorption coefficient so that a single calibration curve can be applied to the density measurement of any kind of ordinary soil.

6. Effect of presence of chloride content in soil We have seen in Fig. 6A(c) that the water content of the soil as measured using the NM-cone is considerably less than that measured in the laboratory on obtained samples. This is due to the presence of chloride in the soil. Kinkai Bay area has been reclaimed from the sea and has traditionally been used to make salt from sea water. It is suspected that the higher concentration of residual chloride ions in soils during diagenesis due to evapotranspiration, leaching etc., can lead to the underestimation of water content measured using NM-cone. Ølgaard [3] has shown that the presence of boron (sa ¼ 755 b), a strong neutron absorber, can underestimate the measured water content in soil. In order to quantify the effect of chloride ions (sa ¼ 33:8 b), the experiment was carried out in the calibration chamber by dissolving a known amount of salt in the pure water. It was observed that the 1.5% increase in chloride content can reduce count rate ratio by almost 15%, as is shown in Fig. 7. Taking this into account, we recalculated the water content obtained by NM-cone. The corrected water content profile for the Kinkai Bay site is shown in Fig. 8. It can be seen that a very good agreement is found between those measured by NM-Cone and those obtained in the laboratory on samples.

5. Field testing To date, these penetrometers have been used at different sites and under various soil conditions. Two examples have been presented here. These examples have been chosen to demonstrate the efficiency of these RI-cones under varying soil properties, though both the sites are characterized by clay deposits. In the first case, Kinkai Bay site, the testing was carried out in a marine environment and this area has traditionally been used for making salt from the sea. The second example has been chosen from Hachirogata area where the clay is characterized by a very high water content. In the case of Kinkai Bay site, the soil strength (Fig. 6A(a)) increases monotonically with depth, which can be visualized through the pore water pressure profile (Fig. 6A(b)). Fig. 6A(c) and (d)

A.K. Shrivastava / Nuclear Instruments and Methods in Physics Research A ] (]]]]) ]]]–]]] 5

qT (kgf / cm2)
0 0 5 10
depth (m)

u (kgf / cm2)
100 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 20 40

wn (%)
60 80 100 120 140 1.0 1.2

ρt (t / m3)
1.4 1.6 1.8 2.0





15 20 25



(a) qT (kgf / cm2)
0 0 5 10 2 4 6 8 10 12 14 0 1

(b) u (kgf / cm2)
2 3 4 5 6 50 100

(c) wn (%)
150 200 250 0 1.2

(d) ρt (t / m3)
1.4 1.6 1.8


depth (m)

15 20 25 30 35

Laboratory ND-Cone







Fig. 6. (A) RI-CPTU at Kinkai Bay site; also plotted are laboratory results (1 kgf/cm =0.1 MPa). (B) RI-CPTU at Hachirogata site; also plotted are laboratory results (1 kgf/cm2=0.1 MPa).


7. Conclusions
count rate ratio

0.90 0.85 0.80 0 0.5 1.0 1.5 Cl- ions concentration (%) 2.0

Fig. 7. Decrease in count rate with increasing chloride content.

RI-cones have been developed to obtain data under in situ conditions. Two different examples are given. It has been shown that these cone penetrometers are versatile instruments and are capable of measuring basic soil parameters in real time, which can lead to a huge savings in any project. It has been shown that when these cone penetrometers are deployed in a marine environment, care must be taken to account for the presence of chloride ions.

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20 0


water content, (wn %) 60 80 100



Uncorrected NM-Cone

Corrected NM-Cone

the course of this development. They are too numerous to mention individually. The author would like to extend his sincere thanks to his current host Prof. D. Levacher for his kindness, Prof. J.L. Lagarde, former director of Center for Geomorphology, University of Caen for the invitation and to the present Director Prof. P. Lesseur for continued hospitality.


depth (m)

[1] S. Glasstone, Sourcebook on Atomic Energy, Affiliated East-West Press, New Delhi, 1967, 883p. [2] G.F. Knoll, 1979. Radiation Detection and Measurements, John Wiley, New York, NY, 1979, 816p. [3] P.L. Ølgaard, On the theory of the neutronic method for measuring the water content in soil. Risø Report 97, Danish Atomic Energy Commission, 1965, 44p.




Fig. 8. Corrected water content profile at Kinaki Bay site.

Acknowledgements The author would like to express his sincere gratitude to numerous people who have helped in

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