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15th International Conference on Ground Penetrating Radar - GPR 2014

An Overview of GPR Applications for Evaluation


of Pavement Thickness and Cracking
Waheed Uddin
Center for Advanced Infrastructure Technology
University of Mississippi, University, MS39655, USA
cvuddin@ gmail.com

Ahstract- Pavement asset management requires accurate


and rapid measurement of asphalt layer thickness for reliable

C. Evaluation of Pavement Layer Thickness

backcalculation of modulus values of pavement layers from

Since the 1960's nondestructive deflection testing and

nondestructive deflection tests. Also needed are measurements

evaluation of in situ modulus values of pavement layers had

of layer delamination, surface cracking, and other distresses.


Top-down cracking in the longitudinal wheel path of thick
asphalt highway pavement is a major distress problem. The
objective of this paper is to evaluate several nondestructive
testing technologies that can be operated at highway speed to
assess asphalt thickness and surface cracking depth. This

been a well-defined and established method for structural


capacity assessment of remaining life assessment pavements
[I]. This process requires accurate values of asphalt layer,
concrete layer, and other pavement sublayers. Coring and
boring in field is cost-prohibitive and not practical for

paper presents key findings of an extensive literature review

network-level

of GPR equipment and data interpretation methodologies.

estimates of pavement layer thicknesses are essential for

pavement

condition

surveys.

Accurate

The study supports that nondestructive GPR technology has

analyzing the nondestructive falling weight deflectometer

evolved over the last three decades to measure pavement layer

(FWD) test data to enhance the evaluation of both asphalt

thickness and delamination accurately, which is more cost

and concrete highway pavements and rehabilitation design

effective than extracting cores. The study did not find a field
technology that can operate at highway speeds for mapping
pavement

surface

cracking

and

its

penetration

depth.

[2]-[3].

D. Evaluation of Top-Down Cracking in Asphalt Pavements

However, GPR remote sensing has the potential to map the


penetration depth of top-down cracking from the surface
through asphalt layer thickness.

Top-down cracking (TDC), generally observed in the


wheel path of thick asphalt highway pavements, has been
identified as an important surface pavement distress in the
United States in the last two decades and in Europe and

Index Terms-Asphalt, concrete, GPR, NDT, pavement.

Japan since

1980s

[4]. It starts from the surface and

propagates downward, which is different from the well

1. INTRODUCTION

known fatigue related bottom-up cracking. Fig. 1 shows


TDC

A. Needs for Rapid Pavement Condition Evaluation


In the United States and most European countries most
of the public investments are allocated to preserve and
maintain the surface transportation infrastructure assets such

to partial

depth through a

core.

This core was

extracted on SR 25 asphalt pavement, a state highway in


Leake County, Mississippi [4] for a recent study by the
Mississippi Department of Transportation (MDOT).

as highways and bridges. Aging and high volumes of traffic


generally accelerate damage to pavements. Highway asset
management

by

most

highway

agencies

requires

the

evaluation and maintenance of pavements using reliable


nondestructive test (NDT) methods at highway speeds.
Several NDT methods have been applied to pavements
during the past four decades. These include: deflection
testing,

thermal

infrared

imaging,

and

seismic

and

geophysical methods. This paper discusses these methods.


B. Objectives
The primary objectives of this paper are to evaluate
nondestructive test methods including Ground Penetrating
Radar

(GPR)

technology for

measurements

of

in

situ

Uncrilcked

pavement layer thickness and longitudinal cracking depth in


asphalt pavements.

con."

f)'OIll iIplwlt pavement

i1Sphillt pavement

Fig. I. Evidence of top-down cracking in a core extracted from an


asphall highway pavement [4]

978-1-4799-6789-6/14/$31.00 20 14 IEEE

925

Top-dO\"ll cf<lcked core fi,{)tH the same

15th International Conference on Ground Penetrating Radar - GPR 2014

"A
[t is imperative to identify and quantify top-down

typical

GPR

system

consists

of the

following

components.

cracking as a part of network-level asset management for

implementing

Data acquisition/Signal processor computer & software

Scanned image display

appropriate

maintenance

intervention

policies.
E. Candidate ND T Technologies

Data interpretation and processing software

Software

Most NDT technologies for nondestructive evaluation of


pavements are grouped in the following three categories

and

Stress

waves

(typically

properties of test

methods

are

based

on

mechanical energy source and stress wave propagation


theory technology.

Both methods have been used for

nondestructive evaluation of pavement integrity [5] but


these are not suitable for rapid condition surveys in the two
areas of layer thickness and TDC discussed in this paper.
Remote

sensing

EM

technologies

use

optical

and

thermal properties of test materials. EM waves which travel


at the speed of light in space and air. Both UV and X-ray
are active sensors because these EM waves are generated
and the response from the test medium is measured and
interpreted.

Recent

TDC

studies

have

used

ultrasonic

acoustic sensors in the laboratory and X-ray and CT scan


methods for laboratory evaluation of cores extracted from
cracked pavements including top-down cracks [4]. The last
two methods are not feasible for network-level condition
surveys because of radiation related safety regulations.
Photos and imagery are passive sensors which measure
reflections in the visible band of EM spectrum. Laser
sensors are active sensors which emit light in near infrared
(lR) band and are used for 3D terrain and pavement surface
mapping [6]. These sensors and EM waves in infrared (lR)
band (1-300!lm wavelength), have been useful for assessing
surface

and

pavement

deterioration

and

unevenness.

However, laser mapping to measure surface cracks is still in


the research phases and it has been reported to measure only

actually a very narrow pulse, which typically might last on


necessary to improve the ability of the radar to distinguish
smaller

features

on

under

used

highway

for

the

ground.

Most

non-invasive

pavement

are

OPR

bi-static.

The

receiving antenna collects the electromagnetic energy in the


return reflection, or echo, and delivers it to system receiver
and sampler. Following signal reception, the output of the
receiver is then passed to the signal processor which
extracts the desired information from the received signal.
Detailed radar scanned data interpretation is performed in
the office using a stand-alone data interpretation software
for structural assessment of pavements and to determine
layer thickness and other desired properties."
Short EM impulses from GPR propagate in the medium
9
having pulse duration of 1 ns (1 x 10 sec). For brevity,

detailed solution of the governing Maxwell's equation is not


presented

here.

At

high

frequencies

and/or

very

low

conductivity, the following Eq. (1) can be used to interpret


OPR data and calculate EM velocity v in a medium as a
function

of

f1

the

magnetic

permeability

and

the

permittivity or dielectric constant of the medium:


u

C
.[;i

(1)

In a vacuum or in air, EM waves travel at the velocity of


wave velocity is reduced when traveling in any other
applications [10]:

from [00 MHz to [0 GHz. A GPR survey is most frequently

frequency

of

most

suitable

for

highway speed operations. The various components of a


OPR system have been studied by the author extensively
including the Mississippi DOT's projects [2]-[4].

926

nonmagnetic

medium

only

one

parameter

8,

calculate the EM velocity.

For lower radar frequencies the dielectric properties


and electrical conductivity play a dominant role in
determining the velocity of a medium.

GHz

penetrates deeper than a higher frequency of 2 or 3 GHz. An

For

dielectric permittivity or dielectric constant, is used to

conducted by recording EM wave reflection profiles [2]-[4]

is

and

antennas

applications

radar band (0.3--0.1 m wavelength or I-30Hz frequency).

system

objects

commercial

Larger frequency band may be considered for GPR, i.e.

antenna

antenna/OPR

the order of one-billionth of a second. Such a short pulse is

Remote sensing OPR operation uses EM waves in the

hom

air-coupled

medium. The following findings are important for pavement

A. GPR Testing and Data Interpretation

air-coupled

with

light, C, at 3 x 108 m/sec or 0.3 mlns (11.8 inch! ns). The

II. GPR EVALUATION OF PAVEMENT STRUCTURES

lower operating

required

fact that the transmitted waveform of such a system is

surface and can provide both layer thickness and cracking

measuring

The function of the transmitter is to generate a known

frequency ranges are able to penetrate beneath the pavement

and [7]-[9].

distance

waveform. The name "short pulse radar" is derived from the

cracks wider than 2mm [4]. EM methods operating in radio

depth with appropriate data interpretations.

with

systems for pavement applications)

and Electro-Magnetic (EM) waves. Acoustic methods are


based on sound waves and acoustic

integration

instrument (DMI), OPS, and video or digital image

based on the inherent energy source: Acoustic, Stress waves,

materials

Antenna (Transmitter/[solator/Receiver)

For insulating materials such as dry rocks or concrete


or asphalt layer, dielectric properties alone determine
the velocity of the EM wave.

15th International Conference on Ground Penetrating Radar - GPR 2014

All

pavement

materials

(asphalt,

non-reinforced

Several other researches in the US and Europe discuss

concrete base, subbase) and subgrade soils and rocks are

the

essentially

nondestructive evaluation of pavements and soils [ 13J-[ 19].

nonmagnetic

mediums.

For

pavement

applications, EM velocity in a layer depends upon layer


dielectric constant property. Table I shows typical values
based on prior studies of the author [3] and 20 1 1 ASTM test
standard D6432- 1 1 [ 1 1]. The velocity of the EM wave
decreases with an increase in the dielectric constant. Layer

interpretation

[2J-[4J

The

time between reflections, are known.

(t 12 )

applications

for

and

several

national

studies

by

the

Transportation Research Board (TRB) in the U.S. [7J - [9J.


interpretation

t,

GPR

The use of GPR has been evaluated in three MDOT


studies

from the top and bottom of each layer. Eq. (2) can be used
medium, v, and

of

C. Historical Use ofGPR in the U.S. for Layer Thickness

thickness is calculated from the arrival time of the reflection


to calculate a layer thickness, d, if the velocity through the

issues

1990's

GPR

equipment,

software

were

data

perfected

collection,
for

and

noncontact

pavement thickness surveys. The 17 km concrete highway


pavement was surveyed in 1994 in both directions (Fig. 2).
The average concrete thickness of 254 mm ( 10 inch) was
verified by taking several cores at different locations, which

(2)

had the same average value [2J.

TABLE I. TYPICAL GPR PARAMETERS FOR PAVEMENT MATERIALS,


SOILS, AND OTHER MEDIUMS l4J, lllJ

"
Air

Average
Velocity (m/us)
0.30

Water

80

0.03

Dry sand

3-5

0.15

Saturated sand

20-30

0.06

MedinmlMateriaI

Dielectric
constant

Sills

5-30

0.07

Clays

5-40

0.07

Limestone (dry)

0.11

Granite

4-6

0.13

Ice

3-4

0.16

Asphalt (dry)

3-5

0.13

Asphalt (wet)

6-12

0.11

Concrete (dry)

5-8

0.13

Concrete (wet)

8-16

0.10

a.

Fig. 2. Dual air-coupled GPR survey van operating at 17 km/h on US


Highway 78, Marshall County, Mississippi [2]

Similarly, numerous studies were conducted on asphalt


pavement thickness by GPR operating at highway speeds
[3]. Layer thickness estimates were reasonably accurate
within about 5 % of asphalt thickness measured by cores.

(velocity of light)

Accuracy improves if some cores are used for calibration of

B. Limitations ofGPR Data Interpretation and Constraints

initial GPR results. Integration of GPR data with FWD

Due to the non-uniqueness of radar image analysis,


errors

may

composition

occur
or

in

interpreting

anomalies.

the

Examples

layer

material

of

multiple

interpretations are: Is the hyperbola in the image caused by


a buried pipe or by a boulder; and does the anomaly indicate
the boundary of a saturated sand layer, water-table or clay
layer? A situation may occur when a low-velocity layer is
located above a high-velocity layer, where no reflections
can be obtained below the high velocity layer. Presence of
water affects the attenuation of the EM wave. The EM
velocity drops from 130 mlns to 1 13 mlns if the moisture
content varies from zero to 5.6% when the void ratio
changes from zero to 7%, with 80% saturation [ 12]. In
general GPR performs better in unsaturated coarse- or
moderately coarse-textured soils and in some rocks. A
material

saturated

with

water

has

higher

dielectric

constant compared to the same material in an unsaturated


state, as shown in Table I.

deflection

data

files

for

pavement

structural

integrity

analysis is already being routinely done for production use


by

many

GPR

users

and highway agencies for asset

management programs.

D. GPR Used in Pre- and Post-2000 Eras in the u.s.


Most

of

the

studies

and

projects

from

17

states,

reviewed in the 2006 MDOT research study [3], reported


using U.S. made GPR systems with I-GHz or 2- GHz horn
antennas and data acquisition systems, as well as other GPR
equipment from Sweden and Italy. Most of these studies
were conducted at highway speeds using

l-GHz horn

antenna GPR equipment dating back to pre-2002 period.


The

old

GPR

horn

antenna

models

from

pre-federal

regulation days were allowed only as "grand fathered"


equipment, if they were properly registered with the U.S.
Federal

Communications

October 2002.

927

Commission

(FCC)

prior

to

15th International Conference on Ground Penetrating Radar - GPR 2014

and user preference. Cost for providing GPR data collection

E. Impacts of2002 FCC Restrictions on GPR


The FCC in the USA had a major concern on the
performance of cell phones and GPS units in the presence of
radio

frequency

(RF)

signal

interference

caused

by

and analysis services was generally considered confidential;


however, the following estimates were provided by three
consultant and service providers from the United States:
$20-40

ultrawide band radiator radar devices, such as GPR and all

per

lane

mile

for

field

data

collection

(depending on the survey volume per day)

electromagnetic transmissions in the ultrawide band above 9

$45-150 per lane mile for office data processing and

kHz. The FCC Part 15 regulations of 15 July 2002 required

analysis (depending on the required outputs)

all radar devices in the United States operating in ultrawide


band to register. The rulings did not affect working with

This 2006 MOOT study concluded that there was

devices less than 960 MHz or in the higher frequency range


of 3.1-1O.6 GHz. Road GPR working in 1-2 GHz range for

adequate

pavement evaluation was a great concern for GPR industry,

methodologies and FCC certified or "grandfathered" GPR

experience

available

with

data

interpretation

operators, and users. Through the efforts of users and

technologies

manufacturers the following two significant results were

assessment of asphalt pavement layer thicknesses. After a

achieved, as discussed in the 2006 MOOT study report [3].

follow-up study in 2013 [4] the MOOT is planning to use

I) The FCC issued a ruling in July 2002 specifically


permitting continued operations of all existing GPR
devices.
2) On

13

February

2003,

the

FCC

adopted

an

amendment to the Part 15 rules to specifically allow


for the operation of new GPR systems.

term

"air-coupled"
Aviation

in equipment specifications due to


Administration's

concerns.

the GPR technology together with the nondestructive FWD


tests to measure asphalt thickness at each test location and
enhance

the

structural

integrity

evaluation

of

asphalt

highway pavements and rehabilitation design.


A

recent

Strategic

Highway

Research

Program2

(SHRP2) project report demonstrated from field evaluations


that GPR is a suitable NOT method to identify layer

The GPR industry was discouraged by the FCC to use the


Federal

for reliable and reasonably accurate field

The

non

contact air-coupled antennas are now termed "horn" or air


launched antennas. The main problem due to the FCC
regulation was with old I-GHz horn antennas, which were

delamination [5]. Other national studies confirmed GPR's


viability for determining accurate surface layer thickness at
highway speeds using the current technology [7] - [9].
However,

more research is needed in using GPR for

measuring cracking penetration depth in asphalt pavements.


B. GPRfor Top-Down Cracking Measurement

mostly used for pavements and their data interpretation was

Unlike Europe, TOC was not on the radar screen of

enhanced during the 1990's. The FCC regulation limited the

pavement researchers and highway agencies in the United

amount of electromagnetic energy (output power) radiated

States until the late 1990s. Two international conferences on

from transmitters operating between 700 MHz and 2 GHz.

the structural design of asphalt pavements (1982 in the

Some previous I-GHz GPR manufacturers went out of

Netherlands and 1987 in the United States at Ann Arbor,

business. Since then the predominant U.S. manufacturer has

Michigan) included papers reporting TOC investigations

marketed two FCC certified GPR equipment models with

during the 1970s and 1980s, which were presented by

horn antennas ( I-GHz and 2-GHz).

researchers from the UK, the Netherlands, France, South

These newer models with lower radiated output power


are more susceptible to

RF

Africa, later in early 1990s in Japan. The author attended

interference than the old non

the 1987 conference and was extensively involved in field

FCC version and other "grandfathered" I-GHz models. The

studies of pavement performance from the mid 1980's to

FCC-registered GPR equipment with I-GHz horn antenna

1989,

operates at a scan rate of up to 500 KHz and depth

examined

penetration of 0.9-0.75 m (30-36 inches).

performed

Oklahoma,

investigations

numerous
Texas,

asphalt

Arizona,

of

early

failures,

pavement
and

later

cores
in

and
from

Mississippi

throughout most of the 1990s. No core was observed with

III. FINDINGS OF GPR PAVEMENT EVALUATIONS INUS.

any evidence of TOe. Generally, cores were not extracted


from areas of visible surface cracks. Recent enquiries with

A. GPRfor Pavement Layer Thickness Measurement

the pavement evaluation engineers of the Florida OOT,

The 2006 MOOT study of GPR feasibility to measure

Mississippi OOT, and Washington State OOT [4] indicate

asphalt pavement thickness at highway speed involved an

that TOC problem is currently the most important distress

extensive literature review

on asphalt highways.

and a comprehensive

GPR

technology evaluation survey of GPR manufacturer and


users in the United States and abroad [3], as well as
experience in using post-2002 FCC-certified GPR models.
GPR equipment survey data was collected considering the
following criteria: robustness and durability, data collection
and processing, operating restrictions,

data quality and

usefulness, cost of equipment operation and data analysis,

The European Cooperation in Science and Technology


(COST) Research Report 336 states a core-based approach
to identify TOC in the field [20]. It is important to identify
and quantify TOC using a suitable NOT device operating at
highway speeds for implementing appropriate maintenance
intervention policies for thick asphalt highways (minimum
100 mm or more) and perpetual pavements.

928

15th International Conference on Ground Penetrating Radar - GPR 2014

airports, cell phones, and other facilities producing

Laser mapping of the pavement surface has evolved as a


well-established surface condition survey technology where
laser

sensors

scan

the

pavement

surface

and

radio signals.

provide

accurate 3D pavement surface maps. Noncontact laser


technology has been utilized by the Florida DOT in efforts
not

successful.

recent

contact

with

operating

constraints

pavement

Office

data

investment.

researchers in France [4] did not fmd any highway-speed

processing
Considerable

requires

significant

and

pavement

evaluation experience is essential, as well as periodic


professional

asphalt layer or any related research in progress.

conferences and refresher courses.

The TRB's National Cooperative Highway Research

Program (NCHRP) Report 747 [9], published in 2013,


GPR

technology

for

pavement

investigations of highway pavements and provides good

several

pavement,

GPR

can identify

nondestructive

variations

in

I-GHz systems and the layer resolution should be

the

better.

isolate the depth of a discontinuity in the

COST

Action

TU I028

project

on

surface

GPR

cracking analysis from the Proceedings of 2013 First Action

highway

speeds

extent/severity

of

for
the

identitying
top-down

and

cracking

measuring
in

that the COST Action TUI028 project on GPR applications


should consider this research opportunity on priority basis.
ACKNOWLEDGMENT

The author appreciates the funding support of the


Mississippi Department of Transportation. Thanks are due
to research assistants at the University of Mississippi -

The conclusions and recommendations follow:


technology

provides

nondestructive

measurement tool for layer thickness evaluation of


asphalt and concrete pavements. The data collection is
fast using a van mounted horn antenna and usually

Center for Advanced Infrastructure Technology (CAIT).


The contents of this paper reflect the views of the author
who is responsible for the facts, fmdings, and data presented
herein.

does not involve separate traffic control.

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