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Environmental Site Investigation

Copyright Momentum Press, LLC, 2016.
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First published by Momentum Press, LLC
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ISBN-13: 978-1-60650-550-2 (print)
ISBN-13: 978-1-60650-551-9 (e-book)
Momentum Press Environmental Engineering Collection
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Printed in the United States of America

Environmental site investigation and characterization is a complex process that often includes a large number of variables, a limited number of
resources, and not nearly enough time to complete properly. The investigation of a site is, however, potentially the most important part of an
environmental project. Site investigation is so important because nearly
all other aspects of the project, from financial decisions to engineering
designs and construction tasks, are based on the findings of an initial site
investigation. How a problem is solved is always determined by what
problem solvers know about the problem; in general, the site investigation
tells the site investigator everything that needs to be known about a site.
The goal of site investigation is to understand the conditions present
at a site and to choose a method to record and present the findings for later
reference. Economic and political factors often play a large role in the
depth and accuracy of environmental site investigations. The amount of
time and resources needed to provide a complete and thorough site investigation is often lacking due to one or more economic or political factors.
By going step by step through the site investigation process, students
and practitioners can see the great importance site investigation lends to
the overall success of a project. Additionally, by gaining a thorough understanding of the current state of technology and methodology used for environmental site investigation, readers will better understand how to make
their site investigations more efficient and beneficial to a project.

development, engineering, environmental, geology, geotechnical, investigation, remediation, site, site development, soil contamination, urban

List of Figures


List of Tables




1 Geology and Environmental Site Investigation

1.1Introduction to Geology and Environmental
Site Investigation

1.2 Site Geology

1.2.1 Geology Basics

1.2.2 Geologic Formations

1.2.3 Rock Types and Characteristics

1.2.4 Soil Types and Characteristics

1.2.5 Groundwater, Aquifers, and Contamination

1.3 Field Identification


1.3.1 Geologic Formations


1.3.2 Rock Types


1.3.3 Soil Types


1.3.4 Groundwater and Aquifers


1.4Special Considerations for Environmental

Site Investigation


1.4.1Contaminant of Concern and Contaminant Transport 19

1.4.2 Groundwater Flow


1.4.3 Aquifers and Public Water Supplies


viii Contents

1.4.4 Wetlands and Tidal Zones


1.4.5 Political Implications


2Site Researchin the Office


2.1 Introduction to Site Research


2.2 Historical Information


2.2.1 Aerial Photography


2.2.2 Previous Projects


2.2.3 Contaminant Transport


2.3 Topographic Maps


2.4 Geologic Maps and Soil Maps


3Site Investigationin the Field


3.1 Introduction to Site Investigation


3.2 Surface Investigation

3.2.1 Vegetation and Topography




3.2.3 Surface Water and Existing Wells


3.2.4 Surface Site Investigation Exercise


3.3 Subsurface Investigation


3.3.1Health Hazard Implications for

Environmental Sites


3.3.2 Soil Borings and Sampling


3.3.3 Test Pits


3.3.4 Hand Sampling Tools


3.3.5 Groundwater Sampling and Monitoring Wells


3.3.6 Logs and Data Collection


4Soil and Site Classification


4.1 Introduction to Soil Classification


4.1.1 Laboratory Testing


4.1.2 Soil Classification


4.1.3 Contaminants of Concern


4.1.4 Comparison with Historical Data


4.2 Introduction to Site Classification

4.2.1 Site Mapping


Contents ix

4.2.2 Subsurface Mapping


4.2.3 Accuracy and Reliability


4.3 Introduction to Dynamic Site Investigation


4.3.1 Initial Site Investigation


4.3.2 Dynamic Site Investigation


4.3.3 Monitoring and Modeling






List of Figures
Figure 1.1.An illustrated representation of
multiple soil layers called soil strata.

Figure 1.2. An illustrated representation of folded soil strata.

Figure 1.3.An illustrated representation of a fault through folded


Figure 1.4. An illustration showing ground fractures.

Figure 1.5. The water table and accompanying zones.


Figure 1.6. Typical sandstone.


Figure 1.7.An image of quartzite and phyllite rock

metamorphosedfrom sandstone and shale.


Figure 1.8.Another image of the metamorphic

quartzite and phyllite.


Figure 1.9. An image of granite merging with other minerals.


Figure 1.10.An example of (a) rounded and

(b) angular particles.


Figure 2.1.A 2014 aerial photograph of Squantum Point,

Quincy, MA.


Figure 2.2.Late 1940s aerial photograph of Squantum Point Park,

Quincy, MA.
Figure 2.3. A topographic map of Squantum Point Park.


Figure 2.4. An illustrated representation of a geologic map.


Figure 3.1.An illustration showing a tree rooted into a limestone

sinkhole: showing one example of how geologists
and site investigators can use vegetation to
understand site geology.


Figure 3.2.A simplistic construction sequence for monitoring

well construction.


xii List of Figures

Figure 3.3. An example of a soil boring log.


Figure 4.1.A picture showing a typical equipment setup used for

grain size analysis.


Figure 4.2.A sample of a typical sieve analysis data sheet. This

sheetis commonly used to log data during a sieve


Figure 4.3.A sample of the typical layout for graphing the soil grain
size distribution curve with a log scale on the x-axis. 47
Figure 4.4.Picture of the equipment used for determining the
liquid limit.


Figure 4.5.A diagram indicating the moisture content versus the

plastic and liquid limits.


Figure 4.6. A simple schematic of a typical triaxial device.


Figure 4.7. A simple schematic of a typical direct shear device.


Figure 4.8.A diagram of the equipment and test setup for the
fallinghead permeability test.


Figure 4.9.A diagram of a typical setup for a constant head

permeability test.


Figure 4.10. A diagram of a typical consolidation load frame.


Figure 4.11.A graphical representation of the different soil

classification systems.


Figure 4.12.Typical dam/levy construction making use of high

gravelstrength and low clay permeability.


Figure 4.13.An example of signage developed by the Federal

MotorCarrier Safety Administration.


Figure 4.14. The NFPA classification system.


Figure 4.15. A typical site map.


Figure 4.16.A typical site map with soil boring locations and soil
profile alignment.


Figure 4.17.A typical site map with callouts showing contaminated

Figure 4.18. A typical soil profile of the site.
Figure 4.19.A typical soil profile with the estimated zone of
contamination shown.


List of Tables
Table 4.1.A list of the various tests that will be explained in this


Table 4.2. Soil type summary table


For decades, scientists and engineers have played an important role in
governance of the human interaction with the environment. It has become
apparent over the course of history that scientists and engineers dance
on a fine line between those who promote and protect the health of the
environment and those who, albeit unwillingly, destroy the environment.
Many are those who work tirelessly to clean up rivers and streams, regulate emissions, and create new technology to encourage healthy interaction with the environment. The modern fast-paced world is also filled with
those who have ordered other priorities, such as net income, above the
health of the environment. Notwithstanding the aim of a particular firm or
scientist or engineer, everyone will benefit from a thorough understanding
of environmental site investigation.
If the aim is to clean up a contaminated site or provide some type of
remedy for contamination, the first step will be to understand the extent of
the problem by investigating the site. Those who have other objectives in
mind, for example, production of a chemical, will benefit from knowing
what type of work will be required in the event of a spill or site closure.
This text follows step by step through the process of site investigation with
a primary focus on environmental sites.
There is a particular importance for the engineering or science
students to understand environmental site investigation. The m
of work
performed as part of an environmental site investigation is
performed by young engineers and scientists. A student of these disciplines
will, therefore, benefit most from a thorough understanding of the site
investigation process.

The author would like to thank his many teachers, both in engineering and
in life, who gave him the knowledge and clear understanding needed to
help others.
Special thanks to Jerry Hopcroft from the Wentworth Institute of
Technology for advising the writing of this book. Also, thank you to
the many other engineering professors and professionals who provided
guidance and support in creating this first edition.
Thanks also to the guidance and support from the many people who
work for Momentum Press and made the publishing of this material
Thank you all.


Geology and
Environmental Site
Investigation Overview
Environmental site investigation and characterization is a complex process that often includes a large number of variables, a limited number of
resources, and not nearly enough time to complete properly. The investigation of a site is, however, potentially the most important part of an
environmental project. Site investigation is so important because nearly
all other aspects of the project, from financial decisions to engineering
designs and construction tasks, are based on the findings of an initial site
investigation. How a problem is solved is always determined by what
problem solvers know about the problem; in general, the site investigation
tells the site investigator everything that needs to be known about a site.
The goal in site investigation is to use a number of methods to understand the conditions present at a site and to choose a clear and detailed
method to record and present the findings for later reference. For a small
project, this process might include a few shallow soil borings and soil tests.
The information resulting from the subsurface investigations would then
be cataloged and presented on a map or in a report. For larger projects, site
investigations are often composed of ongoing testing and sampling over
longer periods and might include several phases of implementation.
Economic and political factors often play a large role in the depth and
accuracy of environmental site investigations. The amount of time and
resources needed to provide a complete and thorough site investigation are


often lacking due to one or more economic or political factors. A simple

construction project, for example, might have a very limited budget for
design and construction. If the site investigation uses up time and money
from the project schedule and budget without adding any additional value
to the end product, the resources allocated to the site investigation are
likely to be limited or reduced.
By going step by step through the site investigation process, students
and practitioners can see the great importance site investigation lends to
the overall success of a project. Additionally, by gaining a thorough understanding of the current state of technology and methodology used for environmental site investigation, readers will better understand how to make
their site investigations more efficient and beneficial to a project.


The word geology is formed from the two Greek words, geo, meaning
earth, and ology, to study. Simply stated, geology is the study of earth.
Specifically, geology is concerned with the solid materials that make up
the physical form of the earth. Additionally, geology is concerned with
how those materials interact with each other and other elemental forms
such as liquid and gas over time.
There are many textbooks and references detailing geological research
and findings from over the years. The practical application of the science
of geology to environmental site investigation is the main focus of this
book. For this, a basic understanding of geology is sufficient.
In addition to understanding the basic concepts of geology, it is also
helpful to note the depth and variety of vocabulary used by geologists.
Geologists, like many other types of scientists, are often tasked with
describing and explaining unique situations, and, therefore, the vocabulary
is very specific to their field. The reason that this point is being noted
is that the crossover between the vocabulary of geologists and engineers
can sometimes be confusing as geologists and engineers will use different
terms to describe the same situation.
Engineers, for example, define grain size of a soil or gravel based on
the gradation. A poorly graded soil is one that has the majority of the soil
particles at a similar size. A well graded soil indicates to an engineer that
there is a wide variety of grain sizes in the soil. A geologist, on the other
hand, will define a soil with many different grain sizes as a poorly sorted
soil and a soil with uniform grain size as a well sorted soil. The important
point here is that environmental site investigation can include input from
a large variety of disciplines in science, engineering, and beyond. It is,


therefore, important that those conducting the site investigation be clear in

defining and understanding the terms and concepts used.
In using the science of geology to better understand a particular site, some
background information related to the science of geology is useful. Geologists depend on the powers of observation to gain insight about how landmasses have been formed and to estimate features that are invisible under
the ground.
There are many different theories as to how the surface of the earth
was formed. Contrasting and comparing the different theories is beyond
the practical scope of this book; however, some common themes from the
ideas presented by different geologists can be very helpful.
One of the most well-known and commonly accepted theories
related to the formation of the earth, is the Nebular Hypothesis. The Nebular Hypothesis was originally brought to light by German philosopher
Immanuel Kant in 1755 and was later refined by French mathematician
Laplace in 1796. In general, this hypothesis suggests that the solar system originated from a gaseous nebula. As the speed of the spinning gases
increased, the gases were compressed overtime to form solid masses. This
spinning and compression resulted in the rotation of the planets around the
sun that is seen today. As time went on, the planetary masses progressed
in their morphing and changing from continued compression. The unique
molecular composition of each of the different planets indicates the separation of the different types of debris in the original spinning nebula and
supports the theory.
The important takeaway from this hypothesis of how the earth was
created is that the earth was formed by a process of continued compression
over time. As the compression increased over time, the earth changed into
what it is today, and the changes are continuing even today. The job of a
geologist is to look at the clues that are left from this ancient metamorphosis during the current time in history and determine how different land
masses came to be. This information is then used to make assumptions
about unknown conditions under the ground.
Geologists often mention the geologic timescale and the rock record.
The geologic timescale is the recorded life of the earthhow old the earth
is and how it has changed throughout its lifetime. The rock record answers
this question. The different ways in which layers of soil and rock have
been deposited and how this layering captures bits of ancient history in
the form of fossils give a record of the life of the ancient rock. Geologists


and scientists have used clues from rock samples to estimate the age of
the earth. The oldest clues indicate that the oldest rocks are on the order
of 4.8 billion years old. The geologic timescale can be summarized as
a timeline of events that show how the earth has changed over the past
4.8billion years.
The clues that have been used to compose the geologic timescale
come from what is known as the rock record. The rock record presents a
historical indication of how the earth has changed in a particular spot. If
a visit is made to a site with an exposed mountain side or rock face, analyzing the different types of rock and soil, along with how they both are
layered, will provide a good idea of how that part of the earth was formed.
To make use of the rock record of a particular site, some basic information
about geologic formations, rock types, and soil types is very helpful.
It is useful to recall basic geologic components that make up the earth.
Starting from the center of the earth and working outward toward the
atmosphere, the basic components are the inner core, outer core, mantle,
and crust. The inner core and the crust are the only two components that
are solid. The crust is created by the continued cooling of the molten mantle by the atmosphere. As the earth continues to compress and shift, the
solid crust at the surface is constantly changing form. In some areas,the
crust is being forced downward back into the mantle, and in other areas
the crust is being separated. In the areas of separation, new molten material rises to the surface and is cooled by the atmosphere to form a new part
of the crust. The zones where the crust is either being compressed back
into the mantle or separated are called fault zones. The large portions of
the crust that compose the area between fault zones are known as plates.
The continuous compression and expansion of the crust leads to shifting of the plates and significant geologic activity along the fault lines. In
cases where a plate is being forced down into the mantle, a deep rift might
form. Similarly, where a plate is being thrust upward into the atmosphere,
a high mountain range will develop.
There are many other forces contributing to the shaping of the earth
surface other than the compression and expansion of the crust. Glaciation, for example, has played a huge role in recent history. Geologist have
recorded evidence in many areas that the enormous sheets of ice that make
up a glacier have leveled entire mountain ranges as the ice slowly creeps
across the surface of the earth. Weather conditions including wind, rain,
and snow also play a significant role in degradation of rock and transport
of soil particles.
Perhaps the most interesting alterations to the earth crust in the last
several hundred years are related to the activities of the human race.


Human beings have played a significant role in shaping the landscape of

the surface of the earth, and those alterations are continuing. From the
relatively small excavation related to cut and fill of a highway alignment
to large mining and tunneling operations, people are steadily leaving their
own mark on the shape of the earth. With the invention of large excavation equipment and explosives, people literally have the ability to move
Stratigraphy is a branch of geology concerning rock layers and layering.
The layers of stratification are known as soil strata. It is the individual soil
strata that make up geologic formations and help geologists to investigate
the rock record. Some of the basic terminology used to identify formations, and, therefore, commonly used in site investigation, is reviewed in
this section.
The idea of formally defined layers or strata is paramount to the geologic discipline of stratigraphy and field mapping. A formation can be
examined relative to the different strata visible from the surface. A soil or
rock strata exposed at the surface is called an outcrop. Defining formations
based on visible outcrops allows geologists and site scientists to correlate
geologic strata across a site between outcrops. In this way, a good indication of the subsurface conditions can be estimated before ever drilling or
digging into the earth.
As was previously mentioned, a soil stratum is a geologist-defined
boundary between multiple soil strata. Figure 1.1 illustrates this concept.

A fold is another useful identifier in understanding geologic formations. Over time, as the tectonic plates shift and cause areas of the crust to

Ground surface
Stratum 1
Stratum 2
Stratum 3
Stratum 4

Figure 1.1. An illustrated representation of multiple soil

layers called soil strata.


compress, the soil strata will heave and dip. In some cases, the movement
is so great that the strata actually fold over each other. An example of a
fold is illustrated in Figure 1.2.
Faults are caused by a full shearing of soil strata caused by shifting of
tectonic plates and other surface movements. The deep seated movement
will cause a shearing through the earth of a measurable distance, and the
shear line is known as a fault. Faulting is illustrated in Figure 1.3.
Fractures will occur through the soil strata because of the tension
and compression associated with movement of the crust. Fractures can
also be caused by weathering at the surface. Fractures are illustrated in

Folded soil strata

Figure 1.2. An illustrated representation of folded soil strata.

Fault line

Figure 1.3. An illustrated representation of a fault through

folded soil strata.


Ground surface
Stratum 1
Stratum 2
Stratum 3
Stratum 4

Figure 1.4. An illustration showing ground fractures.


The ability to identify the major rock typessedimentary, metamorphic,
and igneousis helpful in site investigation. The three basic rock types
and the associated key identifiers are explained in this section.
Sedimentary rocks are created by various means of soil deposition.
Over time, the different soil types are deposited by natural forces such as
surface water movement, glacial movement, and even wind. As the soils
pile up, grain by grain, layer by layer, over thousands of years, thelower
layers are forced deeper and deeper and experience great pressure. The
combination of pressure and time (and in some cases chemical processes) causes the individual soil grains to fuse together and form a solid,
quasi-homogeneous rock mass. Sedimentary rocks are formed near the
surface and are, therefore, exposed to erosion, which further alters their
state. Common examples of sedimentary rocks include sandstone, formed
from sand grains, and shale, typically formed from clay or silt. Sedimentary rocks are characteristically softer than the other rock types and, in
many cases, can be broken up with bare hands.
Metamorphic rocks are created when a parent rock type is subjected
to additional heat, pressure, or chemical alterations. After the parent rock
is metamorphosed the new rock will have new characteristics. The sedimentary rock known as limestone, for example, is formed from deposition
of ancient calcium rich sea deposits. The extreme forces of earth movements can cause recrystallization of the limestone structure. The recrystallized minerals have a new structure. Calcite or dolomite is a common
form of metamorphosed limestone, which is part of the wide variety of
rocks known as marble. Marble is a commonly found metamorphic rock
formed from limestone. Quartzite is an example of metamorphic rock
formed from quartz sandstone. Metamorphic rocks often carry some of the


qualities of the parent rock but are, in general, much harder. The c rystal
structure is typically fine grained and, in some cases, very beautiful.
Igneous rocks are formed when hot molten rock cools and solidifies.
During the cooling process, crystals may or may not form depending on
the conditions. Igneous rocks, in general, can be classified into two types:
intrusive and extrusive. The intrusive type is created when the rock is
cooled slowly deep within the earth under high pressure where crystal
structure usually develops. The extrusive type is created when molten
rock cools quickly at or near the surface (picture hot lava flowing into the
ocean). The key identifier for igneous rocks is that they are relatively hard
and dense. Additionally, intrusive rocks (such as granite) typically have
larger crystal structure visible to the naked eye. Extrusive rocks (such as
basalt) typically have a fine grained structure and might be easily mistaken
for a harder sedimentary or metamorphic rock.
As the shaping of the earth continues over time, the continuous
compression and expansion of the crust causes great degradation of
the many rock types. Additionally, surface conditions such as weather,
glaciation, and human influences lead to further degradation of the soil.
Five basic soil types can be initially defined with more detail to come in
the chapters that follow. To understand the five primary soil types, it is
instructive to look at how they are formed and where they come from.
In this section, the basic soil types are noted with a review of the characteristics of each.
Gravel, the first general soil type, can be formed in many ways. Surface weathering of an exposed parent rock, or degradation and separation
of particles in a rapid flowing river are two examples. Gravel, then, is
simply pieces of broken rock that have been deposited together in a semihomogeneous mass. Gravel can include many particle sizes ranging from
3 in. stones down to microscopic clay particles, or can be uniform with all
similar size particles. Gravel typically refers to any soil deposit inclusive
of rock fragments greater than in. The most commonly used gravel at
construction sites is in. Note that the dimensions given are the smallest
dimension of the fragment. Thus, a stone in. in diameter, but 2 in. long,
might still pass through a in. screen.
Sand, the second general soil type, like gravel, can be formed in any
number of ways, but is generally formed by the same principle meansthe
breakdown of larger rock. Once gravel particles are more finely pulverized


over time, a sand deposit will be formed. In essence, a sand deposit is just
a mass of really small rock particles.
Smaller than sand, and the third general soil type, is silt. Once the
sand has been so finely pulverized that the resulting mass resembles that
of powdered flour, the sand is now a silt. We can understand what silt is by
picturing a handful of sand tossed into a bucket of clean water. No matter
how clean the sand is, once the sand particles settle to the bottom of the
bucket, the water will remain murky and discolored for at least a few minutes afterward. This discoloration is caused by the ultrafine silt particles
that have remained in suspension.
Clay is the fourth general soil type. Clay particles are unique in the
world of soils in that they stand alone from the previous three soil types.
Gravel, sand, and silt are all formed from some type of mechanical degradation of rock, that is, breaking of parent rock or rock particles into
smaller particles. Clay particles are formed by mechanical and chemical
breakup of the crystal structure of rock. One example of how this might
happen can be imagined at the delta of a river. Far upstream large boulders
are smashed against each other over time by the rapid water flow. The
resulting chips and pieces of smaller rock form gravel deposits. As the
river levels out and flows more smoothly, only the small gravel particles
are carried further to create sand deposits. Further still, the smallest silt
particles are deposited. Lastly, the finest of the particles, clay particles,
are deposited and cast out into the open water. The difference of the clay
particles is that they have come from every stage of the river. If a large
boulder up stream was not moved by the water flow, no rock fragments
would be formed, there would be no gravel, and no sand and no silt would
result. However, just from the natural chemical breakdown of the rocks,
regardless of size, some individual fibers of the crystal structure begin to
get washed from the parent rock. Those particles are carried downstream
and deposited as clay. One example is the breakdown of granite. One of
the main minerals in granite is feldspar. As granite is worn over time, large
deposits of the clay mineral kaolinite can be formed from the decomposition of the parent rock.
Organic material is the fifth general soil type. Organic material, sometimes referred to as peat, is a very important soil type because it is very
common in the topsoil that covers the surface in many locations. Organic
material can also be deposited underground and mixed in with other soil
types. This material usually includes decomposing plant matter such as
leaves, grass, or wood fibers. Organic material is typically more heterogeneous than other soil deposits and has hydraulic and strength properties
that are hard to predict.



The water cycle is the cyclical process by which water circulates on the
earth. Water is very important to the study of geology and site i nvestigation
because it is the chief agent of change. Water aids in the breakdown and
movement of rock, soil, and contamination that might be present in both
rock and soil.
Being a circular process, the water cycle does not begin or end in any
particular place, but there are seven key elements of the cycle: rain, overland flow, rivers and streams, lakes and oceans, currents, groundwater, and
evaporation. For the purposes of site investigation, it is necessary to consider all elements of the water cycle; however, groundwater is of particular
importance because it provides the most stable harbor for contamination
of soil. Also, groundwater is the only element of the water cycle that exists
within the soil.
Groundwater is water that exists in the soil and rock under the ground.
The concept seems simple; however, it can get complicated very quickly.
To illustrate a few important points, imagine a person at the beach. If that
person were to walk a few steps away from the edge of the water and start
to dig a hole, very quickly the hole would be filled with water.
If that person were to then walk a few more steps away from the
water and dig another hole, again he would eventually get to water; however, this time he would have to dig a bit deeper. He would also notice
that the sand at the surface was dry. As he dug down, the soil would
gradually become wetter until finally water would start slowly flowing in
from the sides. This example demonstrates many important points about
At some point below the ground, the soil is so wet that it seems to
be underwater or completely submerged. The soil is saturated to different
degrees at different depths. At some specific depth, there is a point where
the soil transitions from being less than saturated to being as close to
saturated as it can be. This point in the ground, where the soil appears to be
underwater, is commonly referred to as the water table. The technical term
is the phreatic surface. Soil below the phreatic surface is fully saturated
and soil above it is partially saturated.
The phreatic surface is theoretically the point where zero pore water
pressure exists in the soil and can be explained by an understanding of
capillarity. If a small straw is placed into a cup of water, by means of
surface tension in the water, the water will rise slightly higher in the straw
than in the surrounding water in the cup. If a straw with a smaller diameter
is placed in the cup, the water will rise up a bit more. The smaller the
straw, the higher the water will rise.


Soil particles act like very tiny straws and want to draw up water in
the same way. With many soil particles acting together, the soil stratum
will act like a sponge. If a sponge is dipped in a tub of water, the effect will
be the same as the effect with the strawswater will climb up through the
pores of the sponge. Also, like the straws, there will be a portion of the
sponge that is fully saturated and is above the water pooled in the tub. This
effect is due to the capillarity of the pores.
As noted, the phreatic surface is the point with zero pore water
pressure. This means that this is the point in the sponge where the transition is made between partially and fully saturated. The water at this point
has reached equilibrium because the pressure caused by the soil capillarity,
or pore pressure, is equal and opposite to atmospheric pressure. The net
total pressure at this point, therefore, is zero. The area above the phreatic
surface, inclusive of partially saturated soils, is known as the vadose zone.
Figure 1.5 shows a representation of the different ways in which water
exists below the ground.
What makes environmental site investigation unique from any other
site investigation is that environmental sites typically have some type
of contamination. Understanding the site geology is critical when dealing with site contamination. Contamination at a site can come in many
forms from hazardous volatile liquids, such as gasoline, to different
types of solids, such as powdered chemicals and plastics. Whether the
contamination is in the form of a chemical spill or a potentially hazardous
material, the contamination at site is in some way obstructing or degrading
the natural, healthy state of the site, and its inhabitants, both human and
nonhuman. The key to properly understanding a site with contamination
is to understand the contaminants present and how they will interact with
the materials at the site. If a water soluble powder chemical, for example,
is deposited on an impervious clay stratum, it might be considered lucky


Zone of




w of

Figure 1.5. The water table and accompanying zones.


because the contaminant is contained by the impervious clay. If the same

contaminant is deposited on a pervious sand soil and is exposed to rain
water infiltration, the contaminant might travel very quickly over a great
distance through the sand deposit.
Surface water such as lakes, ponds, rivers, streams, and oceans is a
very important component of site geology. Surface water is one of the
chief contributing factors in determining the shape of the earth crust and
where and how soils are deposited. In this light, the same is true about
contamination that might be present in the soil.
Aquifers are subterranean bodies of water. Aquifers tie in very closely
with an understanding of groundwater. The phreatic surface was described
earlier, and any soil below this point, excluding some unusual cases, will
be nearly fully saturated. In this region below the surface, there is still a
great deal to know about what is going on with the water under the ground.
Water moves from place to place via rivers and streams on the surface
and is collected at different points in ponds and lakes. This same type of
activity takes place under the ground; however, the boundaries of such
underground water bodies are much more difficult to define. Also, water
is flowing through and against different soil and rock deposits, rather than
over and around different topographic features.
It is possible to imagine how a subterranean river might be formed. It
may start with the bottom of an ancient lake lined with a thick clay deposit
from many thousands of years of clay particles being deposited. After a
change in the weather pattern, the river that feeds this lake may start to
flow much more vigorously. Due to the higher intensity of water flow,
heavier sand, and even gravel, particles start to get deposited on the lake
bottom. After several thousands of years, a layer of sand and gravel would
have built up several feet thick. Then, the lake returns to a gentle flow and
clay particles begin to build and build again. Many more thousands of
years pass and the increasing pressures caused by further soil deposition
force the layers of soil deeper and deeper into the ground.
The highly pervious sand and gravel layer would be contained by low
permeability clay material on either side. In this case, groundwater would
be able to easily flow across and into and out of the sand and gravel, but
not be able to do so as easily in the clay layers. This particular sequence of
soil deposition acts like an underground river. The clay materials make up
the banks, and the sand and gravel act as the open channel through which
water can flow. This is one example of a geologic formation that might be
considered an aquifer.
Aquifers are very important because they act, in many locations, as
plentiful sources for fresh drinking water. A well set into a low permeability


clay, such as that which was deposited in an ancient lake described previously, would supply a limited flow of water due to the low permeability.
On the other hand, if the sand and gravel layer was tapped, the high permeability would yield an excellent source for fresh clean water. Aquifers
can also interconnect and act as transport channels for contamination.
Therefore, it is critical to protect these geologic features from becoming
contaminated. Understanding what surface and groundwater features are
located at or near a site is a key aspect of understanding the geology of a
site and as they relate to an environmental site investigation.

Field identification of different geologic conditions at a site can save a
great deal of time and money when conducting an environmental site
investigation. Surface indicators such as the vegetation can lead to important indications about the site geology. Field identification of geologic formations, rock types, soil types, and groundwater conditions is an art that
can only be perfected over time with many years of experience.
The usefulness of geologic formations can vary greatly depending on
the purpose of the site investigation and the plans for a site. If a site is
being selected for a small building and a parking lot, for example, the
site with several large rock outcrops is obviously less ideal than a flat
site with sandy gravel because the rock will need to be leveled with fill
or excavated. The size of a site will also determine how useful geologic
formations are in site investigation. If a quarter acre lot is being used
for a residential p roject, an outcrop hundreds of feet away will not be
very useful for giving clues about the subsurface conditions. However, if
a highway alignment is being planned over several miles, any geologic
features in the region of the alignment could be investigated and yield
useful information.
A simple geologists hammer is an invaluable tool for the field identification of rock types. The hammer can be used to break rock fragments
away from outcrops and to crack open small boulders to get a good look at


the crystal structure of the material. In the absence of a hammer, another

simple trick can be used to get an idea of what rocks are at site: By finding
two dissimilar rocks and hammering them together, one rock will usually
break before the other. The weaker rock, which has been broken, can be
examined along with the stronger rock and assumptions about the different materials can be made.
Sedimentary rocks are characteristically softer than the other rock
types and, in many cases, can be broken up with bare hands. Sedimentary
rocks are relatively weak and the crystal structure usually indicates the
type of soil from which the rock was formed. Figure 1.6 shows a typical
sandstone as an example of sedimentary rock.
Metamorphic rocks often carry some of the qualities of the parent
rock but are, in general, much harder. The crystal structure is typically fine
grained. Shale is a sedimentary rock formed in a similar fashion as sandstone. Shale is not formed from sand, but from clayey mud. Once the shale
is formed, any number of geologic processes may morph the rock. Shale
can be metamorphosed into slate, phyllite, schist, or gneiss, depending on
the level of change that has been induced by time and extreme pressures.
Figure 1.7 shows a sample of a mixture of quartzite and phyllite that was
created by the metamorphoses of sandstone and shale. This example of
metamorphic rock was formed when the parent rocks were forced deep
under the ocean of the North Atlantic. In Figure 1.7, the original layering
of the parent materials can be seen, and in Figure 1.8, the folding that
was created and solidified over hundreds of thousands of years remains to
show how the stratification changed over time.
The key identifier for igneous rocks is that they are relatively hard
and dense. Additionally, intrusive rocks (such as granite) typically have
larger crystal structure visible to the naked eye. Extrusive rocks (such as

Figure 1.6. Typical sandstone.


Figure 1.7. An image of quartzite and phyllite rock metamorphosed

from sandstone and shale.

Figure 1.8. Another image of the metamorphic quartzite and phyllite.

basalt) typically have a fine grained structure and might be easily mistaken
for a sedimentary rock like sandstone. The variations in crystal structure
are related to the time that the materials have to cool from the molten
state. Intrusive rocks are labeled as such because they cooled inside the
earth and, therefore, cooled slowly resulting in a relatively large crystal
structure. Extrusive rocks are cooled faster and typically result in a finer


Figure 1.9. An image of granite merging with other minerals.

crystal structure. Figure 1.9 shows a sample of granite interrupted by a

dike. Notice the difference in crystal structure across the photograph. The
uniform finer looking crystal structure at the top of Figure 1.8 is basically
what resembles typical granite, which is an intrusive igneous rock
composed of the minerals quartz, mica, and feldspar. In the lower portion
of Figure 1.9, the difference in crystal size is clear and the separation of
the different minerals is apparent. This rock structure was created when
a large fracture in the rock opened, creating a dike, allowing dissimilar
materials to be forced together. The difference in temperatures and cooling
processes is what results in the varied crystal structure.
As with geologic formations and rock types, field identification of the different soil types is something that can only be perfected over time with past
experience. Soil classification is discussed in more detail in Chapter3. For
now, learning to identify the five general soil types in the field will benefit
students and practitioners of site investigation.
On a first site visit, before ordering soil borings or test pits, it is often
helpful to have a general idea of what soil types are at the site. Gravel
deposits are generally indicated by broken rock fragments or various sizes




Figure 1.10. An example of (a) rounded and (b) angular particles.

of stones and pebbles. By examining the individual particles, gravel can

be classified as angular gravel or rounded gravel. Angular gravel will have
stone fragments that have recently broken from the parent rock or have
been made by mechanical crushing equipment. Figure 1.10 shows an
example of (a) rounded and (b) angular particles.
Sandy soils can be identified by holding a small handful of the material and rubbing it between the palm and fingers. If the material feels gritty
and does not stick together, it is likely a sand. The fine grain soils, silt
and clay, can be very difficult to distinguish from one another without a
hydrometer test or a burn test. Silt, in general, is more organic in nature
and will show a significant loss in mass when fired in a muffle furnace
at 600C for one hour. Clay is generally less organic in content and will
usually not exhibit such loss.
The importance of water as the chief agent of change on geological features was noted previously. Of the different elements of the water cycle,
groundwater is of particular importance because it provides a means of
transportation for contamination in soil. Groundwater is the only element
of the water cycle that exists within the soil and has the best potential to
transport contamination within the ground. Aquifers, which act as underground rivers and pools of water within the soil, are also key components of site geology and investigation. Aquifers act as the primary flow
channels for groundwater and, therefore, also provide superhighways for
contaminant transport within the ground. For these reasons, the field identification and mapping of groundwater and aquifers is a critical part of an
environmental site investigation.
Most initial contamination of soil comes from a surface release or
from an underground release to the soil. It may also go directly into the
groundwater and be moved laterally and vertically by the movement of
the water, getting less and less concentrated the further it moves from


the source. The contaminants that are not deposited directly into the
groundwater often are moved into the groundwater through the vertical
flow of infiltration water, but, most commonly, a significant portion of the
contamination remains in the soil at the site of the release. Moreover, as
the groundwater moves through the soil, any contaminants contained in
it tend to deposit onto the soil particles the water is flowing through and
thereby contaminates larger volumes of the soil than would have been
contaminated in the absence of the infiltration and the movement of the
The location of groundwater is typically indicated by the depth of the
groundwater table or phreatic surface. In most cases, this depth can be
simply determined with an acceptable degree of accuracy by measuring
down from the top of a bore hole to the water surface. By reading the
depth of the water table in several borehole locations, the water table can
be identified across the site. Note that in drilling operations, the borehole
will often be filled with water, or water might be expelled from the borehole by the drilling equipment. Site investigators should provide time for
the water level to equilibrate before reading the depth of the water table.
Additionally, the water table in some coastal areas that are close enough to
tidal waters might be subject to the fluctuations of the tide.
Another anomaly, in terms of groundwater, is a perched water table.
In some cases, an impervious soil layer will keep water ponded at an elevation above the natural water table in the area. In this case, the water
creates the illusion that the water table is much closer to the surface
than it actually may be. Site investigators can avoid problems with this
by drilling a well below the level at which water is first encountered. If
the soil boring stops at the first sign of water, and the site investigator
assumes that this is the water table, there is no way to know if this is in
fact only perched water, or the true water table. By continuing the boring
into multiple layers of soil below the first encounter with water, the site
investigator can understand if the true water table has been reached or if
there is perched water at the site.
Aquifers are not as easily identifiable as the groundwater table. Generally speaking, the groundwater table is usually determined at one depth
below the ground surface for each site, or parts of a site. Aquifers, on
the other hand, vary in three dimensions and can intersect only part of a
site, or be large enough to cross the area of several states. In most areas,
aquifers can be identified on geologic maps indicated by past research by
geologists and engineers. The important concept for site investigators to
understand is how variations in soil permeability create aquifers below the
ground. This understanding, described earlier in this chapter, along with


the foresight to identify aquifers at site by way of geologic maps and other
past records is the best way to identify the presence of aquifers at site.


Economic and political factors often play a large role in the depth and
accuracy of environmental site investigations. The amount of time and
resources needed to provide a complete and thorough site investigation are often lacking due to one or more economic or political factors.
Asimple construction project, for example, might have a very limited
budget for design and construction. If the site investigation uses up time
and money from the project schedule and budget without adding any
additional perceived value to the end product, the resources allocated to
the site investigation are likely to be limited or reduced. In this section,
some of the special considerations that result from the somewhat peculiar
nature of environmental sites are presented as a heads up for first time site
In general, when referring to a site as an environmental site, the implication that the site has been damaged by some form of contamination is typical. For this reason, all dealings at the site will be, in many ways, governed
or in some way affected by the presence of the contamination. The site
investigators, therefore, will be at a great advantage if the contamination
at site is well understood. During the site characterization process, many
different contaminants may be identified at a site. For reporting purposes,
the different contaminants are often simply referred to as the contaminants
of concern (COC). For the safety of site workers, including site investigators, all relevant safety information regarding the COC must be identified
early in the site investigation process. Each COC will have a different set
of properties and affect the site and site workers in different ways. Of particular importance, in addition to understanding adverse health effects of
the COC, site investigators should be aware of the potential for spread of
the contaminants at site. Also, for future design work, it will be important
to understand the ability or inability to transport contaminants off site.
This understanding, in most cases, will be found by checking compliance
with local, state, and federal regulations. If a site investigator plans to ship


soil samples off site for testing, for example, the site investigator should
be aware of what special provisions must be made for the transportation
of the materials that may be considered hazardous.
For materials in the ground, whether classified as a hazardous contaminant or not, groundwater is typically the key transporter. For this reason, site investigators dealing with environmental sites should develop
an understanding of the site groundwater and groundwater flow in the
initial stages of the project. In some instances, in extremely dry climates,
the groundwater might be so deep below the surface (several hundred
feet) that it is not even worth monitoring. In other cases, a project might
be subject to tidal and seasonal changes in the water table and have water
close to the ground surface. In the later instance, installation of groundwater monitoring wells and other equipment is an important, and often
costly, part of the project.
Groundwater flow has the potential to transport contamination off
site. For this reason, monitoring of groundwater flow around contaminated
sites can become a very political issue. Imagine that a site groundwater
is contaminated and the plume of contamination is slowly progressing
toward a property line. The party responsible for the contamination will
potentially be opening the door for many additional technical and legal
problems if the contamination is allowed to enter the neighbors property.
Site investigators, designers, and project planners will all benefit from an
early investigation and understanding of the site groundwater flow.
As noted in the previous section, the most common transporter of contamination across a site, or from one site to another, is groundwater. The
same water that permeates underground aquifers and feeds streams, rivers,
lakes, springs, and other water features is at risk when contamination is
on the move. Permeable aquifers that can act as a superhighway for contaminant transport, along with all public water supplies, must be diligently
guarded against contamination. A site investigator dealing with a contaminated site with groundwater flow should be well aware of any such features, even if they are several miles away. Proper precautions should also
be taken to notify the municipality tapping the nearby water supply.



Many sites with contamination will interfere with delicate ecosystems
such as wetlands and tidal zones. These zones are protected by special
environmental regulations that vary depending on the location. If such
features are present at site, the site investigator will be benefited by understanding the limits of these zones and having them clearly delineated early
in the project. In some cases, the remedy will cause unavoidable damage
or destruction to the sensitive areas, in which case rehabilitation or replication of the delicate ecosystem will often be required. Many technical,
legal, and political challenges can obstruct the flow of a project if a special
ecosystem, such as a wetland, is involved. On the other hand, if the special
zone is identified early in the project by a thorough site investigation, the
inclusion of such features can add to the uniqueness, intrigue, and success
of the project.
In many cases, the purpose for an environmental site investigation is to
design and plan a remedy for cleanup of the site. Unfortunately, because
of the hazardous nature of the work, environmental remediation can often
be extremely costly. Unlike most other engineering projects that will, in
most cases, provide some financial or social benefit to the stakeholders
involved, an environmental remediation project will typically have a limited return. If an investor builds a new building, for example, he will be
motivated by the potential earnings from rent or sale of the building; this
motivation is not usually present in the case of a site remedy. Providing
funding for environmental sites and cleanup remedies is, therefore, often
a long drawn out process of litigation between government regulators and
those deemed responsible for the contamination.
Site remedies can become tremendous construction projects. The
tremendous capital at stake to complete such a project, and the fact
that return on the remedial work is often close to nothing, responsible
parties will often use any means possible to prolong or reduce the implementation and scope of the environmental remedy. This behavior then
causes an ethical and political debate for all parties involved. Responsible parties are trying to cut costs or find some way to gain a return on
the work. Regulators are interested in ensuring that funding is provided
for the project and allocated appropriately. Engineers, designers, and
scientists are often left with the task of finding a balance between the


legal teams of the two aforementioned parties. This is obviously no easy

task, and the balance of correctly designing a suitable remedy within the
allotted budget can be a delicate balancing act. In all cases, the d ecisions
that need to be made will stem from the initial site investigation. The
engineer or designer who is forced into making a difficult decision,
while trying to keep many parties happy, will be thankful when all the
necessary information about the site is readily available. The site investigation is the process that brings that information forth.

AASHTO Soil Classification
System, 58
American Association of State
Highway and Transportation
Officials (AASHTO) system, 56
Aquifers, 1013, 1719, 20
ASTM D1557 Standard Test
Methods for Laboratory
Compaction Characteristics of
Soil Using Modified Effort, 49
ASTM D1586 Standard Test
Method for Penetration Test
and Split-Barrel Sampling of
Soils, 34
ASTM D2216 - 10. Standard
Test Methods for Laboratory
Determination of Water
(Moisture) Content of Soil and
Rock by Mass, 42, 44
ASTM D2435/D2435M. Standard
Test Methods for OneDimensional Consolidation
Properties of Soils Using
Incremental Loading, 54, 55
ASTM D2487 Standard Practice
for Classification of Soils for
Engineering Purposes (Unified
Soil Classification System), 56
ASTM D3441 Standard Test
Method for Mechanical Cone
Penetration Tests of Soil. (deals
with mechanical cones), 35

ASTM D422 - 63 Standard

Test Method for Particle-Size
Analysis of Soils, 42, 46
ASTM D4318 Standard Test
Methods for Liquid Limit,
Plastic Limit, and Plasticity
Index of Soils, 42, 47
ASTM D5778 Standard Test
Method for Performing
Electronic Friction Cone and
Piezocone Penetration Testing
of Soils, 35
ASTM D698 Standard Test
Methods for Laboratory
Compaction Characteristics of
Soil Using Standard Effort,
42, 49
ASTM D854 - 14 Standard
Test Methods for Specific
Gravity of Soil Solids by Water
Pycnometer, 42, 45
Atterberg limits, 4748
Bedrock, 69
Calcite, 7
Clay, 9, 17
Cone penetrometer (CPT) test,
Contaminant transport, 1920,


of concern, 6263
location of, 6768, 6970
testing and classification, 6364
transport, 1920, 2627
CPT test. See Cone penetrometer
(CPT) test
Data collection, 3839
Dolomite, 7
Dynamic site investigation, 7174
initial investigation, 7273
monitoring and modeling, 7374
Earth crust, 45
Environmental site investigation
aquifers and public water
supplies, 20
comparing test results, 6465
contaminants, 1013, 1719,
6264, 6770
contaminant transport, 1920,
economic and political factors
in, 12
field data, 5455, 6667
geologic maps and soil maps,
goals, 1
groundwater flow, 20
historical information, 2327
aerial photography, 2325
contaminant transport, 2627
previous projects, 2526
office background investigation,
political implications, 2122
site mapping, 66
subsurface investigation, 3339
surface investigation, 2933
topographic maps, 27
wetland and tidal zones, 21
Extrusive rocks, 8, 1416

Field identification, 1319
Field data, 6667
Geologic formations
faults, 6
field identification, 1319
fold, 5
fractures, 67
Geologic maps, 2728
Geologic timescale, 34
basics, 35
overview, 12
site, 23
Google Earth, 23
Gravel, 8, 16, 59
Groundwater, 1013, 1719,
aquifers, and contamination,
1013, 1719
as contaminant transport, 1920,
sampling and monitoring wells,
surface and, 3132
Hand auger, 37
Hand sampling tools, 37
Health hazards, 3334
Igneous rocks, 8, 1416
Index testing
Atterberg limits, 4748
consolidation, 5455
moisture calculation, 4445
particle-size analysis, 46
permeability, 5154
shear strength, 4951
soil compaction tests, 49
specific gravity, 4546
Intrusive rocks, 8, 14

Index 79

Kant, Immanuel, 3
Limestone, 7
Logs, soil boring, 3839
site, 66
subsurface, 68
Marble, 7
Metamorphic rocks, 78, 14
Mottling, 6162
Nebular Hypothesis, 3
Organic material, 9, 6061
Particle-size analysis, 46
Permeability, 5154
Quartzite, 7, 14
igneous, 8
metamorphic, 78
sedimentary, 7
Sample disturbance, 43
accuracy and reliability, 7071
ground water, 3738
hand sampling tools, 37
soil borings and, 3436
Sanborn Fire Insurance maps, 25
Sand, 89, 5960
Sandstone, 7
Sedimentary rocks, 7, 14

Shear strength, 4951

Silt, 9
Site mapping, 66
Soil, 89, 41, 6869
Atterberg limits, 4748
classification, 5558
contaminants, 6264
dynamic site investigation,
health hazards, 3334
laboratory testing, 4455
consolidation, 5455
index testing, 4349
permeability, 5154
sample disturbance, 43
shear strength, 4951
particle-size analysis, 46
site classification, 6571
soil compaction tests, 49
specific gravity, 4546
types and applications, 5862
clay, 9, 5859
gravel, 8, 59
mottling, 6162
organic material, 9, 6061
sand, 89, 5960
silt, 9
Soil borings and sampling, 3436
ground water sampling and
monitoring wells, 3738
hand sampling tools, 37
logs and data collection, 3839
test pits, 3637
Soil Classification System, 46,
Unified, 5658
Soil compaction tests, 49
Soil maps, 2728
Soil stratum, 56
faults, 6
fractures, 67
Soil types and applications, 5862
clay, 9, 5859
gravel, 8, 59


mottling, 6162
organic material, 9, 6061
sand, 89, 5960
silt, 9
Specific gravity, 4546
Split-Barrel Sampling of Soils, 34
Split-spoon method, 14, 35
SPT. See Standard penetration test
Squantum Point Park, 25, 27
Standard penetration test (SPT), 34
Stratigraphy, 5
Subsurface investigation
groundwater sampling and
monitoring wells, 3738
hand sampling tools, 37
health hazard implications, 3334
logs and data collection, 3839
soil borings and sampling, 3436
test pits, 3637
Subsurface mapping, 68
Surface investigation
outcrops, soil/rock, 31
site investigation exercise, 3233

surface and groundwater, 3132

vegetation and topography,
Surface water, 3132
Tidal zones, 21
Topographic maps, 27
Unified Soil Classification System
(USCS), 5658
U.S. Department of Transportation
Federal Motor Carrier Safety
Administration, 63
U.S. National Fire Protection
Agency (NFPA), 6364
Vegetation, 2931
Water Pycnometer, 45
Wetlands, 21