Interpretation of Stratified Fill, Frost Depths, Water Tables, and Massive Ice within Multi-Frequency Ground-Penetrating Radar Profiles Recorded Beneath Highways in Interior Alaska

Wednesday, 17 December 2014
Steven A Arcone, U.S. Army Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory, Hanover, NH, United States
Road Radar generally refers to ground-penetrating radar (GPR) surveys intended to investigate pavement construction using pulses centered above 1 GHz. In interior Alaska thick sand and gravel grading and its frozen state by late winter generally afford up to 10 m of signal penetration at lower frequencies. Consequently, this penetration potentially allows identification of pavement issues involving frost heave and thaw settlement, while the smooth surface allows assessment of GPR performance in permafrost areas under ideal survey conditions. Here I discuss profiles using pulse center frequencies from 50 to 360 MHz, recorded over sections of the Steese and Elliott Highways within and just north of Fairbanks, respectively, and of the Tok Highway near Glennallen. Construction fill is easily recognized by its stratification; where marginally present along the Elliott it is replaced by steeply dipping horizons from the underlying schist. The frost depth and water table horizons are recognized by phase attributes of the reflected pulse, as dictated by the contrasts present in dielectric permittivity, their relative depths, and their continuity. Undulating stratification in the sand and gravel fill indicates thaw settlement, as caused by the melting of buried massive ice. The Tok section reveals the top and likely the bottom of massive ice. Generally, signal penetration is greatly reduced beneath the water table and so the highest resolution, at 360 MHz, covers all horizons. There is rare evidence of a permafrost table because it is most likely masked or nearly coincident with the water table. Permafrost penetration in frozen silts is a long-standing problem for GPR, for which I discuss a possible cause related to Maxwell-Wagner dielectric relaxation losses associated with unfrozen water.