Considerations on sample holder design and custom-made non-polarizable electrodes for Spectral Induced Polarization measurements on unsaturated soils

Wednesday, 17 December 2014
Carole Kaouane1, Michel C. Chouteau1, Cyrille Fauchard2 and Philippe Cote2, (1)Ecole Polytechnique de Montreal, CGM, Montreal, QC, Canada, (2)IFSTTAR Institut Français des Sciences et Technologies des Transports, de l'Aménagement et des Réseaux, Bouguenais Cedex, France
Spectral Induced Polarization (SIP) is a geophysical method sensitive to water content, saturation and grain size distribution. It could be used as an alternative to nuclear probes to assess the compaction of soils in road works. To evaluate the potential of SIP as a practical tool, we designed an experiment for complex conductivity measurements on unsaturated soil samples.
Literature presents a large variety of sample holders and designs, each depending on the context. Although we might find some precise description about the sample holder, exact replication is not always possible. Furthermore, the potential measurements are often done using custom-made Ag/AgCl electrodes and very few indications are given on their reliability with time and temperature. Our objective is to perform complex conductivity measurements on soil samples compacted in a PVC cylindrical mould (10 cm-long, 5 cm-diameter) according to geotechnical standards. To expect homogeneous current density, electrical current is transmitted through the sample via chambers filled with agar gel. Agar gel is a good non-polarizable conductor within the frequency range (1 mHz -20kHz). Its electrical properties are slightly known. We measured increasing of agar-agar electrical conductivity in time. We modelled the influence of this variation on the measurement. If the electrodes are located on the sample, it is minimized. Because of the dimensions at stake and the need for simple design, potential electrodes are located outside the sample, hence the gel contributes to the measurements. Since the gel is fairly conductive, we expect to overestimate the sample conductivity.
Potential electrodes are non-polarizable Ag/AgCl electrodes. To avoid any leakage, the KCl solution in the electrodes is replaced by saturated KCl-agar gel. These electrodes are low cost and show a low, stable, self-potential (<1mV). In addition, the technique of making electrode can be easily reproduced and storage and maintenance are simple. We measured a variation of less than 1 mS/m of the electrolyte conductivity during the time of measurement (~1h40) for a conductivity range 25-100 mS/m, showing no ionic contamination of the solution by the electrodes. An improvement to the cell design would be to control the internal temperature of the sample.