“See”  subsurface soils using surface waves

Zhiqu Lu — zhiqulu@olemiss.edu

National Center for Physical Acoustics, The University of Mississippi,

1 Chucky Mullins,

University, MS, 38677


Lay language paper 4pEA4

Presented Thursday afternoon, November 5, 2015

170th ASA Meeting, Jacksonville


Within a few meters beneath the earth surface, three distinctive soil layers are formed: a top dry and hard layer, a middle moist and soft region, and a deeper zone where the mechanical strength of the soil increases with depth.  The information of this subsurface soil is required for agricultural, environmental, civil engineering, and military applications. A seismic surface wave method has been recently developed to non-invasively obtain such information (Lu, 2014; Lu, 2015).  The method, known as the multichannel analysis of surface wave method (MASW) (Park, et al., 1999; Xia, et al., 1999), consists of three essential parts: surface wave generation and collection (Figure 1), spectrum analysis, and inversion process. The implement of the technique employs sophisticated sensor technology, wave propagation modeling, and inversion algorithm.


“Figure 1. The experimental setup for the MASW method”

The technique makes use of the characteristic of one type of surface waves, the so-called Rayleigh waves that travel along the earth’s surface within a depth of one and a half wavelengths. Therefore the components of surface waves with short wavelength contain information of shallow soil, whereas the longer wavelength surface waves provide the properties of deep soil (Figure 2).


“Figure 2. Rayleigh wave propagation”

The outcome of the MASW method is a soil vertical profile, i.e., the acoustic shear (S) wave velocity as a function of depth (Figure 3).


“Figure 3. A typical soil profile”

By repeating the MASW measurements either spatially or temporarily, one can measure and “see” the spatial and temporal variations of the subsurface soils. Figure 4 shows a typical vertical cross-section image in which the intensity of the image represents the value of the shear wave velocity. From this image, three different layers mentioned above are identified.



“Figure 4. A typical example of soil vertical cross-section image “



Figure 5 displays another two-dimensional image in which a middle high velocity zone (red area) appears. This high velocity zone represents a geological anomaly, known as a fragipan, a naturally occurring dense and hard soil layer (Lu, et al., 2014). The detection of fragipan is important in agricultural land managements.

“Figure 5. A vertical cross-section image showing the presence of a fragipan layer”

The MASW method can also be applied to monitor weather influence on soil properties (Lu 2014). Figure 6 shows the temporal variations of the underground soil.  This is a result of a long term survey conducted in 2012.  By drawing a vertical line and moving it from left side to right side, i.e., along the time index number axis, the evolution of the soil profile due to weather effects can be evaluated. In particular, the high velocity zones occurred in the summer of 2012, reflecting very dry soil conditions.

“Figure 6. The  temporal variations of soil profile due to weather effects”




Lu,  Z., 2014.  Feasibility of using a seismic surface wave method to study seasonal and weather effects on shallow surface soils. Journal of Environmental & Engineering Geophysics, DOI: 10.2113/JEEG19.2.71, Vol.19, 71–85.

Lu, Z. 2015. Self-adaptive method for high frequency multi-channel analysis of surface wave method, Journal of Applied Geophysics, Vol. 121, 128-139. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jappgeo.2015.08.003

Lu, Z., Wilson, G.V., Hickey, C.J., 2014. Imaging a soil fragipan using a high-frequency MASW method. In Proceedings of the Symposium on the Application of Geophysics to Engineering and Environmental Problems (SAGEEP 2014), Boston, MA., Mar. 16-20.

Park, C.B., Miller, R.D., Xia, J., 1999. Multichannel analysis of surface waves. Geophysics, Vol. 64, 800-808.

Xia, J., Miller, R.D., Park, C.B., 1999. Estimation of near-surface shear-wave velocity by inversion of Rayleigh waves. Geophysics, Vol. 64, 691-700.


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