Advancement of Using Portable Free Fall Penetrometers for Geotechnical Site Characterization of Energetic Sandy Nearshore Areas

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Virginia Tech


Portable Free Fall Penetrometers (PFFPs) are lightweight tools used for rapid and economic characterization of surficial subaqueous sediments. PFFPs vary in weight, shape and size with options for using add-on units. The different configurations enable deployments in various environments and water depths, including the nearshore zone where conventional methods are challenged by energetic hydrodynamics and limited navigable depth. Moreover, PFFPs offer an opportunity to reduce the high site investigation costs associated with conventional offshore geotechnical site investigation methods. These costs are often a major obstacle for small projects serving remote communities or testing novel renewable energy harvesting machines. However, PFFPs still face issues regarding data analysis and interpretation, particularly in energetic sandy nearshore areas. This includes a lack of data and accepted analysis methods for such environments. Therefore, the goal of this research was to advance data interpretation and sediments characterization methods using PFFPs with emphasis on deployments in energetic nearshore environments.

PFFP tests were conducted in the nearshore areas of: Yakutat Bay, AK; Cannon Beach, AK; and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' Field Research Facility's beach, Duck, NC. From the measurements, the research goal was addressed by: (1) introducing a methodology to create a regional sediment classification scheme utilizing the PFFP deceleration and pore pressure measurements, sediment traces on the probe upon retrieval, and previous literature; (2) investigating the effect of wave forcing on the sediments' behavior through correlating variations in sediment strength to wave climate, sandbar migration, and depth of closure, as well as identifying areas of significant sediment mobilization processes; and (3) estimating the relative density and friction angle of sand in energetic nearshore areas from PFFP measurements. For the latter, the field data was supported by vacuum triaxial tests and PFFP deployments under controlled laboratory conditions on sand samples prepared at different relative densities.

The research outcomes address gaps in knowledge with regard to the limited studies available that investigate the sand geotechnical properties in energetic nearshore areas. More specifically, the research contributes to the understanding of surficial sediment geotechnical properties in energetic nearshore areas and the enhancement of sediment characterization and interpretation methods.



Free-fall penetrometer, nearshore site investigation, sediment characterization, sand friction angle