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In-situ soil testing is essential for gaining soil property information, measuring groundwater

pressure, gathering moisture content data and other important data points, all in which can

be safety-critical in a number of different instances. In today's post we are going to take a

deep dive into a few different types of soil tests that can be performed in-situ.

In-situ soil testing can be accomplished in a variety of different ways. Every soil test has its

own place and benefit; however, the most accurate and thorough in-situ soil testing for

determining a wide variety of technical attributes is Cone Penetration Testing (CPT). Just

like everything else, determining what is best for your business is more efficient and

effective once you have determined the pros and cons for every possible solution; in this

case a testing solution.

In situ field testing consists of placing an instrument at a precise point in a borehole to

measure the in situ characteristics of a soil or rock. The standard penetration test (SPT) and

pressure meter have become standard soil investigation tools. Local permeability tests

(Lefranc test in soils and Lugeon test in rock) are widely used field tests for designing

seepage control works.


This option is dynamic, low in cost and has been widely recognized as a simplified solution

that provides useful information. While it's reasonably consistent with its results in fine-

grained sands it's not as consistent with coarse sands or clays; which can be difficult for

gathering accurate data and analysis of soil conditions.

Advantages of SPT Disadvantages of SPT

Many existing correlations. Ground at the base of borehole is
Most contractors are capable of SPT
disturbed by drilling process
testing. Prone to errors by drillers (e.g.
Obtain sample by using the split
water head, depth measurement
spoon sampler of material and that
can be tested to get soil properties. Device imposes very complex
Relatively cheap
Robust strain paths to the soil and no
Suitable for most soils
Only investigation provides soil theory at present is capable of

strength with soil sample; one can predicting what are the most

feel the soil. influential factors affecting the N

Application of Standard Penetration Testing (SPT)

This option collects important and accurate subsurface information from standard tests and

can determine important factors to your business or project, enabling you to design

foundations for structures. This type of testing is not only accurate, but it can collect data at

a speedy rate and from there will interpret the data on the site, enabling you to gain a

competitive advantage as an engineer.

Advantages of CPT Disadvantages of CPT

Many existing correlations Need to provide reaction for insertion of

Measurements allow soil classification cone (typically 5t)

but calibration boreholes preferred Not ideally suited to Stoney ground

qc values etc. , are computer logged and De-saturation of the pore pressure

not drilling or driller dependent sensor in dilatant clays

Capable of picking up the presence of Upkeep of instruments (+ their

thin sand/clay lenses. calibration): time consuming/expensive.

Measurements may be related

theoretically (at least qualitatively) with

soil parameters such as OCR and Dr

Allows in-situ determinations of the

(reloading) horizontal coefficient of


Relatively cheap and very quick

Application of Cone Penetration Testing (CPT)

Early geotechnical engineers found difficulty in determining the shear strength of very soft

and sensitive clays by means of laboratory tests as a result of the disturbance induced by

poor-quality samplers. These difficulties led to the development of the vane shear test. The

results of the test are not reliable if clay contains silt or sand. The vane shear test apparatus

consists of a four-blade stainless steel vane attached to a steel rod that will be pushed into

the ground. The height of vane is usually twice its overall width and is often equal to 10 cm

or 15 cm.

Advantages of Vane Shear Test Disadvantages of Vane Shear Test

Provides direct measurement of peak Only suitable for clays with undrained

and ultimate undrained strength strengths up to about 100 kPa

Cheap to use in shallow lightly over Can give erroneous measurements in

consolidated clays very silty clays

Not many existing correlations (apart

from those proposed by Norwegians).

Application of Vane Shear Test:

A DCP manually lifts its weight and drops into a cone that will then penetrate into the

ground. It will record the number of mm per hit as well as gather an estimate of different

soil properties, however it doesn't have as many capabilities as the CPT, and can only

estimate certain properties.

Advantages of Dynamic Cone Penetrometer Disadvantages of Dynamic Cone

Determines Stiffness in mm/blow Not for use on large stone, shell, asphalt, or

Layer Changes identified by Slope Changes concrete

Minimal surface disturbance DCP can break under repetitive drops in very

Not Rocket Science and not Nuclear stiff material or with improper removal

Method of acceptance and verification Does not measure moisture content or

Design and Strength information via density (only measures stiffness)

Correlations (CBR, Mr, etc.)

Simple reliable, cost-effective tool for shallow

pavement applications

Application of Dynamic Cone Penetrometer (DCP)


VertekCPT. (2014, May 15). In-Situ Soil Testing 101: The Different Types of Tests.

Retrieved from URL.


Soil Investigation: In Situ Testing. (n.d.). Retrieved from URL.


Gautreau, G P. The Dynamic Cone Penetrometer (n.d.). Retrieved from URL.

Anbazhagan, P. Site Characterization and Instrumentation (n.d.). Retrieved from