Application of thermal neutron radiography for the mass transport of moisture through freezing soil

  • Michael A.R. Clark

    Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


    This thesis reports on the development of a technique to evaluate hydraulic conductivities in a soil (Snowcal) subject to freezing conditions. The technique draws on three distinctly different disciplines, Nuclear Physics, Soil Physics and Remote Sensing to provide a non-destructive and reliable evaluation of hydraulic conductivity throughout a freezing test. Thermal neutron radiography is used to provide information on local water/ice contents at anytime throughout the test. The experimental test rig is designed so that the soil matrix can be radiated by a neutron beam, from a nuclear reactor, to obtain radiographs. The radiographs can then be interpreted, following a process of remote sensing image enhancement, to yield information on relative water/ice contents. Interpretation of the radiographs is accommodated using image analysis equipment capable of distinguishing between 256 shades of grey. Remote sensing image enhancing techniques are then employed to develop false colour images which show the movement of water and development of ice lenses in the soil. Instrumentation is incorporated in the soil in the form of psychrometer/thermocouples, to record water potential, electrical resistance probes to enable ice and water to be differentiated on the radiographs and thermocouples to record the temperature gradient. Water content determinations are made from the enhanced images and plotted against potential measurements to provide the moisture characteristic for the soil. With relevant mathematical theory pore water distributions are obtained and combined with water content data to give hydraulic conductivities. The values for hydraulic conductivity in the saturated soil and at the frozen fringe are compared with established values for silts and silty-sands. The values are in general agreement and, with refinement, this non-destructive technique could afford useful information on a whole range of soils. The technique is of value over other methods because ice lenses are actually seen forming in the soil, supporting the accepted theories of frost action. There are economic and experimental restraints to the work which are associated with the use of a nuclear facility, however, the technique is versatile and has been applied to the study of moisture transfer in porous building materials and could be further developed into other research areas.
    Date of Award1989
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorRoger J Kettle (Supervisor)


    • thermal neutron radiography
    • mass transport
    • moisture
    • freezing soil

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