Point vibration measurements for the detection of shallow-buried objects

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A major UK initiative, entitled ‘Mapping the Underworld’, is seeking to address the serious social, environmental and economic consequences arising from an inability to locate accurately and comprehensively the buried utility service infrastructure without resorting to extensive excavations. Mapping the Underworld aims to develop and prove the efficacy of a multi-sensor device for accurate remote buried utility service detection, location and, where possible, identification. One of the technologies to be incorporated in the device is low-frequency vibro-acoustics, and application of this technique for detecting buried infrastructure is currently being investigated. Here, the potential for making a number of simple point vibration measurements in order to detect shallow-buried objects, in particular plastic pipes, is explored. Point measurements can be made relatively quickly without the need for arrays of surface sensors, which can be expensive, time-consuming to deploy, and sometimes impractical in congested areas.

At low frequencies, the ground behaves as a simple single-degree-of-freedom (mass–spring) system with a well-defined resonance, the frequency of which will depend on the density and elastic properties of the soil locally. This resonance will be altered by the presence of a buried object whose properties differ from the surrounding soil. It is this behavior which can be exploited in order to detect the presence of a buried object, provided it is buried at a sufficiently shallow depth. The theoretical background is described and preliminary measurements are made both on a dedicated buried pipe rig and on the ground over a domestic waste pipe. Preliminary findings suggest that, for shallow-buried pipes, a measurement of this kind could be a quick and useful adjunct to more conventional methods of buried pipe detection.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)27-33
JournalTunnelling and Underground Space Technology
Early online date3 Sep 2012
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2014


  • Vibration, Point measurement, Buried object detection, Buried infrastructure, Shallow-buried object