Evaluation of Mechanically Stabilized Earth Walls with Microwave Synthetic Aperture Radar Imaging


Mechanically stabilized earth (MSE) walls have been increasingly used in geotechnical engineering due to their cost-effectiveness, construction efficiency, and tolerance to differential settlement. MSE walls have previously been observed to fail in the presence of voids and moisture behind them. To date, effective detection of voids and moisture changes with nondestructive evaluation is yet to be developed. In this study, a wideband (1–4 GHz) microwave synthetic aperture radar imaging technique (Popovics et al. 2014) is implemented to generate two-dimensional (2D) slice images of an MSE wall system at various depths into the wall. Two typical 1,520 x 1,460 x 178 mm (length x width x thickness) reinforced concrete wall panels with backfill sands were investigated. The maximum size of coarse aggregates in concrete was 25 mm. The front face of each wall panel included a decorative layer with an average thickness of 38 mm and a surface roughness of 20–50 mm. The effects of the surface roughness of wall panels, moisture, and voids in backfill sands were investigated. The moisture content was controlled by varying the water-to-sand ratio of the backfill sands from 0 to 0.18 with a step of 0.06. As shown in Fig. 1, the change in moisture in a 350 x 250 x 76 mm (length x width x height) sandbox attached behind the first wall was successfully detected. The color scale represents the intensity of reflected microwave signals. To simulate voids in backfill sands, foam blocks measuring 127 x 127 x 51 mm and 254 x 254 x 51 mm (length x width x thickness) were individually placed in a 660 x 610 x 51 mm sandbox and directly attached to the second wall. The foam blocks were detected and located successfully as illustrated in Fig. 2.


Electrical and Computer Engineering

Second Department

Civil, Architectural and Environmental Engineering


Financial support for this study was provided by the U.S. Department of Transportation under the auspices of Mid-America Transportation Center (Grant No. 25-1121-0003-196).

Keywords and Phrases

Imaging Method; Synthetic Aperture Radar; Wall

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Article - Journal

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© 2017 American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), All rights reserved.

Publication Date

01 May 2017