In situ root identification through blade penetrometer testing - Part 1: Interpretative models and laboratory testing

G. J. Meijer, G. Bengough, J. Knappett, K. Loades, B. Nicoll, I. Mukov, M. Zhang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Citations (SciVal)
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Root architecture and reinforcement are important parameters to measure the safety of vegetated slopes and stream banks against slope instability and erosion or to assess the stability of plants against environmental loading (e.g. windthrow of trees). However, these are difficult to measure without time-consuming sampling or counting procedures. Previous studies proposed using a penetrometer with an adapted geometry, and showed that individual root breakages could be detected as sudden drops in penetrometer resistance. However, there are no existing models to derive root properties from the measured traces. Here, several interpretative models are developed and their performance at identifying and characterising buried acrylonitrile butadiene styrene root analogues of varying diameter and architecture in sand are assessed. It was found that models, assuming the analogues broke in bending rather than tension, provided good predictions for the force-displacement behaviour. The simple analytical bending model developed here was shown to perform almost as well as more sophisticated numerical models. For all models, the predictions of additional penetrometer force required to break the root analogue were more accurate than predictions for lateral root displacement required to reach failure. The root analogue diameter and to a lesser extent the soil resistance and root angle were shown to affect the penetrometer resistance strongly. Root branching, root length and the distance between the point of load application and a root boundary (root tip or parent root) had a much smaller effect. When the root failure mechanism, root strength, root stiffness and soil resistance are known, an accurate prediction of the root diameter can be made based on the root peak resistance value identified from a blade penetration test. Penetrometer testing, a test which is easy to perform in the field, coupled with an accurate interpretative model might therefore be an effective method to rapidly quantify the spatial distribution, depths and diameters of roots.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)303-319
Number of pages17
Issue number4
Early online date16 Mar 2018
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2018


  • In situ testing
  • Penetrometers
  • Vegetation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geotechnical Engineering and Engineering Geology
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)


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