Ground penetrating radar: A new technology to locate, assess and preserve tree roots in urban development sites

2010 | Nina Bassuk, Cornell University

This study involved locating tree roots with a ground-penetrating radar (GPR) system and then examining excavated roots in the same soil volume to compare the accuracy of the GPR system with true root location. In 2003, Acer platanoides ‘Emerald Queen’ Norway maples were planted in trenches containing two compacted soils (native silt loam and CU-Structural Soil). The trenches were paved with 10 cm of concrete. In 2008, a GPR system consisting of a 900 MHz antenna mounted on a root-scanning cart was used to conduct linear scans on top of the concrete. Immediately after scanning, the concrete was removed for selected trees and whole root systems were excavated (as an entire system attached to the tree trunk) using an air excavation tool. Regression analysis using mixed effect models showed that the radar reliably predicted root presence in both the native and structural soils. The root count correlations were r2 = 0.76 and r2 = 0.81 for the native and structural soils, respectively. In the compacted native soil under concrete, the radar out­put overestimated the presence of roots at the minimum detection diameter but did provide a signal associated with root presence at this detection level. In the structural soil under concrete, the radar output reliably predicted roots with only slight overestimation. This study showed that GPR data reliably predicted the presence and locations of roots under the concrete pavement in two compacted soils.

Year: 2010

Funding Duration: 1-3 years

Grant Program: John Z Duling

Grant Title: Ground Penetrating Radar: A New Technology to Locate, Assess and Preserve Tree Roots in Urban Development Sites

Researcher: Nina Bassuk

Key words: Ground Penetrating Radar; root mapping; root preservation

Peer Reviewed Publications from Grant:
Bassuk, NL, Grabosky, J, Mucciardi, A and Raffel, G. 2011 July. Ground Penetrating Radar Accurately Locates Tree Roots in Two Soil Media Under Pavement. Journal of Arboriculture and Urban Forestry. 37(4) 160-166. View the Publication>

General Audience/Trade Publications: none

Presentations: none

For more information on this project, contact the researcher via TREE Fund at