ASTM D6938 - 10

    Standard Test Method for In-Place Density and Water Content of Soil and Soil-Aggregate by Nuclear Methods (Shallow Depth)

    Active Standard ASTM D6938 | Developed by Subcommittee: D18.08

    Book of Standards Volume: 04.09


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    Significance and Use

    The test method described is useful as a rapid, nondestructive technique for in-place measurements of wet density and water content of soil and soil-aggregate and the determination of dry density.

    The test method is used for quality control and acceptance testing of compacted soil and soil-aggregate mixtures as used in construction and also for research and development. The nondestructive nature allows repetitive measurements at a single test location and statistical analysis of the results.

    DensityThe fundamental assumptions inherent in the methods are that Compton scattering is the dominant interaction and that the material is homogeneous.

    Water ContentThe fundamental assumptions inherent in the test method are that the hydrogen ions present in the soil or soil-aggregate are in the form of water as defined by the water content derived from Test Methods D2216, and that the material is homogeneous. (See 5.2)

    Note 1—The quality of the result produced by this standard test method is dependent on the competence of the personnel performing it, and the suitability of the equipment and facilities used. Agencies that meet the criteria of Practice D3740 are generally considered capable of competent and objective testing/sampling/inspection, and the like. Users of this standard are cautioned that compliance with Practice D3740 does not in itself assure reliable results. Reliable results depend on many factors; Practice D3740 provides a means of evaluating some of those factors.

    1. Scope

    1.1 This test method describes the procedures for measuring in-place density and moisture of soil and soil-aggregate by use of nuclear equipment. The density of the material may be measured by direct transmission, backscatter, or backscatter/air-gap ratio methods. Measurements for water (moisture) content are taken at the surface in backscatter mode regardless of the mode being used for density. It is the intent of this subcommittee that this standard replace D2922 and D3017.

    1.1.1 For limitations see Section 5 on Interferences.

    1.2 The total or wet density of soil and soil-aggregate is measured by the attenuation of gamma radiation where, in direct transmission, the source is placed at a known depth up to 300 mm (12 in.) and the detector (s) remains on the surface (some gauges may reverse this orientation); or in backscatter or backscatter/air-gap the source and detector(s) both remain on the surface.

    1.2.1 The density of the test sample in mass per unit volume is calculated by comparing the detected rate of gamma radiation with previously established calibration data.

    1.2.2 The dry density of the test sample is obtained by subtracting the water mass per unit volume from the test sample wet density (Section 11). Most gauges display this value directly.

    1.3 The gauge is calibrated to read the water mass per unit volume of soil or soil-aggregate. When divided by the density of water and then multiplied by 100, the water mass per unit volume is equivalent to the volumetric water content. The water mass per unit volume is determined by the thermalizing or slowing of fast neutrons by hydrogen, a component of water. The neutron source and the thermal neutron detector are both located at the surface of the material being tested. The water content most prevalent in engineering and construction activities is known as the gravimetric water content, w, and is the ratio of the mass of the water in pore spaces to the total mass of solids, expressed as a percentage.

    1.4 Two alternative procedures are provided.

    1.4.1 Procedure A

    describes the direct transmission method in which the gamma source rod extends through the base of the gauge into a pre-formed hole to a desired depth. The direct transmission is the preferred method.

    1.4.2 Procedure B

    involves the use of a dedicated backscatter gauge or the source rod in the backscatter position. This places the gamma and neutron sources and the detectors in the same plane.

    1.5 SI UnitsThe values stated in SI units are to be regarded as the standard. The values in inch-pound units (ft lb units) are provided for information only.

    1.6 All observed and calculated values shall conform to the guide for significant digits and rounding established in Practice D6026.

    1.6.1 The procedures used to specify how data are collected, recorded, and calculated in this standard are regarded as the industry standard. In addition, they are representative of the significant digits that should generally be retained. The procedures used do not consider material variation, purpose for obtaining the data, special purpose studies, or any considerations for the users objectives; and it is common practice to increase or reduce significant digits of reported data to be commensurate with these considerations. It is beyond the scope of this standard to consider significant digits used in analysis methods for engineering design.

    1.7 This standard does not purport to address all of the safety concerns, if any, associated with its use. It is the responsibility of the user of this standard to establish appropriate safety and health practices and determine the applicability of regulatory limitations prior to use.


    2. Referenced Documents (purchase separately) The documents listed below are referenced within the subject standard but are not provided as part of the standard.

    ASTM Standards

    D653 Terminology Relating to Soil, Rock, and Contained Fluids

    D698 Test Methods for Laboratory Compaction Characteristics of Soil Using Standard Effort (12 400 ft-lbf/ft3 (600 kN-m/m3))

    D1556 Test Method for Density and Unit Weight of Soil in Place by Sand-Cone Method

    D1557 Test Methods for Laboratory Compaction Characteristics of Soil Using Modified Effort (56,000 ft-lbf/ft3 (2,700 kN-m/m3))

    D2167 Test Method for Density and Unit Weight of Soil in Place by the Rubber Balloon Method

    D2216 Test Methods for Laboratory Determination of Water (Moisture) Content of Soil and Rock by Mass

    D2487 Practice for Classification of Soils for Engineering Purposes (Unified Soil Classification System)

    D2488 Practice for Description and Identification of Soils (Visual-Manual Procedure)

    D2937 Test Method for Density of Soil in Place by the Drive-Cylinder Method

    D3740 Practice for Minimum Requirements for Agencies Engaged in Testing and/or Inspection of Soil and Rock as Used in Engineering Design and Construction

    D4253 Test Methods for Maximum Index Density and Unit Weight of Soils Using a Vibratory Table

    D4254 Test Methods for Minimum Index Density and Unit Weight of Soils and Calculation of Relative Density

    D4643 Test Method for Determination of Water (Moisture) Content of Soil by Microwave Oven Heating

    D4718 Practice for Correction of Unit Weight and Water Content for Soils Containing Oversize Particles

    D4944 Test Method for Field Determination of Water (Moisture) Content of Soil by the Calcium Carbide Gas Pressure Tester

    D4959 Test Method for Determination of Water (Moisture) Content of Soil By Direct Heating

    D6026 Practice for Using Significant Digits in Geotechnical Data

    D7013 Guide for Nuclear Surface Moisture and Density Gauge Calibration Facility Setup


    ICS Code

    ICS Number Code 13.080.20 (Physical properties of soil)

    UNSPSC Code

    UNSPSC Code 11111501(Soil); 30111800(Aggregates)


    DOI: 10.1520/D6938-10

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