Pipes, Tree Roots or Unmarked Graves? Using Ground Penetrating Radar for Forensic Geophysics

Intro-Level Sarah Kruse, University of South Florida
Tonian Robinson, University of South Florida
Christine Downs, University of South Florida
3 unit

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Initial Publication Date: April 16, 2021


This module introduces students to the basics of ground penetrating radar (GPR) with a focus on several societally-important applications. The data used in the module come from surveys conducted to map utility lines (e.g., pipes and cables) or located unmarked graves. Students use real data -- provided in the module -- to perform data analysis and interpretation. There is also an option to collect and analyze one's own GPR data, using instrumentation resources available at the EarthScope Primary Instrument Center (see instructions for making an educational use request on the EarthScope Geophysics Field Education page).

This module is intended to require approximately two (2) weeks of class time, excluding the optional collection and analysis of one's own data. Teaching materials include: presentations that may be used in lectures or provided for self-guided learning and links to instructive videos, animations, and interactive applets. Assessment material includes individual and group work, reading, computer work, and optional report writing.

Strengths of the Module

Use of real data: This module considers the capabilities and limitations of GPR in urban/highly developed settings and for forensic applications. Unit 1 introduces the application of GPR and qualitatively compares the method to more familiar remote sensing methods seen in the medical field. Unit 2 asks students to model the GPR response of a target and apply their new understanding to real data. Students analyze GPR data and make interpretations. Unit 3 considers the limitations of GPR by presenting both successful and failed cases of GPR application. Students are asked to describe why the method failed and how to assess feasibility.

Connects students to the world around them: Unit 1 introduces GPR as just one of many methods used to "see" something that is hidden. Students are asked to draw on their current understanding of common medical imaging methods and draw comparisons to GPR. The module as a whole focuses on the application of GPR to locating buried utilities (pipes, etc.) and to local graves.

Flexibility: This module can be used as individual units or as a complete module. Unit exercises can be used as homework or in-class/lab assignments. The exercises support student learning individually or in small groups. All units offer opportunities for group discussion in the form of think-pair-shares, though an instructor may also use the links to articles to facilitate discussions. Units may be used in both large and small classes. Unit 2 requires that students use an app to work interactively with real geophysical data.

A great fit for courses in

  • Geology
  • Environmental Science
  • Earth Science
  • Earth System Science
  • Geophysics
  • Forensic Science
  • Engineering

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