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Arboriculture & Urban Forestry Online
Volume 41, Issue 5 — September 2015

The Use of Ground-Penetrating Radar to Locate Tree Roots    (View PDF)

G.M. Moore and C.M. Ryder

Abstract: Until recently the only way to investigate tree root architecture and distribution involved the physical removal of soil. However, in the past decade, ground-penetrating radar (GPR), which has been used in many other industries for about 30 years, has been used to study tree roots. GPR is relatively new to Australia and the aim of this research was to assess its spatial accuracy and ability to detect tree roots. Three experiments were conducted using a 900 MHz GPR device (Tree Radar®). The first experiment tested the ability of GPR to detect roots of sizes 10 mm, 20 mm, and 40 mm in diameter at depths of 200 mm, 400 mm, and 800 mm, while the second experiment tested its capacity to resolve two roots placed close together. Roots of 20–30 mm in diameter were placed in pairs at 20 mm, 40 mm, and 80 mm apart at depths of 200 mm, 400 mm, and 800 mm. The final experiment used GPR to analyze the in situ root system of a small Pistacia chinensis (Chinese pistachio) after which the root system was excavated using an AirSpade® and counts of root numbers were undertaken and compared with the predicted results. GPR detected and discriminated tree roots accurately at 200 mm depth, but as the depth increased to 400 mm and then to 800 mm, the levels of error increased, probably due to the choice of antenna available for the experiments, leading to the presence of phantom roots in some results and the misdetection of true roots in others. Confounding of the signal with unexpected interference or inadequate signal processing was most likely the cause. In the final experiment, GPR missed many small roots in the trenches close to the tree and appeared to detect multiple roots as one. In the outer trenches, GPR predicted 52 roots in total but excavation revealed only one in these disturbed urban soils.

Keywords: Discriminating Roots; Ground-Penetrating Radar; Root Architecture; Root Detection; Tree Radar; Tree Roots.

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