Improving Efficiencies in Collecting 20-Year-Old Undisturbed Soil in Alaska

January 24, 2023   |  

KCB has supported tailings management at the Greens Creek Mine near Juneau, Alaska for nearly two decades. A section of the mine is located in Admiralty Island National Monument, an ecologically sensitive area that is home to one of the largest populations of brown bears in the world and various species of wildlife.

As part of an environmental upgrade project, KCB was tasked with excavating a portion of the mine’s tailings pile and collecting undisturbed soil samples that had been buried for up to 20 years.

A Modified Method to Soil Collection

Collecting undisturbed soil samples is an important component of most site investigation programs. The standard method of collecting undisturbed samples is by piston tube sampling in drill holes or block sampling in test pits.

The corner of the existing tailings pile was going to be excavated which would expose tailings that had been buried in the pile for more than 20 years. This provided an opportunity to collect undisturbed samples of these tailings for advanced geotechnical laboratory testing. The conventional method of block sampling was not practical due to the impact on construction schedule and issues with handling and transporting such samples from the site.

KCB devised a modified method and sampling device to collect undisturbed tube samples from ground surface. The sampling device could be placed directly on a prepared surface to recover in situ samples. The sampler consisted of a hydraulic ram to push modified Shelby tubes into the tailings. The tube was then retrieved by hand and trimmed and sealed. With this approach, multiple samples could be collected from an area without disrupting construction and the samples were manageable for handling and transport from the site to the testing laboratory in California.

Benefits of a Hybrid Sampling Method

While the hybrid sampling method proved to be simple, efficient, and cost effective, the sampling device was heavy and awkward to maneuver, and relies on the weight of people to provide the reaction force for the jack to drive the tube into the ground. In stiff soils, several people are needed to collect samples. However, these challenges could be overcome without impacting sample quality and allowed the team to collect more samples that would have been able using conventional methods.

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