The tunnel boring machine (TBM) is used extensively to mechanically excavate tunnels. To optimize the mechanical drilling and work safely, an estimate of the geology to be drilled is necessary. We consider using the elastic waves produced by the TBM cutting wheel to obtain seismic-while-drilling (SWD) information for predicting the geology ahead of the drilling front. This method uses accelerometers mounted on the TBM together with geophones located along and outside the tunnel, similar to the technique successfully used to drill oil and geothermal wells. Study of noise and the resolution of the signal produced by the large-diameter cutting head shows that nonstationary noise separation can be achieved by locating sensors at the front and rear ends of the tunnel. The (higher) resolution in front of the TBM is limited by pilot delays, while the (lower) lateral resolution is limited by the radial dimension of the TBM. Analysis of seismic data acquired in a field test shows that P- and S-wave arrivals have a wide frequency band and high amplitude in seismic traces measured 700 m away from the drilling front. In comparison with SWD applications in wells, tunnel SWD technology has the advantage of allowing direct access to the tunnel front, which makes it easy to connect the TBM reference sensors for while-drilling monitoring. This method can be successfully applied without interfering with drilling activity to monitor tunnel excavation continuously, reduce risks, and optimize drilling.

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