A review of helicopter-borne electromagnetic methods for groundwater exploration

Bernhard Siemon, Anders Vest Christiansen, Esben Auken

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

181 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

For about three decades, airborne electromagnetic (AEM) systems have been used for groundwater exploration purposes. Airborne systems are appropriate for large-scale and efficient groundwater surveying. Due to the dependency of the electrical conductivity on both the clay content of the host material and the mineralization of the water, electromagnetic systems are suitable for providing information about the aquifer structures and water quality, respectively. More helicopter man fixed-wing systems are used in airborne groundwater surveys. Helicopterborne frequency-domain electromagnetic (HEM) systems use a towed rigid-boom. Helicopterborne time-domain (HTEM) systems, which use a large transmitter loop and a small receiver within or above the transmitter, are generally designed for mineral exploration purposes but recent developments have made some of mese systems usable for groundwater purposes as well. The quantity measured, the secondary magnetic field, depends on the subsurface conductivity distribution. Due to the skin-effect, the penetration depths of the AEM fields depend on the system characteristics used: high-frequency data/early-time channels describe the shallower parts of the conducting subsurface and the low-frequency data/late-time channels the deeper parts. Typical investigation depths range from some ten metres (conductive grounds) to several hundred metres (resistive grounds), where the HEM systems are appropriate for shallow to medium deep (about 1-100 m) and the HTEM systems for medium deep to deep (about 10-400 m) investigations. Generally, the secondary field values are inverted into resistivities and depths using homogeneous or layered half-space models. As the footprint of AEM systems is rather small, one-dimensional interpretation of AEM data is sufficient in most cases and single-site inversion procedures are widely used. Laterally constrained inversion of AEM data often improves the stability of the inversion models, particularly for noisy data. Higher dimensional inversion is still not possible for standard-size surveys. Based on typical field examples the advantages as well as the limitations of AEM surveys compared to long-established ground-based geophysical methods used in groundwater surveys are discussed. In a case history from a German island an airborne frequency-domain system is used to successfully locate freshwater lenses on top of saltwater. An example from Denmark shows how a timedomain system is used to locate large-scale buried structures forming ideal groundwater aquifers.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)629-646
Number of pages18
JournalNear Surface Geophysics
Volume7
Issue number5-6
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2009

Programme Area

  • Programme Area 2: Water Resources

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