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    Short note on the Principles of Geophysical Methods for Groundwater Investigations
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    1. Definition of Main Hydrogeological Parameters
    2. The Porosity
    3. The Permeability
    4. The Transmissivity and the Production Yield
    5. The Conductivity
    6. Electrical Methods for Groundwater
    7. Magnetic Resonance Method for Groundwater
    8. Geophysical Instruments for Groundwater Investigation

    Definition of Porosity and Permeability

    Porosity and Permeability

    Conductivity and Salinity of Waters

    Definition of Main Hydrogeological Parameters

    Groundwater is characterized by a certain number of parameters which geophysical methods are trying to determine from surface measurements, mostly indirectly, but sometimes directly. The most usual parameters are the porosity, the permeability, the transmissivity and the conductivity.

    The Porosity

    The porosity is the ratio between the volumes of the pores and that of the rock. When dealing with saturated layers (under the water level, that is to say under the vadose zone where the pores are filled with air and with water), the water content is equal to the porosity.

    Porosity = (volume of pores) / (volume of the rock)

    Being a ratio, the porosity is expressed in %. The total porosity also includes the water located in clay, even if clay is impermeable. For the exploitation of water, it is important to determine the porosity of free water (water which can move), and hydrogeologists speak of the effective porosity which is the ratio of the volume of the pores which are interconnected to the volume of the rock. As an order of magnitude, the effective porosity can be for instance 80% of the free water porosity. The porosity of a fissured rock can be a few percents, that of a gravel or a sand of the order of 30 percents.

    The Permeability

    The permeability (which, as defined in the usual hydrogeological language, is actually the hydraulic conductivity) is the ability of a material to let a water current flow through it when an hydraulic pressure is applied, can be defined on a sample of rock by the Darcy law:

    Permeability = (Yield / Section) / Pressure gradient

    The yield being expressed in m 3 /s, the sample section in m 2 , and the pressure gradient (difference of water pressure / sample length) in m/m, the unit of permeability is m/s.

    If the porosity is almost zero the permeability is necessarily also very weak. But the porosity can be high, such as in the case of a clay layer, and the permeability very weak. The porosity and the permeability are not two parameters independent from each other: the permeability already includes the information of the porosity for determining the volume of water which can be extracted from the ground. The permeability is linked not only to the volume of the available water, but also to the size of the pores: for a given value of the porosity, large size pores lead to a higher permeability than small size pores, as the water flows more easily in the first case than in the second one.

    The permeability of a clay layer can be as low as 10 -10 m/s, of a weakly permeable layer 10 -6 m/s, of a highly permeable layer 10 -2 m/s

    The Transmissivity and the Production Yield

    The transmissivity of an aquifer layer is the product of the permeability by its thickness:

    Transmissivity = Permeability x Thickness

    The transmissivity is expressed in m 2 /s. The interest of this parameter is that it is proportional to the production yield obtained by pumping:

    Production yield = param. x Transmissivity x Drawdown

    The drawdown is the difference of level of the water in the pumping well and far away from it. The ratio yield / drawdown is called the specific capacity of the well. In the field, the transmissivity of a formation is usually determined by hydrogeologists by a pumping test.

    The Conductivity

    The electrical conductivity of the water is usually expressed in microSiemens / cm:

    Conductivity (microS/cm) = 10 4 / Resistivity (ohm.m)

    The electrical conductivity is the ability of a material to let an electric current flow through it when an electical voltage is applied . It is linked to the quantity of salts dissolved in the water:

    Conductivity (microS/cm) = 1.4 x Total Dissolved Salts (mg/l)

    A usual rule for drinkable water is 10 ohm.m, or 1000 microS/cm, or 0.7 g/l

    Electrical Properties of Rocks

    Resistivity and Porosity of Rocks

    Measurement of Resistivity

    How to Detect an Aquifer from the Value of the Resistivity?

    Electrical Methods for Groundwater

    Basic Principle

    Groundwater, through the various dissolved salts it contains, is ionically conductive and enables electric currents to flow into the ground. Consequently, measuring the ground resistivity through resistivity equipment gives the possibility to identify the presence of water, taking in consideration the following properties:

    • a hard rock without pores or fracture and a dry sand without water or clay are very resistive: several tens thousands ohm.m
    • a porous or fractured rock bearing free water has a resistivity which depends on the resistivity of the water and on the porosity of the rock (see below): several tens to several thousands ohm.m
    • an impermeable clay layer, which has bound water, has a low resistivity: several units to several tens ohm.m
    • mineral orebodies (iron, sulphides, .) have very low resistivities due to their electronic conduction: usually lower or much lower than 1 ohm.m

    Archie Law

    The resistivity of a porous non-clayey material can be estimated by the following Archie law formula: rock resistivity = a x (water resistivity) / (porosity)n , where "a" and "n" are constants which depend on the nature of the rock. In a very rough approximation, "a" can be taken equal to 1 and "n" to 2. For example, a 10 ohm.m water and a 20% porosity give a rock resistivity of the order of 250 ohm.m.

    This formula means that a low value of a non-clayey rock resistivity means either a high porosity or a low water resistivity, hence an uncertainty in the interpretation of resistivity anomalies. As mentioned previously, clay formations also give low resistivity values.

    Vertical and lateral Investigations

    For measuring the ground resistivity, a current has to be transmitted with two electrodes, while the potential created on the surface by the circulation of this current into the ground is measured with two other electrodes. Increasing progressively the distance between the transmitting and the receiving electrodes permits to increase the depth of investigation (sounding array for aquifer depth and thickness determination); translating the four electrodes together permits to detect lateral change of resistivity (profiling array, for fault or fracture localization).

    Groundwater Detection

    To identify the presence of groundwater from resistivity measurements, one can look to the absolute value of the ground resistivity, through the Archie law: for a practical range of fresh water resistivity of 10 to 100 ohm.m, a usual target for aquifer resistivity can be between 50 and 2000 ohm.m.

    Most of the time it is the relative value of the ground resistivity which is considered for detecting groundwater: in a hard rock (resistant) environment, a low resistivity anomaly will be the target, while in a clayey or salty (conductive) environment, it is a high resistivity anomaly which will most probably correspond to (fresh) water.

    In sedimentary layers, the product of the aquifer resistivity by its thickness can be considered as representative of the interest of the aquifer. However, electrical methods cannot give an estimation of the permeability but only of the porosity.

    The contrast of resistivity between a fresh water and a salted water (coming from a sea intrusion for instance) is high and the depth of the water wedge is usually well determined with electrical methods.

    MRS Method: Field Set Up

    MRS Method: Meaning of Parameters

    Relation Between the Time Constant and the Permeability

    Expression of the Yield in Hydrogeology

    Magnetic Resonance Method for Groundwater

    Basic Principle

    The Magnetic Resonance Method permits a direct detection of water from surface measurements: it consists in exciting the H protons of the water molecules with a magnetic field produced by a loop of current at a specific frequency. The amplitude of the magnetic field produced in return by these protons in the same loop is proportional to the water content, while the time constant of the decay is linked to the mean pore size of the formation, thus to the permeability.

    The clay layers which have bound water produce responses with very short time constants, filtered by the equipment. The only response measured is coming from free water.

    Determination of the Porosity

    The measurement of the initial amplitude of the response of the protons determines the porosity of the formation at a depth which is function of the intensity of the current which is transmitted into the loop. For a given wire loop position, the sounding consists in repeating the measurements for various values of the intensity of the current which correspond to various depths of investigation.

    As in other electrical methods, there are cases of equivalence which give the same response for a thick layer (10m) with little water (5%) and for a thinner layer (5m) with more water (10%). However, the product of the water content by the layer thickness is constant (10mx5% = 5mx10% = 0.5m), which mean that the total quantity of water available is well determined (0.5m).

    Estimation of the Permeability and Transmissivity

    After the excitation field is turned off, the protons loose their magnetic energy progressively, at a rhythm which depends on their mean free displacements. This is the reason why when the pores have a small size, the time constant of the decay is short, while when the pores have large dimensions this time is longer. The time constant of the decay is thus linked to the permeability of the rocks. The complete empirical formula for the permeability from Magnetic Resonance data is:

    Estimated permeability = coeff. x porosity x (Time constant)2

    In the same way, the transmissivity can be estimated by:

    Estimated transmissivity = coeff. x porosity x thickness x (Time constant)2

    The product of the porosity by the thickness represents the total quantity of water available, which, as seen previously, is well determined. The proportionality coefficient can be determined after a calibration with results of pumping tests in the area.

    Conditions of Application of the Method

    The Magnetic Resonance method can hardly be used in magnetic rocks such as volcanics, because the amplitude of the Earth magnetic field which determines the frequency of excitation of the water molecules has to be stable in the area of investigation.

    Besides, the method is very sensitive to natural and cultural electromagnetic noises such as power lines, pipes, fences, etc.

    Finally, in the present stage of the technology, the maximum depth of investigation which can be reached with this method to detect an aquifer layer is 150m.

    Being a property of H protons, the Magnetic Resonance method do not see the difference between fresh and salted water.

    The main advantage of the Magnetic Resonance method is that it permits to directly detect the presence of water at depth. In particular, this method can find water when resistivity method do not make the difference between a formation with and without water due to the low contrast of resistivity of both cases. It is also the only geophysical method capable of estimating the permeability and of predicting a yield, after calibration.

    Geophysical Instruments for Groundwater Investigation

    Are you looking for methods to locate and quantify ground water resources? Below you will find a selection of geophysical instruments for groundwater investigation (standard, four electrode, resistivity meters) offering a wide range of transmitting power and capabilities:

    SYSCAL Junior Resistivity Meter


    Click here to rent or find out more about the Syscal Junior Resistivity Meter!


    SYSCAL Pro Switch 48 Imaging Resistivity System


    Click here to rent or find out more about the Syscal Pro Multi Channel Resistivity System!

    SYSCAL Kid Switch 24 Imaging Resistivity System


    Click here to rent or find out more about the Syscal Kid Switch 24!

    VIP 4000 and ELREC 6 Electrical System


    Click here to rent or find out more about the VIP 4000 and ELREC System!


    NUMIS Plus Magnetic Resonance System



    Click here to rent or find out more about the NUMIS Plus Magnetic Resonance System!


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