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Chapter 3

Resistivity Methods
Resistivity methods use a DC or very low frequency current injected into the ground through electrodes
(and are therefore galvanic methods). Very low frequency methods are generally preferred as periodically
changing the direction of current ow prevents the build up of ions near the electrodes which would aect the
applied potential. Generally, two electrodes are used to inject current into the ground and two other electrodes
are used to measure the potential dierence. Other systems make use of only three electrodes, or use long linear
current sources (consistent ground contact is dicult with linear systems adding a source of error). Deviation
of the potential from that expected for a homogenous half-space can be used to deduce information about the
electrical properties of the subsurface. Since both the injected current and the resulting potential are measured,
they can be combined to obtain a value for the resistance (and hence resistivity) of the subsurface.
3.1 Equipotential Line Method
This is a xed source method that allows the drawing (mapping) of equipotential lines at the Earths surface.
Field work is similar to the SP method, except that an articial current source is used to generate the measured
potential.
x
y
+ !
+I !I
P(x,y)
r
1
r
2
a
Figure 3.1: Geometry for the equipotential line method
For a homogeneous Earth the potential at the observation point is
V
P
=
I
2
_
1
r
1

1
r
2
_
=
I
2
_
1
(x
2
+y
2
)
1/2

1
((a x)
2
+y
2
)
1/2
_
(3.1)
21
Resistivity 22
If x = a/2, then V
P
= 0. The potential prole between the two current inducing electrodes is given by
V
P
=
I
2
_
1
x

1
a x
_
(3.2)
+ !
current
equipotentials
A B
Figure 3.2: A schematic of the current paths and equipotential lines at the surface of a homogeneous half-space.
Current is generated by the applied potential between electrodes A and B.
The zero potential lies half way between the electrodes. Potential measurements are generally carried out
in the middle third of the region between A and B. If there is a buried body with anomalous conductivity the
current ow will be diverted. Current ow will tend to concentrate in a more conductive (less resistive) region
and avoid a less conductive (more resistive) region. Current ows perpendicular to the equipotential lines (i.e.
along the potential gradient) which are also distorted by the presence of an anomalous body.
a) b)
Figure 3.3: Schematics of the current paths (dashed arrows) and equipotential lines (solid lines) in the vicinity
of a body that is anomalously a) conductive and b) resistive.
3.2 Fixed Source Methods
In these methods there are two electrodes (denoted A,B or C
1
,C
2
) used to apply the potential which generates
the current ow are kept at xed positions, while two electrodes (denoted M,N or P
1
,P
2
a grid measuring the potential dierence between grid points.
For a homogeneous half-space the potential dierence between M and N is
V = V
M
V
N
=
I
2r
1

I
2r
3

I
2r
2
+
I
2r
4
(3.3)
Resistivity 23
A
A B
V
M N
r1
r2 r3
r4
Figure 3.4: A schematic (in map view) of the geometry in the xed source method. A potential is applied,
between the xed electrodes (A,B - also called the current electrodes) and the resulting current measured by
the ammeter. The potential between points on the surface is measured using the mobile electrodes (M,N - also
called the potential electrodes).
Since the potential, current and geometry are all observed we can solve for the resistivity

a
=
V
I
2
_
1
r
1
+
1
r
4

1
r
2

1
r
3
_
1
=
V
I
G (3.4)
where G is known as the geometric factor (some denitions of G do not include the factor of 2 ). Note the
subscript a that has been added to the resistivity. This formula gives the resistivity for a perfectly homoge-
neous, isotropic, semi-innite half-space, in practice geologic settings will contain some sort of heterogeneity or
anisotropy (or both) and the resistivity obtained by equation (3.4) is not the true resistivity of the ground be-
neath the probe,
a
is known as the apparent resistivity. Were the subsurface an ideal half-space, then
a
would
remain constant as the potential electrodes are moved; instead one will nd that
a
varies and the standard
procedure is to assign the obtained value of apparent resistivity to the point halfway between M and N.
The xed source method can be used to generate an (apparent) resistivity map of an area. However, the
size of the area is limited by restrictions on the separation of A and B; it is dicult to generate sucient current
if the electrodes are far apart. Therefore, it is often necessary to relocate A and B in order to map the entire
area of interest. The problem then becomes one of ensuring overlap of area from adjacent apparent resistivity
surveys, often the obtained
a
values do not agree due to variations in ground properties and quality of contact
between the old and new current electrode positions.
3.3 Moving Source Methods
In moving source methods both the current electrodes and the potential electrodes are moved, in this case it is
important to keep the array geometry xed. A number of dierent electrode arrays (or spreads) are used (see
below). One example is the Wenner array in which the distance between adjacent electrodes is equal.
A B M N
a a a
Figure 3.5: Geometry of the Wenner array
Resistivity 24
For this array the potentials are
V
M
=
I
2a

I
4a
=
I
4a
V
N
=
I
2a
+
I
4a
=
I
4a
V
MN
= V
M
V
N
=
I
2a
(3.5)
that is
a
=
V
MN
I
2a (3.6)
There are two methods whereby the arrangement of electrodes can be altered to check for the level of
errors in the survey. The rst is known as the check of reciprocity, the two electrode arrangements shown below
should give identical values of V
MN
and hence
a
.
A M N B
M A B N
The second method is the check of superposition and makes use of three electrode arrangements, known as the
alpha, beta and gamma congurations.
A M N B
A B N M
A M B N
The potentials measured from these three congurations should obey
(V
MN
)

= (V
MN
)

+ (V
MN
)

(3.7)
The agreement should be within 3% to be considered acceptable.
Electrode Arrays In addition to the Wenner array discussed above, the most common array types are the
Schlumberger and dipole-dipole arrays. The standard layout of these arrays are shown in gure 3.6; however,
there are many variations possible. The geometric factors of the standard arrays are
G
Schlum
=

b
_
a
2

b
2
4
_
, a 5b (3.8)
G
dd
= n(n + 1)(n + 2)a (3.9)
A B M N
b
a
A B M N
a a na
n=5
a) b)
Figure 3.6: Geometry of the a) Schlumberger and b) dipole-dipole arrays
Each array has advantages and disadvantages; for example, the Wenner array has the best vertical reso-
lution, the dipole-dipole array the best depth penetration and the Schlumberger array is considered the most
Resistivity 25
suitable for electrical proling. The resolution characteristics of the spreads are described by array sensitivity
kernels, which describe how sensitive the measured apparent resistivity is to a change in true resistivity at
a given location in the subsurface. The choice of which array to use will depend on your exploration goals,
location, time and manpower.
In addition to the choice of array geometry there are several choices for the employed methodology when
conducting moving source measurements.
Proling Moving the array along a line keeping the geometry xed,
a
is calculated and assigned to the point
halfway between M and N, thus
a
= f(x). Can be used to study lateral resistivity variations. Note that the
shape of the prole depends on the particular electrode spread used.
!
1
!
2
x
!
a
!
1
!
2
x
!
a
Figure 3.7: Examples of resistivity proles using a Wenner array, note that dierent arrays will result in dierent
proles. In both cases
2
<
1
. More examples can be found in the suggested texts.
Mapping In this case the electrodes are moved over a 2-D grid so that one obtains
a
= f(x, y), array
geometry is again kept xed. The resulting map can be used to investigate structures such as salt domes,
weathered rocks (quarries) and buried archeological sites (gure 3.8).
Sounding In electrical sounding the centre of the array centre is kept xed and the spacing between electrodes
gradually increased (gure 3.9). This method is often called vertical electrical sounding (VES). However, al-
though depth of current penetration tends to increase with increasing electrode spacing the resulting resistivities
are not simply a function of depth
a
= f(a) = f(z). We will return to this method and consider it in more
detail below.
Resistivity 26
Figure 3.8: Example of resistivity mapping from the Whistling Elk, South Dakota archaeological site. The upper
gure shows the result of the resistivity survey carried out over an area of 17,000 m
2
requiring nearly 34,000
measurements. The lower gure shows the archaeological interpretation. For more details see the University of
Arkansas Archeo-Imaging Lab (http://www.cast.uark.edu/%7Ekkvamme/ArcheoImage/archeo-image.htm).
Resistivity 27
A B M N
O
h
!
1
!
2
!
a !
!
1
h
A B M N
O
!
1
!
2
!
a ! f(
!
1
, !
2
)
a) b)
A B M N
O
h
!
1
!
2
!
a !
!
2
c)
a
!
a
!
1
!
2
d)
Figure 3.9: Schematic of electrical sounding over a two layer Earth with
1
<
2
. The spacing between electrodes
in the Wenner array is successively increased a), b), c) and the apparent resistivity plotted against the array
spacing d).
Pseudosections and Continuous Vertical Electrical Sounding Pseudosections (gure 3.10) are created
by making repeated prole traverses with progressively increasing electrode spacing. The
a
values from suc-
cessive proles are aligned and ordered by spacing producing a 2-D grid in x a space which is contoured to
produce the pseudosection. Continuous vertical electrical sounding (CVES) also produces a section of apparent
resistivity in x a space however, in this case the image is obtained by repeating electrical sounding investiga-
tions, with successive soundings shifted horizontally. Both methods produce images that are appear similar to
a resistivity cross-section; however, it must be remembered that what is plotted is apparent resistivity and that
electrode space a does not strictly correspond to depth. The practicality of these methods are greatly increased
by the use of multichannel systems which allow multiple electrodes to be set up and simultaneously measured,
these methods also benet from the use of computers in processing and inverting the data.
3D Side by side pseudosections or CVES lines can be used to build up a three dimensional model of the
subsurface resistivity (gure 3.11). This method is the most expensive and time consuming (in terms of both
human and computer activity).
Resistivity 28
Figure 3.10: An example of resistivity pseudosection construction and modelling. The location is a faulted
Triassic sequence in Staordshire, UK. (A) 2-D model. (B) Computed apparent resistivity pseudosection. (C)
Field data. (D) Geological interpretation. From Griths et al. (1990), via Reynolds (1997)
Resistivity 29
a)
b)
Figure 3.11: An example of a 3D resistivity model. The model is displayed as a) a resistivity cube and b)
with a cut-o of 27 m in order to highlight the high resistivity features. The location consists of sand and
gravel lens within a glacial till, located in East Yorkshire, U.K. From Catt (2008).
Resistivity 30
3.4 Electrical Sounding
As discussed above, in electrical sounding the centre of the array is kept xed and the electrode spacing gradually
increased, the measurements are used to construct a curve
a
= f(a). In order to interpret this curve in terms
of the subsurface resistivity structure we must consider how the electric potential varies within the subsurface.
We know that V (z) in a homogeneous, isotropic medium is a smooth, continuous function and this remains true
in horizontally stratied medium; that is, there are no jumps in potential in the subsurface. As a result the
measured apparent resistivity will also vary smoothly with increasing electrode spacing. The shape of the
a
curve will depend on the geometry of the stratied layers. Although natural media need not be homogenous or
isotropic (or horizontally layered), electrical sounding curves are interpreted in terms of the equivalent sequence
of isotropic layers which is often sucient to help resolve ambiguities from mapping or proling results. In the
following sections we will develop the theory required to interpret sounding curves. In practice, purpose-built
computer codes are used to invert for the subsurface structure.
3.4.1 Image Theory
For relatively simple geometries we can use the method of images, which was introduced in the discussion of SP
methods, to determine the subsurface potential and interpret the sounding curve. In an innite, homogeneous,
isotropic medium the potential associated with a point current source is (recall equation (2.8))
V =
I
4r
(3.10)
As we have seen before, if there is an interface separating two media (gure 3.12), one of which is a perfect
insulator (in this case
2
= ), then the surface acts analogously to a perfect mirror and the potential within
the conductive medium is the same as if there were two identical sources within a single, innite medium of
resistivity
1
.
+
+
h
h
P
r
1
r
2
!
1
!
2
= !
+I
I
M
(= +I)
Figure 3.12: A point current source (I) is reected in the boundary with the perfect insulator producing an
identical mirror image current source (I
M
).
The potential at an observation point within the original medium is given by the sum of the potentials
from the original source and the mirror source (recall equation (2.12))
V
P
=
I
4
_
1
r
1
+
1
r
2
_
(3.11)
Resistivity 31
If both of the media are at least somewhat conductive (i.e.
2
= ), then the interface does not behave
as a perfect mirror. Instead we have an imperfect mirror and the image source strength will have some value
KI where K = 1 is the reection coecient.
+
+
h
h
P
1 r
1
r
2
!
1
!
2

+I
+KI
Figure 3.13: A point current source (I) is partially reected by the boundary between the two conductive
media. On the near side of the interface this produces a mirror image current source of strength (KI).
For a point (P
1
) within the same medium as the current source the total potential is the sum of the
potentials of the source and mirror as if they were in a single innite medium with =
1
.
V
P
1
=

1
I
4
_
1
r
1
+
K
r
2
_
(3.12)
For a point (P
2
) in the other medium, the interface acts like a lter, and the potential is that as if there
was an altered source of strength I KI within an innite medium with =
2
. Using the reection analogy;
if the boundary is a partial mirror that has reected an amount of current KI then the current that passes
through the boundary must be (1 K)I.
+
h
!
1
!
2

+(1-K)I
P
2
r
3
Figure 3.14: A point current source (I) is partially reected by the boundary between the two conductive
media. On the far side of the interface this produces a ltered current source of strength ((1 K)I).
The potential on the far side of the interface is
V
P
2
=

2
I
4
_
1 K
r
3
_
(3.13)
Equations (3.12) and (3.13) hold everywhere on their respective sides of the boundary. For an observation
point on the interface (gure 3.15) the potentials given by these two equations must be equal, so

1
I
4
_
1 +K
r
_
=

2
I
4
_
1 K
r
_
(3.14)
Resistivity 32
+
+
h
h
P
1
r
r
!
1
!
2

+I
+KI
+
h
!
1
!
2

+(1-K)I
P
2
r
Figure 3.15: A point current source (I) is reected in the boundary producing a mirror image current source
of strength (KI) in an innite medium with resistivity
1
. Equivalently, the point source is ltered by the
boundary producing a single current source of strength ((1 K)I) in an innite medium with resistivity
2
.
Note that in this case r
1
= r
2
= r
3
= r.
and we can solve for the reection coecient
K =

2

2
+
1
(3.15)
Note that if
2
<
1
, then 1 K 0 and the potential in medium 2 is larger than if there were simply
a source within an innite medium of resistivity
2
. Current preferentially ows into the less resistive medium
and thus there is more current in the more conductive medium 2 than would be expected from the given
source within an innite medium with resistivity
2
. The interface has in some sense amplied the potential in
medium 2. Conversely, since the current is draw out of medium 1 the potential there is lower than if it were an
innite medium. If
2
>
1
, then 0 K 1. In this case the current ows preferentially in medium 1. The
interface acts like a partial mirror increasing the current ow and potential in medium 1. Conversely the more
resistive medium 2 is in a sense partially shielded from the current source, resulting is less current and a lower
than expected potential in medium 2. The possible range for the reection coecient is 1 K 1 and it
is zero when
2
=
1
(i.e. when there is in fact a single, innite medium).
Having established the initial theory for the method of images let us apply it to a simple geological case
(gure 3.16). Suppose that the subsurface consists of two units separated by a horizontal interface. An upper
layer of thickness h and resistivity
1
and a lower unit of resistivity
2
which extends to innite depth. A
point current source is introduced on the surface and the resulting potential measured at various points on the
surface.
We have two interfaces to consider: the surface, with reection coecient K
0
= 1 (the air is eectively
a perfect insulator); and the geologic boundary, with a reective coecient K
1
as given by equation (3.15).
Reections will occur due to both of these interfaces. Our current source (I) sits at the surface and will be
reected in the geologic boundary resulting in an image source of strength K
1
I a depth h below the contact
(2h below the surface). Unfortunately, this is not the only image. The rst image source will be reected in
the surface resulting in a second image source of strength K
0
K
1
I = K
1
I at a height 2h above the surface.
This image will also be reected in the geologic contact resulting in a third image source of strength K
2
1
I a
depth 3h below the contact (4h below the surface). Reection of image source three in the surface results in
a fourth image source, also with strength K
2
1
I at a height 4h above the surface. We have encountered a hall
of mirrors phenomenon and the original source will, in theory, be reected an innite number of times. In
Resistivity 33
h
P
r1
!1
!2
! = !
+
+
+
+
+
r1
r
r2
r2
I
IK
2
1
IK
2
1
IK
1
IK
1
Figure 3.16: A point current source (I) is reected in the geologic boundary and the surface creating a hall of
mirrors collection of image current sources.
practice we need not account for every image, since |K| < 1 the image strengths are successively reduced and
since potential is inversely proportional to distance from the source. The need for innite images may be clearer
if one thinks about the current produced being reected back and forth between the surface and the geologic
boundary with some current also passing through the geologic contact (but not the surface) at each reection,
similar to the familiar situation from seismic reection theory. Please note that this is an analogy only, and one
that is, in fact, physically misleading. The current is not a travelling wave bouncing between the surface and
the interface at z = h; however, the net potential due to the presence of the subsurface interface can be shown
to be mathematically equivalent to a series of reections (for more on potential theory see below).
At a point on the surface, the potential due to this series of mirrored sources will be
V
P
=

1
I
2
_
1
r
+
2K
1
r
1
+
2K
2
1
r
2
+
2K
3
1
r
3
+
_
(3.16)
where r
n
=
_
r
2
+ (2nh)
2
. Note that we are using the half-space potential equation (2.10); since all of the
produced current goes into the subsurface the eective strength of the source is doubled, as discussed above.
Collecting the terms depending on K
1
we have,
V
P
=

1
I
2
_
1
r
+ 2

n=1
K
n
1
_
r
2
+ (2nh)
2
_
= (r) (3.17)
or
V
P
=

1
I
2
_
1
r
+ 2S(r, K
1
, h)
_
= (r) (3.18)
Note that the terms in the summation go to zero as n since |K
1
| < 1.
For the Wenner array (gure 3.5) the measured potential dierence
V = V
M
V
N
= (a) (2a) (2a) +(a)
V = 2[(a) (2a)] (3.19)
and if we recall the denition of apparent resistivity for this array (equation 3.6) we obtain

a
=
_
2a
I
__
2
_

1
I
2
_
1
a
+ 2S(a, K
1
, h)
1
2a
2S(2a, K
1
, h)
___
Resistivity 34

a
=
1
[1 + 4aS(a, K
1
, h) 4aS(2a, K
1
, h)] (3.20)
We can use the fact that,
aS(a, K
1
, h) = a

K
n
1
_
a
2
+ (2nh)
2
=

K
n
1
_
1 + (2nh/a)
2
(3.21)
and aS(2a, K
1
, h) = a

K
n
1
_
(2a)
2
+ (2nh)
2
=

K
n
1
_
4 + (2nh/a)
2
(3.22)
to write our expression for apparent resistivity as

a
=
1
_
1 + 4
_

K
n
1
_
1 + (2nh/a)
2

K
n
1
_
4 + (2nh/a)
2
__

a
=
1
[1 + 4F(K
1
, h/a)] (3.23)
The function F can be computed for any range of electrode spacings and any given K
1
. For small electrode
spacing h/a 1, thus F 0 and
a

1
, as would be expected. For large electrode spacings h/a 1, thus
F 1/2

K
n
1
. Because K
2
1
< 1 the innite sum can be approximated as

K
2
1
=
1
1K
1
1 which gives

a

2
. As expected the apparent resistivity varies smoothly from
1
to
2
as the electrode spacing increases.
In fact this holds true for any array geometry, although the particular form of F will dier.
Clearly, as we plot measurements of
a
against a there will be many dierent possible curves depending
on the values of
1
,
2
and h. It would be useful to consider all possible values of the physical parameters
in a compact way, this is done by constructing master curves. To construct the master curves we note that
equation (3.23) can be re-written in the form

1
= f(a/h) (3.24)
Taking the log of both sides we get
log
a
log
1
= f(log a log h) (3.25)
which is of the form y p = f(x q). Field measurements are in terms of
a
and a which can be plotted on a
log-log plot. Therefore, we obtain a eld curve
log
a
= f(log a) (3.26)
which is of the form y = f(x). The eld curve and the theoretical curve (for the correct value of K
1
) will have
the same shape but will have their origin shifted by p and q (that is, by the log of
1
and h). Master curves are
constructed from equation (3.23) which is evaluated for various values of K
1
on log-log plots of
a
/
1
vs a/h
(gure 3.17).
The eld curve is compared with the master curves which are overlain using a transparency. Keeping the
eld and master axes parallel, the transparency is shifted until a good match with a master curve is obtained
(this gives the value of K
1
). The point on the master curve where
a
/
1
= a/h = 1 will correspond to a point
on the eld curve giving the true values of
1
and h (since the master and eld curve origins are shifted relative
to each other by these values). Knowing,
1
and K
1
the value of
2
can be calculated.
Resistivity 35
!1 !0.5 0 0.5 1 1.5
!1
!0.5
0
0.5
1
Log(a/h)
L
o
g
(
!
a
/
!
1
)
k = -1.0
k = -0.8
k = -0.6
k = -0.4
k = -0.2
k = 0.0
k = 0.2
k = 0.4
k = 0.6
k = 0.8
k = 1.0
Wenner Array 2 Layer Master Curves
Figure 3.17: Master curves plotted as log(
a
/
1
) on the vertical axis against log(a/h) on the horizontal. Note
that the master curves may also be labeled by the ratio
2
/
1
. For further detail and examples see, e.g. Milsom
(1989), Reynolds (1997).
3.4.2 Potential Theory
If there are more than two layers in the subsurface, then image theory becomes much more dicult to use.
If J is the current density and E the electric eld vector in a given medium, then Ohms law states
J = E =
1

E (3.27)
where and are, respectively, the conductivity and resistivity of the medium. Since the electric eld is
conservative
J =
1

E =
1

(V ) =
1

V (3.28)
Consider some volume (v) of bounded by a closed surface (A). If this volume does not contain any current
sources or sinks, then any current that ows into v must also ow back out, i.e. the net ux through A must
be zero. Using Gausss Theorem we have
_
A
J ndA =
_
v
Jdv = 0 (3.29)
Since we can choose an arbitrary volume we must have J = 0 at all points (except at sources or sinks). Thus,
(
1

V ) =
_
1

( V ) +V
_

__
= 0 (3.30)
If the conductivity is constant within a given region, then this expression simplies to

2
V = 0 (3.31)
Resistivity 36
which is Laplaces Equation, the fundamental equation governing potential theory. Our goal is to solve Laplaces
Equation subject to the boundary conditions imposed by the particular situation of interest. For the potential
due to a point source at the surface of uniform, horizontal layers it is logical to work in the cylindrical coordinate
system (note that r will now denote the distance from the z axis, not distance from the source as above). For
a point source and laterally homogeneous layers the potential will be a function of r and z only, and Laplaces
Equation is

2
V
r
2
+
1
r
V
r
+

2
V
z
2
= 0 (3.32)
and the potential in each layer (V
i
) will be of the form
V
i
(r, z) =
_

0
_
F
i
()e
z
+G
i
()e
+z

J
0
(r) d (3.33)
where, is a integration variable, J
0
is the order zero Bessel function of the rst kind and F
i
and G
i
are
functions to be determined from the boundary conditions:
1. V 0 if r or z
2. For small (r
2
+z
2
)
1/2
we will have V =

1
I
2
(r
2
+z
2
)
1/2
3. At the surface (z = z
0
), V/z = 0 except at r = 0
4. The potential must be continuous across interfaces, V
i
(z
i
) = V
i+1
(z
i
), where z
i
is the depth of the interface.
5. The current density normal to an interface must be continuous,
1

i
V
i
z

z
i
=
1

i+1
V
i+1
z

z
i
For example, condition (1) implies that all B
i
() = 0.
The potential at the surface of a two layer Earth will be
V
P
(r) =

1
I
2
_
1
r
+ 2
_

0
K
1
e
2h
1 K
1
e
2h
J
0
(r) d
_
V
P
(r) =

1
I
2
_
1
r
+ 2
_

0
()J
0
(r) d
_
(3.34)
where K
1
is the reection coecient and () is known as the kernel function.
h
1
h
2

0
=
Figure 3.18: Geometry of a three layer Earth
For a three layer Earth we have K
1
= (
2

1
)/(
2
+
1
) and K
2
= (
3

2
)/(
3
+
2
) and the surface
potential is given by
V
P
(r) =

1
I
2
_
1
r
+ 2
_

0
K
1
e
2h
1
+K
2
e
2(h
1
+h
2
)
1 K
1
e
2h
1
K
2
e
2(h
1
+h
2
)
+K
1
K
2
e
2h
2
J
0
(r) d
_
V
P
(r) =

1
I
2
_
1
r
+ 2S
3
(r, K
1
, K
2
, h
1
, h
2
)
_
(3.35)
Resistivity 37
The expression for surface potential can be used with the geometry of the chosen array to derive an expression
for the expected apparent resistivity of the form

a
=
1
_
1 + 4F
3
_
K
1
, K
2
,
h
1
a
,
h
2
a
__
(3.36)
which, as in the two-layer case, can be used to plot master curves of log(
a
/
1
) vs log(a/h
1
) for the various
combinations of (K
1
, K
2
, h
1
, h
2
).
As before, the master curves are constructed for a given set of parameters by transforming equation (3.36)
to the form shown in equations (3.24) and (3.25) which will have shifted origins relative to the eld curve having
the form of equation (3.26). Curve matching is used as in the two layer case; the origin gives the values for

1
and h
1
and the shape of the curve will depend on K
1
, K
2
, h
2
which can be used to determine the electrical
properties of the subsurface. Note that in the two layer case the dierent curves are distinguished based on
variations in a single parameter (K
1
, or equivalently
2
/
1
) and generally 20 curves are used to nd a match.
For the three layer case the dierent master curves are distinguished by variations in three parameters (
2
/
1
,

3
/
2
and h
2
/h
1
) and it becomes necessary to consider 20 20 20 dierent master curves. Compilations of
such curves have been published and there are also programs that generate the master curves numerically.
Three layer master curves are generally divided into four classes, or types, as shown in gure 3.19. Identi-
cation of the curve type gives an indication of the subsurface electrical structure. Field curves can be matched in
their entirety or through a bootstrap method using a series of two layer curves matched to successive portions of
the eld curve. With more than three subsurface layers complete matching to master curves become impractical
and the bootstrap method or numerical tting is required.
K type
H type Q type
A type

2
>
1

2
>
3

2
<
3

2
<
1

1
>
2
>
3

1
<
2
<
3
Figure 3.19: Schematic three layer master curves
Unfortunately it is not possible to uniquely determine three layer master curves. Three inherent diculties
that you will encounter are detailed here.
Resistivity 38
Practical Ambiguity The master curves for a three layer Earth depend on parameters that are ratios of
the desired subsurface properties, i.e.
2
/
1
,
3
/
2
and h
2
/h
1
. This leads to a practical ambiguity in the
interpretation of the eld curves since proportional increases in all three resistivities or both layer thicknesses
leave the ratios unchanged, e.g. h
2
/h
1
= (2 h
2
)/(2 h
1
). Therefore, such proportional changes in subsurface
properties will not alter the eld curve and it will not be possible to uniquely determine the geoelectrical
structure.
Equivalence Principle This principle applies to K and H type curves. For K type curves the second layer is
the most resistive and current tends to ow vertically through this layer. The eect of this layer on the current
is then quantied by its transverse resistance (recall equation 1.13) T = h
2

2
. If this product remains constant,
then the eect of the layer on the eld curve is unchanged; e.g. (
2
, h
2
) = (40 m, 0.5 m) or (20 m, 1 m) both
result in T = 20 m
2
and are therefore electrically equivalent. Similarly, for H type curves the current tends
to be concentrated and horizontal within the less resistive, second layer. The eect of this layer is quantied
by its horizontal conductance H = h
2
/
2
(the inverse of equation 1.16) and beds which have equal ratios of h
2
and
2
can not be distinguished by inspection of the eld curve. Numerical modelling may be able to limit the
range of possibilities, as can a priori geological knowledge.
Principle of Suppression In general, thin layers will have small eects and are dicult to detect unless
their resistivities are much greater (or much less) than the surrounding layers. Such layers are particularly
problematic in A and Q type curves as the width of the central plateau (see gure 3.19) depends on the
thickness of the middle layer. The suppression is further exacerbated if the resistivity contrast between the top
and middle layers is similar to the contrast between the top and bottom layers (recall that may vary by orders
of magnitude in the subsurface). Again, numerical modelling and a priori geological knowledge can be useful.