Automated Time-lapse ERT for Improved Process Analysis and Monitoring of Frozen Ground


C. Hilbich, Geographical Institute, University of Zurich, Switzerland. E-mail:


A new automated electrical resistivity tomography (A-ERT) system is described that allows continuous measurements of the electrical resistivity distribution in high-mountain or polar terrain. The advantages of continuous resistivity monitoring, as opposed to single measurements at irregular time intervals, are illustrated using the permafrost monitoring station at the Schilthorn, Swiss Alps. Data processing was adjusted to permit automated time-effective handling and quality assessment of the large number of 2D electrical resistivity profiles generated. Results from a one-year dataset show small temporal changes during periods with snow cover, and the largest changes during snowmelt in early summer and during freezing in autumn, which are in phase with changes in either near-surface soil moisture or subsurface temperature. During the snowmelt period, spatially variable infiltration processes were observed, leading to a rapid increase in soil moisture and corresponding decrease in electrical resistivity over a period of a few days. This infiltration led to the onset of active-layer thawing long before the seasonal snow cover vanished. Statistical analyses showed that both spatial and temporal variability over the course of one year are similar, indicating the significance of spatial heterogeneity regarding active-layer dynamics. As a result of its cost-effective ability to monitor freezing and thawing processes even at greater depths, the new A-ERT system can be widely applied in permafrost regions, especially in the context of long-term degradation processes. Copyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.