Electrical resistivity tomography of vadose water movement


  • William Daily,

  • Abelardo Ramirez,

  • Douglas LaBrecque,

  • John Nitao


Cross borehole electrical resistivity tomography (ERT) was used to image the resistivity distribution before and during two infiltration experiments. In both cases water was introduced into the vadose zone, and the change in resistivity associated with the plume of wetted soil was imaged as a function of time. The primary purpose of this work was to study the capabilities and limitations of ERT to image underground structure and ground water movement in the vadose zone. A secondary goal was to learn specifics of unsaturated flow in a complex geologic setting. Tomographs of electrical resistivity taken before infiltration image coarser, well-drained soils (sands and gravels) as more resistive zones, whereas finer grained soils (silts and clays), which hold more water by capillarity, are imaged as more conductive. Images of changes in resistivity during infiltration show growth of the water infiltration plume with time that is consistent with known geology. In the ERT images we see the effects of capillary barriers and infer differences between capillary-driven flow through fine sediments and gravity-driven flow through very permeable sediments. Images are consistent with numerical flow simulations using hydrological parameter values consistent with soil types inferred from well logs. ERT can be a useful tool to monitor movement of circuitous moisture fronts in a heterogeneous field setting that would go undetected by borehole measurements.