Using DC resistivity tomography to detect and characterize mountain permafrost


*Now at: Institute for Meteorology and Climate Research, University of Karlsruhe, Germany. E-mail:


Direct-current (DC) resistivity tomography has been applied to different mountain permafrost regions. Despite problems with the very high resistivities of the frozen material, plausible results were obtained. Inversions with synthetic data revealed that an appropriate choice of regularization constraints was important, and that a joint analysis of several tomograms computed with different constraints was required to judge the reliability of individual features. The theoretical results were verified with three field experiments conducted in the Swiss and the Italian Alps. At the first site, near Zermatt, Switzerland, the location and the approximate lateral and vertical extent of an ice core within a moraine could be delineated. On the Murtel rock glacier, eastern Swiss Alps, a steeply dipping boundary at its frontal part was observed, and extremely high resistivities of several MΩ indicated a high ice content. The base of the rock glacier remained unresolved by the DC resistivity measurements, but it could be constrained with transient EM soundings. On another rock glacier near the Stelvio Pass, eastern Italian Alps, DC resistivity tomography allowed delineation of the rock glacier base, and the only moderately high resistivities within the rock glacier body indicated that the ice content must be lower compared with the Murtel rock glacier.