Contact Information

Ronald Green, Ph.D.
(210) 522-5305
rgreen@swri.org

James Prikryl
(210) 522-5667
jprikryl@swri.org

Direct Current Electrical Resistivity

Image: SwRI uses multichannel, multiple-electrode resistivity systems with efficient software to rapidly and accurately conduct electrical resistivity imaging surveys. Image: SwRI uses multichannel, multiple-electrode resistivity systems with efficient software to rapidly and accurately conduct electrical resistivity imaging surveys. Image: SwRI uses multichannel, multiple-electrode resistivity systems with efficient software to rapidly and accurately conduct electrical resistivity imaging surveys.

SwRI uses multichannel, multiple-electrode resistivity systems with efficient software to rapidly and accurately conduct electrical resistivity imaging surveys.

Direct current (DC) electrical resistivity measurements are made by inducing a current into the earth between a pair of electrodes and measuring the potential of the induced current at a second pair of electrodes. The resistivity measurement (expressed in ohm-m) represents the apparent resistivity over a volume of the earth and is a function of:

  • Soil and rock type
  • Porosity and permeability
  • Pore fluid chemistry
  • Electrode geometry and spacing

Using the electrical resistivity imaging (ERI) technique, Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) combines many individual resistivity measurements along a linear electrode array to produce a two-dimensional (2D) resistivity cross section of the subsurface environment. Measurements from various electrode separations and positions along the array provide information at various lateral and vertical locations beneath the array.

Using the "roll-along" survey technique, the length of a resistivity transect can be substantial (kilometers). Scientists have conducted resistivity surveys that have generated continuous 2D cross sections with lengths on the order of 1,500 m.

Direct Current Electrical Resistivity Applications

  • Direct current resistivity applications include:
  • Delineating the depth, thickness, and lateral extent of geologic strata (sands and gravels associated with paleo-stream channels)
  • Locating geologic and structural anomalies (karst features and faults)
  • Locating buried wastes (landfill boundaries)
  • Mapping saltwater intrusion and contaminant plumes

Resistivity data are typically collected at ground surface. The data are a response of the earth to an active or passive signal. Data are interpreted, generally using an inversion method, to determine the properties of the earth that generate such a response. Typically, one-dimensional (1D) soundings using a Schlumberger array are used to create a 1D (layered earth) image of the subsurface, and a dipole-dipole array is used to generate a 2D profile or image of the subsurface.

Advantages of Direct Current Electrical Resistivity

  • Good vertical resolution
  • Depth range of as much as 300 feet, depending on the electrode array used and the total cable length
  • Various electrode configurations or arrays are available for different applications

Limitations of Direct Current Electrical Resistivity

  • Requires intrusive ground contact
  • Susceptible to interference from nearby metal fences, buried pipes, and utilities
Image: Paleo-stream channel deposits serve as shallow aquifers for water supply development and as a source of sand and gravel. This electrical resistivity imaging profile illustrates the depth, extent, and thickness of electrically resistive paleo-stream channel deposits beneath a portion of a floodplain.

Paleo-stream channel deposits serve as shallow aquifers for water supply development and as a source of sand and gravel. This electrical resistivity imaging profile illustrates the depth, extent, and thickness of electrically resistive paleo-stream channel deposits beneath a portion of a floodplain.


Image: Shallow karst features in limestone environments can affect building and foundation designs. This electrical resistivity imaging profile illustrates the probable depth and extent of electrically resistive karst features, such as caves and solution cavities, beneath a retail development site.

Shallow karst features in limestone environments can affect building and foundation designs. This electrical resistivity imaging profile illustrates the probable depth and extent of electrically resistive karst features, such as caves and solution cavities, beneath a retail development site.

Related Terminology

electrical resistivity  •  electromagnetics  •  environmental geophysics  •  geophysics  •  gravity  •  ground conductivity  •  ground-penetrating radar  •  induced polarization  •  magnetics  •  Near-Surface geophysics resistivity  •  surface-based geophysics  •  transient electromagnetics

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Southwest Research Institute® (SwRI®), headquartered in San Antonio, Texas, is a multidisciplinary, independent, nonprofit, applied engineering and physical sciences research and development organization with 11 technical divisions.

04/15/14