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Geophysical Exploration Methods

(notes from Colorado School of Mines web site)

Geophysical Methods
Passive methods: measure natural properties or fields of the Earth, e.g., gravity, magnetic, radioactive, etc. Active methods: perturb the natural system and measures the response.

Artificial signals are introduced into the earth and subsequently recorded after being modified by the earth materials

Geophysical Methods
Gravity - Isostasy, density variations Magnetic - magnetic intensity Seismic - Reflection, Refraction Electric - Conductance/ Resistance


Lack of sufficient contrast in physical properties Inverse modeling: the process of observing the effects (geophys. measurements) and solving for the cause Warning: Various causes could produce the same effect; no unique solution/ interpretation Better to use more than one method or combine data from one method with some existing info (e.g. well logs, outcrops)


Resolution: the ability to separate two features that very close together or, the smallest change in input that will produce a detectable change in output Noise: any unwanted signal, can be from the instrument, uncontrollable conditions, operator; noise can mask the contrast or manifest as an uncertainty in the inversion process

Shallow Subsurface Investigations

Preferred method: depends on the specific objective of the investigation Examples: Magnetic method to locate a corroded steel drum containing toxic material; seismic refraction for regional mapping of shallow structures; Electrical resistivity for hydrogeological investigations

Steps in Geophysical Investigation

Method selection: technical, cost considerations Designing the survey: choosing the configuration that works best to serve the objective Acquisition: conducting the survey, data collection Processing: processing of the geophysical data; curve fitting, modeling, signal processing using soft wares (geophysicists are better at this) Iinterpretation: physical meaning of the data, choosing between the alternatives, integrating with info from other sources ,

Seismic Methods

Reflection: standard in oil exploration (deep) Refraction: for shallow features like depth to bedrock or thickness of the unconsolidated material, Also used in deciphering the internal structure of the earth (very deep, need a strong source of vibration like an earthquake) Wave/ ray behavior similar to light

Limitations- Seismic Refraction

Seismic refraction method: density of the layers must increase with depth V3 > V2 >V1 ( if V2 < V1 and V3 > V1 then V2 will not be seen by seis. refraction The ray bends towards the normal when going from denser (V1) to lighter (V2) medium; refracted into the earth When going from a lighter to denser medium the ray is refracted back to the surface


Seismic Refraction

Energy source: vibration created by a sledge hammer blow or explosive in a drill hole Wave propagation: spherical waves in a homogeneous medium, wave fronts Rays: perpendicular to wave fronts, shown on diagrams Geophone: device that detects vibrations Seismograph: device that records the arrival times

Seismic Waves

Surface wave: considered noise Body waves: P (compressional) and S (shear) Velocity depends on the density of the layers; increases with increasing density Incident, reflected, and refracted rays Ray gets deflected away from the normal (lighter to a denser medium) Critical angle: refracted wave travels along the interface

Snells Law

Material P wave Velocity (m/s) S wave Velocity (m/s) Air 332 Water 1400-1500 Petroleum 1300-1400 Steel 6100 3500 Concrete 3600 2000 Granite 5500-5900 2800-3000 Basalt 6400 3200 Sandstone 1400-4300 700-2800 Limestone 5900-6100 2800-3000 Sand (Unsaturated) 200-1000 80-400 Sand (Saturated) 800-2200 320-880 Clay 1000-2500 400-1000 Glacial Till (Saturated) 1500-2500 600-1000

Shot Record

Shot Record (travel-time curves superimposed)

Travel-Time Curves

Arrival Sequence

Geophones record the ground vibrations (vertical motion) caused by wave propagation Direct wave reaches first at the geophones closer to the source Head wave (refracted wave) reaches the the geophones located farther away from the source Reflected waves are not the first in any situation

Important Info for Refraction

Time of arrival of first wave at the geophone is the most important for refraction

Velocity Determination

Velocity = distance/ time Slope = time/ distance = 1/V Velocity = reciprocal of slope Slope is a function of the velocity of the layer alone (not thickness) Changing the thickness will change the distance at which head wave arrives first

Calculating the Thickness

Increasing the thickness of V1 from 50m to 100 increases the distance at which head wave reaches the geophone first Takes longer because it has to travel at a velocity of V1 (slow) for a longer time (100 m) compared to the original situation where it travels only a short time (50 m) Or, the distance at which it travels faster (V2) is reduced

Calculating the Thickness

Either t0 or xc could be used along with the velocities to calculate the thickness, h Conventionally t0 is used

Seismic Refraction

Time (ms) Ti = 22 ms

55 50 45 40 35 30 25 20 15 10 5 0 0 100 200 X = 150 ft 300 400 500 600 Distance ( ft)