Application of three-dimensional electrical resistivity tomography in urban zones by arbitrary electrode distribution survey design (2023)


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Journal of Applied Geophysics

Volume 194,

November 2021

, 104460

Author links open overlay panelLinchengJiangaGangTianaBangbingWangaPersonEnvelopeXiaGuobXinxinHeaAnxingZouaHuanyuanChencTiansenYangbAmr AbdEI-Raoufad

(Video) Avoiding common problems and improving results in resistivity surveys


One of the most widely used geophysical surveying techniques in the urban environment is the electrical resistivity tomography (ERT) method. However, traditional ERT can only utilize regular grid and equidistant electrode layouts. Furthermore, all electrodes must be connected by long cables, and the existence of obstacles in urban environments makes it challenging to implement such layouts. We therefore present an optimized 3D ERT survey design consisting of arbitrarily distributed electrodes. We use the dipole-dipole array as the data acquisition unit. Each unit is independent and can be randomly distributed and adjusted in length. The unit can be used as a current or potential electrode as required. In this way, the limitations of grids and cables can be eliminated. Arbitrary distribution does not mean doing whatever you want. Must follow the basic principles of the geoelectric method. Based on this, we have formulated a set of reasonable procedures in the survey design, including the ‘main-sub unit’ and the ‘effective measurement circle’, which make the surveying system run more quickly and accurately. We select a complex urban area with partial prior information as the field sample to verify our survey design. This approach can effectively avoid the disadvantages of the traditional ERT method and obtain correct and effective results in a complex urban environment.


The acceleration of urbanization has led to a series of needs and problems unique to the urban environment, such as subway and underground space construction, groundwater pollution, or land subsidence. The corresponding detection and monitoring requirements make geophysical methods indispensable as technical support. On the other hand, due to the limitations of high urban noise, high electromagnetic interference, near-surface concrete, and the complex construction environment, it is challenging to apply conventional geophysical methods, such as seismic and electromagnetic methods in such locations. Due to its features of strong anti-interference ability, intuitive imaging results, quick and efficient measurement methods and good detection effects, electrical resistivity tomography (ERT) has been widely used in near-surface exploration fields, including hydrology, engineering, archaeology, and environmental surveys. It has thus become one of the most frequently used methods of near-surface engineering geophysical prospecting, and has achieved excellent application results (Loke and Barker, 1996; Loke et al., 2013; Maurer et al., 2010; Wilkinson et al., 2006, Wilkinson et al., 2015).

The high-density resistivity method (Electrical Resistivity Tomography, ERT or Electrical Resistivity Imaging, ERI) is an array exploration method developed based on ordinary resistivity exploration. In addition to organizing survey lines based on a regular grid (Loke and Barker, 1996), some scholars have also proposed the application of multiple parallel two-dimensional survey line data to form 3D data (Loke et al., 2013). Another system referred to as the Abem SAS system has also been practiced, a roll-along method (Dahlin and Zhou, 2004). Loke et al. (2014) and Uhlemann et al. (2018) utilized four cables in the SAS system to obtain comprehensive datasets. Even though the development of ERT's data acquisition, optimization, and processing has made it into one of the most popular engineering geophysical methods used in urban exploration, which achieves excellent application results, it still faces many hurdles in the urban environment.

Based on the implementing a multi-channel electrode switch in the system, the ERT method acquisition system is mainly divided into two types: centralized and distributed (Stummer et al., 2002). The distributed system is easy to expand by increasing the number of electrodes and has become the main realization method of a 3D high-density electrical exploration system. Two examples of this system, the FlashRES64 multi-channel ultra-high-density system (Zhe et al., 2007) and the distributed multi-channel system DCMES (Stummer et al., 2002, Stummer et al., 2004; Blome et al., 2011) support the extended collection of non-standard array data. However, both require a long cable to connect all electrodes in a series, and the data volume that can be recorded in a single session is limited. These traditional acquisition systems use equidistant or regular grid layout and standard arrays, such as Wenner, dipole-dipole, pole-pole, and Schlumberger. Nonetheless, the existence of obstacles in urban environments makes it challenging to implement this layout. The amount of data collected by different arrays and the imaging resolution are also largely different (Loke and Barker, 1996; Dahlin and Zhou, 2004; Zhe et al., 2007). Further variants to this system have also been proposed, such as ray-shaped (Nyquist and Roth, 2005), star-shaped (Tsourlos et al., 2014), ring (Brunner et al., 1999), square (Argote-Espino et al., 2013), C-shaped or L-shaped (Chávez et al., 2014; Tejero-Andrade et al., 2015) layouts, however, they are still traditional cable connections and as such limited by channels and cables. The IRIS instrument realizes the separation of the power supply and the receiving device, but it is equivalent to the pole-dipole array or similar to the traditional high-power IP method, and there are still many restrictions on the arrangement of the electrodes. Lajaunie et al. (2019) used this instrument to image landslides, but the effect was not good.

The survey design in this paper starts from good data quality. When designing the electrode position, the situation that geometric factor k is extremely large or even infinite has been excluded, so these data are not collected. These quasi null arrays can also provide adequate information (Szalai et al., 2020). The boundary effect problem has always plagued the geoelectric method, especially in one and two dimensions. The 3D method can reduce the boundary effect, which is one reason we use the 3D acquisition system. The dipole-dipole array is more sensitive, leading to the expansion of the boundary effect (Szalai and Szarka, 2008). In the survey design proposed in this paper, due to the random distribution of electrodes, three-dimensional measurement has a wider coverage and can reduce the boundary effect caused by inhomogeneity. But the boundary effect still exists and needs to be considered. The effective measurement circle rule is adopted, which can effectively reduce the influence of the boundary effect.

In the field of geoelectrical exploration, the image resolution is determined by the selection of measurement configurations and electrode locations. Stummer et al. (2004) proved that the total amount of data collected by standard arrays is far from the data volume required for the preise imaging of underground targets. The supplementation of appropriate non-standard array data can significantly improve image quality. Arbitrary distribution does not mean doing whatever you want. Randomly distributing electrodes can solve the above problems, but the rules for collecting data need to be limited; otherwise, the unguided electrode arrangement cannot get good results. Therefore, we present a novel arbitrary distributed survey design that combines the concept of the main-sub unit and effective measuring circle. The workflow of the survey design is subsequently explained in detail, and a fieldwork example is demonstrated. Results show that our system can work in complex urban environments and obtain good results.

Section snippets

Arbitrary electrode distribution survey design

We propose a novel ERT survey design aimed at the complex urban environment, and design the corresponding collection workflow.


The ‘CEPC-SPPC project’ is the abbreviation of the Circular Electron Positron Collider (CEPC)-Super Proton Collider (SPPC) project being promoted by Chinese scientists. It has proposed to build a large underground facility with a circumference of 100km (blue line in Fig. 5). The pre-feasibility of the geological conditions in Huzhou is being assessed by the survey of geological conditions in Huzhou, providing research data for the preparation of the CEPC-SPPC project. A variety of geological


Various man-made noise interferences exist in a complex urban environment and obstacles such as buildings, roads, rivers, and concrete floors. These constraints make the implementation of conventional geophysical methods highly difficult. This idea of integrating modules into DAUs with the help of modern industrial manufacturing capabilities and real-time communication via 5G wireless networks had already existed in the nodal seismic recorder. In the present work, this was adjusted, and its


The conventional ERT method is limited by electrode arrangement and cable connection in a complex urban environment. Through a successful fieldwork case, this paper demonstrates that our survey design can achieve effective results. This system uses dipole units as DAUs, and each DAU can be used as current electrode or potential electrode according to the requirements. Given the arbitrary distribution of dipole units, we theoretically calculated some aspects that are not covered by the

Data availability

The data underlying this article will be shared on reasonable request to the corresponding author.

Declaration of Competing Interest

The authors declare that they have no known competing financial interests or personal relationships that could have appeared to influence the work reported in this paper.


This study was supported by the Nuclear Industry Huzhou Engineering Survey Institute Co., Ltd. and the ‘Complex geological environment's key technology integration for exploration and the site selection and application of large scientific devices’ project (2020-KYY-506134-0005). Thanks to He and Zou for their help in data collection, and Zhejiang Nuclear Industry 262 Branch for providing prior geological information. Thanks to the pyGIMLi open-source software team for their support. Thanks to

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    • Combined geophysical surveys using a novel approach to characterize ancient burnt soils: A field experiment at Liangzhu city site in Hangzhou, China

      2022, Catena

      Ancient burnt soils are valuable records in environmental and archaeological studies, and thus it is important to prospect such buried historical remains. By far, the study on geophysical exploration of the burnt soil is still rare. To investigate the effectiveness of geophysical methods for investigating such ancient relics, we designed a controlled field experiment at Liangzhu city site in Hangzhou, China, where there are plenty of Neolithic burnt remains in the shallow subsurface. We acquired common-offset ground penetrating radar (GPR) and electrical resistivity tomography (ERT) data, performed archaeological drilling and measured the physical properties of soil cores. The GPR and ERT data were first analyzed individually and compared with the borehole logs. We observe that the major reflected energy in the GPR data come from the vicinity of the burnt soil layer, while the energy below that is generally weak. The conductivity estimated from the ERT data is overall small in the shallow part but has a sudden increase from the lower interface of the burnt soil layer. The slopes estimated from two types of geophysical data show local similarities and complementarity, based on which we propose a novel workflow for geophysical data fusion based on the technique of predictive painting. The scheme can generate easy-to-understand images of soil layers with low computational costs, and its extension to 3D case is conceptually straightforward. It is also feasible to extend our work to large-scale surveys of ancient burnt soils.

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