Resolving Lithological Units in the Vadose Zone from Temporal Changes in Electrical Conductivity

Wednesday, 17 December 2014
Jason P Chang and Rosemary J Knight, Stanford University, Stanford, CA, United States
Obtaining estimates of hydraulic properties in the vadose zone is a challenge. Laboratory experiments using core samples from the field are not typically representative of true field conditions, and direct hydrologic field measurements are typically limited in spatial extent. Here, we propose to resolve lithologic variation in the vadose zone though geophysical methods, and specifically by examining temporal changes in electrical conductivity. Because different lithologies have different hydraulic properties, they will exhibit different temporal changes in water content during infiltration and drainage. Simulations of infiltration through various vadose zone models shows, as expected, that water content in clays and silts generally show very little variation over time, whereas water content in sands shows rapid and significant changes over time. Although water content cannot be directly measured in the field, it is highly correlated with electrical conductivity. Therefore, we examine the time derivatives of electrical conductivity data to monitor the rates of change in water content over time. Because geophysical measurements are often noisy, we estimate derivatives using the continuous wavelet transform rather than standard numerical differentiation. By implementing this method on synthetic noisy data, we find that rates of change in water content, and hence electrical conductivity, are consistently close to zero in clays, slightly variable in silts, and highly variable in sands. Application of this method to electrical conductivity probe data from a region of known lithology supports these observations and suggests that examining temporal changes in electrical conductivity can be used to resolve different lithologies in the vadose zone.