Resolution in Electromagnetic Prospecting

Thursday, 18 December 2014
David F Aldridge, Lewis C Bartel, Hunter Anne Knox and Kimberly A Schramm, Sandia National Laboratories, Albuquerque, NM, United States
Low-frequency electromagnetic (EM) signals are commonly used in geophysical exploration of the shallow subsurface. Sensitivity to conductivity implies they are particularly useful for inferring fluid content of porous media. However, low-frequency EM wavefields are diffusive, and have significantly larger wavelengths compared to seismic signals of equal frequency. The wavelength of a 30 Hz sinusoid propagating with seismic velocity 3000 m/s is 100 m, whereas an analogous EM signal diffusing through a conductive body of 0.1 S/m (clayey shale) has wavelength 1825 m. The larger wavelength has implications for resolution of the EM prospecting method.

We are investigating resolving power of the EM method via theoretical and numerical experiments. Normal incidence plane wave reflection/transmission by a thin geologic bed is amenable to analytic solution. Responses are calculated for beds that are conductive or resistive relative to the host rock. Preliminary results indicate the classic seismic resolution/detection limit of bed thickness ~1/8 wavelength is not achieved. EM responses for point or line current sources recorded by general acquisition geometries are calculated with a 3D finite-difference algorithm. These exhibit greater variability which may allow inference of bed thickness.

We also examine composite responses of two point scatterers with separation when illuminated by an incident EM field. This is analogous to the Rayleigh resolution problem of estimating angular separation between two light sources. The First Born Approximation implies that perturbations in permittivity, permeability, and conductivity have different scattering patterns, which may be indicators of EM medium properties.

Sandia National Laboratories is a multi-program laboratory managed and operated by Sandia Corporation, a wholly owned subsidiary of Lockheed Martin Corporation, for the US Department of Energy's National Nuclear Security Administration under contract DE-AC04-94AL85000.