Pitfalls and Limitations in the Interpretation of Geophysical Images for Hydrologic Properties and Processes

Wednesday, 17 December 2014
Frederick David Day-Lewis, USGS, Storrs, CT, United States
Geophysical imaging (e.g., electrical, radar, seismic) can provide valuable information for the characterization of hydrologic properties and monitoring of hydrologic processes, as evidenced in the rapid growth of literature on the subject. Geophysical imaging has been used for monitoring tracer migration and infiltration, mapping zones of focused groundwater/surface-water exchange, and verifying emplacement of amendments for bioremediation. Despite the enormous potential for extraction of hydrologic information from geophysical images, there also is potential for misinterpretation and over-interpretation. These concerns are particularly relevant when geophysical results are used within quantitative frameworks, e.g., conversion to hydrologic properties through petrophysical relations, geostatistical estimation and simulation conditioned to geophysical inversions, and joint inversion. We review pitfalls to interpretation associated with limited image resolution, spatially variable image resolution, incorrect data weighting, errors in the timing of measurements, temporal smearing resulting from changes during data acquisition, support-volume/scale effects, and incorrect assumptions or approximations involved in modeling geophysical or other jointly inverted data. A series of numerical and field-based examples illustrate these potential problems. Our goal in this talk is to raise awareness of common pitfalls and present strategies for recognizing and avoiding them.