Learning how to use resistivity soundings for interpretation of subsurface stratigraphy

Remke Van Dam
Michigan State University
Author Profile


This activity uses a combination of field measurements, lab experiments and simple modeling to develop an understanding of electrical resistivity methods as a tool in geology and hydrology. Students work in groups of two or three.

Used this activity? Share your experiences and modifications



This project is used in a 400-level applied geophysics course, with an enrollment of upper level undergraduate students (75%) and graduate students (25%). For most students in the class it is their first exposure to geophysics.
Designed for a geophysics course

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

Students will need a basic understanding of current flow in layered media. Besides working with numbers and plotting in excel, the required basic skills that must be in place are quiet minimal. Most skills will be developed during the activity (these skills include proper laboratory and field procedures, a.o.).

How the activity is situated in the course

The activity is a sequence of potentially stand-alone projects that are integrated so that students learn all steps towards a successful application of geophysical methods; that is planning, execution and analysis.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

- Understand how soil texture and water saturation influences bulk resistivity.
- Learn to work with basic software for forward modeling and inversion of resistivity soundings.
- Plan a resistivity sounding based on available information from well logs, lab data and forward modeling exercise.

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

Students need to integrate data from a several (inconclusive) sources to interpret a field site in terms of stratigraphy and hydrology.

Other skills goals for this activity

The activity requires that students work efficiently and careful with geophysical and laboratory equipment. Students work in groups, where each student is responsible for the write-up of a section of the report.

Description of the activity/assignment

Students will be presented with a problem; that is to determine the general characteristics (stratigraphy, water table depth) of a heterogeneous deposit (glacial till south of the MSU campus or proglacial sediments south of Ludington, MI) using electrical resistivity methods. The project consists of three separate activities: 1) use laboratory experiments to measure the relationship between soil water content and electrical resistivity for different soil samples obtained from the sites (2-3 samples per group), 2) use simple modeling software to calculate the resistivity response for simple geological models, based on information from well logs and the results of the laboratory measurements, and 3) design (min-max a-spacing and stepsize, based on the forward modeling results), execute, and analyze a field sounding experiment. Results will be summarized in a report and presented in class.

Uses geophysics to solve problems in other fields

Determining whether students have met the goals

More information about assessment tools and techniques.

Teaching materials and tips

Other Materials