Electrical resistivity tomography monitoring of permafrost in solid rock walls

Michael Krautblatter, Christian Hauck

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97 Scopus citations


This article describes the first attempt to conduct electrical resistivity tomography (ERT) in solid permafrost-affected rock faces. Electrode design, instrument settings, and processing routines capable of measuring under relevant conditions were developed. Four transects, with NW, NE, east (E) and south (S) aspects, were installed in solid rock faces between Matter Valley and Turtmann Valley, Switzerland, at 3070-3150 m above sea level. DC resistivity in the transects was measured repeatedly during the summer and compared by applying a time-lapse inversion routine. Resistivity values were calibrated using observed rock surface conditions of thawed, damp rocks (1-8 kΩ m), deeply frozen rocks (18-80 kΩ m), and the transition from damp thawed to frozen rocks (8-18 kΩ m). Mean surface layer resistivities of transects respond to air temperatures below 0°C with a rapid increase by a factor of 1.4 to 2.9 from values of 12-15 kΩ m to values of 22-31 kΩ m. Rock layers at depths of 2-6 m display a general trend of resistivity decrease in summer, corresponding to a persistent thawing process. Their response to anomalously cool August temperatures occurs with a time lag of 2 to 4 weeks. Only transects E, NE and NW display persistent, high-resistivity permafrost bodies (>50 kΩ m) mostly at depths of 6-10 m. The maximum thaw depth of a continuous thawing front above permafrost is 6 m. However, the ERT results emphasize the role of heat transfer by deep-reaching cleft water systems. Thus permafrost occurs in lenses rather than layers. ERT provides rapid detection of ice and water distribution in permafrost-affected bedrock.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberF02S20
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Earth Surface
Issue number2
StatePublished - 24 Jun 2007
Externally publishedYes


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