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Geoscientific Instrumentation, Methods and Data Systems An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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© Author(s) 2020. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
© Author(s) 2020. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Submitted as: research article 16 Mar 2020

Submitted as: research article | 16 Mar 2020

Review status
This preprint is currently under review for the journal GI.

A monitoring system for spatiotemporal electrical self-potential measurements in cryospheric environments

Maximilian Weigand1, Florian M. Wagner2, Jonas K. Limbrock1, Christin Hilbich3, Christian Hauck3, and Andreas Kemna1 Maximilian Weigand et al.
  • 1Geophysics Section, Institute of Geosciences, University of Bonn, Bonn, Germany
  • 2Institute for Applied Geophysics and Geothermal Energy, RWTH Aachen University, Aachen, Germany
  • 3Department of Geosciences, University of Fribourg, Fribourg, Switzerland

Abstract. Climate-induced warming increasingly leads to degradation of high-alpine permafrost. In order to develop early warning systems for imminent slope destabilization, knowledge about hydrological flow processes in the subsurface is urgently needed. Due to the fast dynamics associated with slope failures, non- or minimally invasive methods are required for cheap and timely characterization and monitoring of potential failure sites to allow in-time responses. These requirements can potentially be met by geophysical methods usually applied in near-surface geophysical settings, such as electrical resistivity tomography (ERT), ground penetrating radar (GPR), various seismic methods, and self-potential (SP) measurements. While ERT and GPR have their primary uses in detecting lithological subsurface structure and liquid water/ice content variations, SP measurements are sensitive to active water flow in the subsurface. Combined, these methods provide huge potential to monitor the dynamic hydrological evolution of permafrost systems. However, while conceptually simple, the technical application of the SP method in high-alpine mountain regions is challenging, especially if spatially resolved information is required. We here report on the design, construction, and testing phase of a multi-electrode SP measurement system aimed at characterizing surface runoff and melt-water flow at the Schilthorn, Bernese Alps, Switzerland. Design requirements for a year-round measurement system are discussed, the hardware and software of the constructed system, as well as test measurements are presented, including detailed quality assessment studies. On-site noise measurements and one laboratory experiment on freezing and thawing characteristics of the SP electrodes provide supporting information. It was found that a detailed quality assessment of the measured data is important for such challenging field site operations, requiring adapted measurement schemes to allow for the extraction of robust data in light of an environment highly contaminated by anthropogenic and natural noise components. Finally, possible short- and long-term improvements to the system are discussed and recommendations for future installations are developed.

Maximilian Weigand et al.

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Maximilian Weigand et al.

Maximilian Weigand et al.


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Latest update: 02 Apr 2020
Publications Copernicus
Short summary
In times of global warming permafrost is starting to degrade at alarming rates, requiring new and improved characterization approaches. We describe the design and test installation of a monitoring system used to capture natural electrical potentials in the subsurface to investigate water flow in the non- or partially frozen subsurface. We find that extensive data quality assessment is required for reliable data recording, potentially paving the way for inclusion in risk models.
In times of global warming permafrost is starting to degrade at alarming rates, requiring new...