Spatial mapping of submerged cave systems by means of airborne electromagnetics: an emerging technology to support protection of endangered karst aquifers
R. Supper, K. Motschka, A. Ahl, P. Bauer-Gottwein, B. Gondwe, G. Merediz Alonso, A. Römer, D. Ottowitz and W. Kinzelbach
Journal name: Near Surface Geophysics
Issue: Vol 7, No 5-6, October 2009 pp. 613 - 627
Special topic: Hydrogeophysics - Methods and Processes
Info: Article, PDF ( 10.02Mb )
Price: € 30
Karst aquifers represent important but very vulnerable sources for water supply to a significant part of the Earth’s population. For sustainable use of these resources, development of integrated management tools based on numerical groundwater models is required. In principle karst aquifers are characterized by the presence of two distinct flow domains: the limestone matrix fractures and the conduits. A flow model of karst aquifers requires detailed, spatially distributed information on the hydrologic characteristics of the aquifer and flow paths. Geophysical methods determining the distribution of the electrical resistivities within the subsurface could provide such information. An international scientific research project was initiated to explore the potential of airborne electromagnetic mapping for providing such innovative information for improving groundwater modelling of karst aquifers. The project study area is located in the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve located in Yucatán, Mexico, a coastal wetland of international importance. As a first step ground geoelectric and ground electromagnetic measurements were performed in March 2006 to determine the electrical properties of the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve subsurface environment. These results were used for 3D forward modelling to calculate the expected airborne electromagnetic response. Based on these promising results, an airborne pilot survey was performed in 2007 to evaluate the applicability of airborne electromagnetic methodology. This survey covers an area of 40 square kilometres above the well-mapped Ox Bel Ha cave system. The results showed that the signature of the cave system could be clearly detected. The pilot survey offered as well the chance to define the limits of current state-of-the-art airborne data acquisition and inversion. The study helped to define the needs for further developments and improvements to establish the frequency domain electromagnetic method as a practical karst exploration method.