A new instrument designed for frequency-domain sounding in the depth range 0-10 m uses short coil spacings of 5 m or less and a frequency range of 300 kHz to 30 MHz. In this frequency range, both conduction currents (controlled by electrical conductivity) and displacement currents (controlled by dielectric permittivity) are important. Several surface electromagnetic survey systems commonly used (generally with frequencies less than 60 kHz) are unsuitable for detailed investigation of the upper 5 m of the earth or, as with ground-penetrating radar, are most effective in relatively resistive environments.Most computer programs written for interpretation of data acquired with the low-frequency systems neglect displacement currents, and are thus unsuited for accurate high-frequency modeling and interpretation. New forward and inverse computer programs are described that include displacement currents in layered-earth models. The computer programs and this new instrument are used to evaluate the effectiveness of shallow high-frequency soundings based on measurement of the tilt angle and the ellipticity of magnetic fields.Forward model studies indicate that the influence of dielectric permittivity provides the ability to resolve thin layers, especially if the instrument frequency range can be extended to 50 MHz. Field tests of the instrument and the inversion program demonstrate the potential for detailed shallow mapping wherein both the resistivity and the dielectric permittivity of layers are determined. Although data collection and inversion are much slower than for low-frequency methods, additional information is obtained inasmuch as there usually is a permittivity contrast as well as a resistivity contrast at boundaries between different materials. Determination of dielectric permittivity is particularly important for hazardous waste site characterization because the presence of some contaminants may have little effect on observed resistivity but a large effect on observed permittivity.