This paper describes a controlled-source audio-frequency magnetotellurics (CSAMT) survey conducted in August 2009 over a potential high-level radioactive waste (HLRW) disposal site in northwestern China. The site is primarily covered with well-developed metamorphic rocks. The purpose of the CSAMT survey was to map the outcropped faults to depth and identify any hidden faults or weakened zone in the subsurface. The site is located in the arid Beishan area, Gansu Province. Substantial challenges were encountered in acquiring quality electrical field data because of the highly resistive ground. Satisfactory electrode contact conditions were generally maintained by applying salt-saturated water to both the transmitting electrodes and the receiving electrodes. The excitation frequency ranges from 9,600 Hz to 1 Hz with a target depth of investigation of 1,000 m.

The CSAMT data were processed in several steps. Low-pass filtering was applied to remove the static effect caused by the local electrical inhomogeneities near the ground surface. An optimum filter length was found through experiment to yield the maximum static effect reduction. The pre-processed data are inverted for geoelectrical cross sections using a 2-D inversion method. Inversion artifacts were suppressed by imposing a model smoothness constraint.

The inversion reveals several important results. First, the inversion cross sections correctly recognized the fractures and deformation bands mapped at the surface. The cross sections also identified four new faults that were not observed in the geological survey. The inversion profiles suggested that the narrow factures and deformation bands observed along survey line 1 extend to a great depth. The profile helped identify a possible weak mineralization zone along survey line 2. Considering the regional tectonic stress direction, the lower resistivity zone suggests that the faults parallel to survey line 2 are subject to an extensional or transtensional force that produces a broad and broken alteration zone. Although subject to further drilling confirmation, these interpretation results greatly enhance the understanding of the deep geological hazards at the Beishan site.

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