Abstract

In the past three decades, airborne electromagnetic (AEM) systems have been used for many groundwater exploration purposes. This contribution of airborne geophysics for both groundwater resource mapping and water quality evaluations and management has increased dramatically over the past ten years, proving how these systems are appropriate for large-scale and efficient groundwater surveying. One of the major reasons for its popularity is the time and cost efficiency in producing spatially extensive datasets that can be applied to multiple purposes. In this paper, we carry out a simple, yet rigorous, simulation showing the impact of an AEM dataset towards hydrogeological mapping, comparing it to having only a ground-based transient electromagnetic (TEM) dataset (even if large and dense), and to having only boreholes. We start from an AEM survey and then simulate two different ground TEM datasets: a high resolution survey and a reconnaissance survey. The electrical resistivity model, which is the final geophysical product after data processing and inversion, changes with different levels of data density. We then extend the study to describe the impact on the geological and hydrogeological output models, which can be derived from these different geophysical results, and the potential consequences for groundwater management. Different data density results in significant differences not only in the spatial resolution of the output resistivity model, but also in the model uncertainty, the accuracy of geological interpretations and, in turn, the appropriateness of groundwater management decisions. The AEM dataset provides high resolution results and well-connected geological interpretations, which result in a more detailed and confident description of all of the existing geological structures. In contrast, a low density dataset from a ground-based TEM survey yields low resolution resistivity models, and an uncertain description of the geological setting.

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