Karst caves are widely distributed in southwest China, causing difficulties and disasters for tunnel construction. To better detect the krast caves in front of the tunnels under construction using the transient electromagnetic method, in this paper we propose a 3-D finite element method to simulate the multi-parameter transient electromagnetic response of unfavorable geological bodies in a whole-space. First, the models of vertical water-filled faults, water-filled caves and complex geological bodies in front of the tunnel face are established. The horizontal electric field component and the vertical magnetic field component at different time in the whole-space are researched. Secondly, the electromagnetic response features of the caves with different resistivity, buried depths and scales are studied. We found that the resistivity of the target body is 10 times larger than that of the surrounding rocks, and the anomaly amplitude increases obviously with the growing distance from the target body. The deeper the buried depth, the later the anomaly appears and the smaller the anomaly amplitude. The larger the target size, the longer the transient electromagnetic response delay and the larger the anomaly amplitude. We arranged a measuring line on the tunnel face. The full-time apparent resistivity section shows the position and characteristics of the low-resistivity anomalous body, indicating that the transient electromagnetic method (TEM) has obvious advantages in detecting the low-resistivity body in front of the tunnel face. Finally, the TEM is successfully applied to the advanced detection of a karst tunnel to get the electrical distribution of the surrounding rocks in front of the tunnel face. According to the geological conditions of the excavated tunnel, the validity of the TEM in the tunnel advanced prediction is verified.

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