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Relationship between electrical conductivity and water content of peat and gyttja: implications for electrical surveys of drained peatlandsNormal access

Authors: J. Walter, E. Luck, C. Heller, A. Bauriegel and J. Zeitz
Issue: Vol 17, No 2, April 2019 pp. 169 - 179
DOI: 10.1002/nsg.12030
Language: English
Info: Article, PDF ( 446.9Kb )

The application of electrical resistivity tomography to peatlands supports conven-tional coring by providing data on the current condition of peatlands, including data on stratigraphy, peat properties and thickness of organic deposits. Data on the cur-rent condition of drained peatlands are particularly required to improve estimates of carbon storage as well as losses and emissions from agriculturally used peatlands. However, most of the studies focusing on electrical resistivity tomography surveys have been conducted on natural peatlands with higher groundwater levels. Peatlands drained for agriculture have not often been studied using geophysical techniques. Drained sites are characterized by low groundwater levels and high groundwater fluctuations during the year, which lead to varying levels of water saturation. To validate better electrical resistivity tomography surveys of drained peatlands, the aim of this laboratory study is to investigate the influence of varying water saturation levels on electrical conductivity (reciprocal of resistivity) for a variety of peat and gyttja types, as well as for different degrees of peat decomposition. Results show that different levels of water saturation strongly influence bulk electrical conductivity. Distinct differences in this relationship exist between peat and gyttja substrates and between different degrees of peat decomposition. Peat shows an exponential rela-tionship for all degrees of decomposition, whereas gyttja, in particular organic-rich gyttja, is characterized by a rather unimodal relationship. The slopes for the relation-ship between electrical conductivity and water content are steeper at high degrees of decomposition than for peat of low degrees of decomposition. These results have direct implications for field electrical resistivity tomography surveys. In drained peat-lands that are strongly susceptible to drying, electrical resistivity tomography surveys have a high potential to monitor the actual field water content. In addition, at com-parable water saturations, high or low degrees of decomposition can be inferred from electrical conductivity.

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