Enhancing the information content of geophysical data for nuclear site characterisation

Tso, Michael and Binley, Andrew (2019) Enhancing the information content of geophysical data for nuclear site characterisation. PhD thesis, Lancaster University.

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Our knowledge and understanding to the heterogeneous structure and processes occurring in the Earth’s subsurface is limited and uncertain. The above is true even for the upper 100m of the subsurface, yet many processes occur within it (e.g. migration of solutes, landslides, crop water uptake, etc.) are important to human activities. Geophysical methods such as electrical resistivity tomography (ERT) greatly improve our ability to observe the subsurface due to their higher sampling frequency (especially with autonomous time-lapse systems), larger spatial coverage and less invasive operation, in addition to being more cost-effective than traditional point-based sampling. However, the process of using geophysical data for inference is prone to uncertainty. There is a need to better understand the uncertainties embedded in geophysical data and how they translate themselves when they are subsequently used, for example, for hydrological or site management interpretations and decisions. This understanding is critical to maximize the extraction of information in geophysical data. To this end, in this thesis, I examine various aspects of uncertainty in ERT and develop new methods to better use geophysical data quantitatively. The core of the thesis is based on two literature reviews and three papers. In the first review, I provide a comprehensive overview of the use of geophysical data for nuclear site characterization, especially in the context of site clean-up and leak detection. In the second review, I survey the various sources of uncertainties in ERT studies and the existing work to better quantify or reduce them. I propose that the various steps in the general workflow of an ERT study can be viewed as a pipeline for information and uncertainty propagation and suggested some areas have been understudied. One of these areas is measurement errors. In paper 1, I compare various methods to estimate and model ERT measurement errors using two long-term ERT monitoring datasets. I also develop a new error model that considers the fact that each electrode is used to make multiple measurements. In paper 2, I discuss the development and implementation of a new method for geoelectrical leak detection. While existing methods rely on obtaining resistivity images through inversion of ERT data first, the approach described here estimates leak parameters directly from raw ERT data. This is achieved by constructing hydrological models from prior site information and couple it with an ERT forward model, and then update the leak (and other hydrological) parameters through data assimilation. The approach shows promising results and is applied to data from a controlled injection experiment in Yorkshire, UK. The approach complements ERT imaging and provides a new way to utilize ERT data to inform site characterisation. In addition to leak detection, ERT is also commonly used for monitoring soil moisture in the vadose zone, and increasingly so in a quantitative manner. Though both the petrophysical relationships (i.e., choices of appropriate model and parameterization) and the derived moisture content are known to be subject to uncertainty, they are commonly treated as exact and error‐free. In paper 3, I examine the impact of uncertain petrophysical relationships on the moisture content estimates derived from electrical geophysics. Data from a collection of core samples show that the variability in such relationships can be large, and they in turn can lead to high uncertainty in moisture content estimates, and they appear to be the dominating source of uncertainty in many cases. In the closing chapters, I discuss and synthesize the findings in the thesis within the larger context of enhancing the information content of geophysical data, and provide an outlook on further research in this topic.

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Thesis (PhD)
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21 Feb 2020 12:45
Last Modified:
03 Jun 2024 23:32