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Mapping Aquifer Systems with Airborne Electromagnetics in the Central Valley of California


The passage of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act in California has highlighted a need for cost-effective ways to acquire the data used in building conceptual models of the aquifer systems in the Central Valley of California. One approach would be the regional implementation of the airborne electromagnetic (AEM) method. We acquired 104 line-kilometers of data in the Tulare Irrigation District, in the Central Valley, to determine the depth of investigation (DOI) of the AEM method, given the abundance of electrically conductive clays, and to assess the usefulness of the method for mapping the hydrostratigraphy. The data were high quality providing, through inversion of the data, models displaying the variation in electrical resistivity to a depth of approximately 500 m. In order to transform the resistivity models to interpreted sections displaying lithology, we established the relationship between resistivity and lithology using collocated lithology logs (from drillers' logs) and AEM data. We modeled the AEM response and employed a bootstrapping approach to solve for the range of values in the resistivity model corresponding to sand and gravel, mixed coarse and fine, and clay in the unsaturated and saturated regions. The comparison between the resulting interpretation and an existing cross section demonstrates that AEM can be an effective method for mapping the large-scale hydrostratigraphy of aquifer systems in the Central Valley. The methods employed and developed in this study have widespread application in the use of the AEM method for groundwater management in similar geologic settings.

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