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Significance and Use
Concepts—This guide summarizes the equipment, field procedures, and interpretation methods used for the determination of subsurface conditions due to density variations using the gravity method. Gravity measurements can be used to map major geologic features over hundreds of square miles and to detect shallow smaller features in soil or rock. In some areas, the gravity method can detect subsurface cavities.
Another benefit of the gravity method is that measurements can be made in many culturally developed areas, where other geophysical methods may not work. For example, gravity measurements can be made inside buildings; in urban areas; and in areas of cultural, electrical, and electromagnetic noise.
Measurement of subsurface conditions by the gravity method requires a gravimeter (Fig. 1) and a means of determining location and very accurate relative elevations of gravity stations.
The unit of measurement used in the gravity method is the gal, based on the gravitational force at the Earth's surface. The average gravity at the Earth's surface is approximately 980 gal. The unit commonly used in regional gravity surveys is the milligal (10−3 gal). Typical gravity surveys for environmental and engineering applications require measurements with an accuracy of a few μgals (10−6 gals), they are often referred to as microgravity surveys.
A detailed gravity survey typically uses closely spaced measurement stations (a few feet to a few hundred feet) and is carried out with a gravimeter capable of reading to a few μgals. Detailed surveys are used to assess local geologic or structural conditions.
A gravity survey consists of making gravity measurements at stations along a profile line or grid. Measurements are taken periodically at a base station (a stable noise-free reference location) to correct for instrument drift.
Gravity data contain anomalies that are made up of deep regional and shallow local effects. It is the shallow local effects that are of interest in microgravity work. Numerous corrections are applied to the raw field data. These corrections include latitude, free air elevation, Bouguer correction (mass effect), Earth tides, and terrain. After the subtraction of regional trends, the remainder or residual Bouguer gravity anomaly data may be presented as a profile line (Fig. 2) or on a contour map. The residual gravity anomaly map may be used for both qualitative and quantitative interpretations. Additional details of the gravity method are given in Telford et al (4); Butler (5); Nettleton (6); and Hinze (7).
Parameter Being Measured and Representative Values:
The gravity method depends on lateral and depth variations in density of subsurface materials. The density of a soil or rock is a function of the density of the rock-forming minerals, the porosity of the medium, and the density of the fluids filling the pore space. Rock densities vary from less than 1.0 g/cm3 for some vesicular volcanic rocks to more than 3.5 g/cm3 for some ultrabasic igneous rocks. As shown in Table 1, the normal range is less than this and, within a particular site, the realistic lateral contrasts are often much less.
Table 1 shows that densities of sedimentary rocks are generally lower than those of igneous and metamorphic rocks. Densities roughly increase with increasing geologic age because older rocks are usually less porous and have been subject to greater compaction. The densities of soils and rocks are controlled, to a very large extent, by the primary and secondary porosity of the unconsolidated materials or rock.
A sufficient density contrast between the background conditions and the feature being mapped must exist for the feature to be detected. Some significant geologic or hydrogeologic boundaries may have no field-measurable density contrast across them, and consequently cannot be detected with this technique.
While the gravity method measures variations in density in earth materials, it is the interpreter who, based on knowledge of the local conditions or other data, or both, must interpret the gravity data and arrive at a geologically reasonable solution.
Geophysical equipment used for surface gravity measurement includes a gravimeter, a means of obtaining position and a means of very accurately determining relative changes in elevation. Gravimeters are designed to measure extremely small differences in the gravitational field and as a result are very delicate instruments. The gravimeter is susceptible to mechanical shock during transport and handling.
Gravimeter—The gravimeter must be selected to have the range, stability, sensitivity, and accuracy to make the intended measurements. Many gravimeters record digital data. These instruments have the capability to average a sequence of readings, to reject noisy data, and to display the sequence of gravity measurements at a particular station. Electronically controlled gravimeters can correct in real time for minor tilt errors, for the temperature of the instrument, and for long-term drift and earth tides. These gravimeters communicate with computers, printers, and modems for data transfer. Kaufmann (8) describes instruments suitable for microgravity surveys. A comprehensive review of gravimeters can be found in Chapin (9).
Positioning—Position control for microgravity surveys should have a relative accuracy of 1 m or better. The possible gravity error for horizontal north-south (latitude) position is about 1 μgal/m at mid-latitudes. Positioning can be obtained by tape measure and compass, conventional land survey techniques, or a differential global positioning system (DGPS).
Elevations—Accurate relative elevation measurements are critical for a microgravity survey. A nominal gravity error of 1 μgal can result from an elevation change of 3 mm. Therefore, elevation control for a microgravity survey requires a relative elevation accuracy of about 3 mm. Elevations are generally determined relative to an arbitrary reference on site but can also be tied to an elevation benchmark. Elevations are obtained by careful optical leveling or by automatic digital levels.
Limitations and Interferences:
General Limitations Inherent to Geophysical Methods:
A fundamental limitation of all geophysical methods is that a given set of data cannot be associated with a unique set of subsurface conditions. In most situations, surface geophysical measurements alone cannot resolve all ambiguities, and some additional information, such as borehole data, is required. Because of this inherent limitation in the geophysical methods, a gravity survey alone can never be considered a complete assessment of subsurface conditions. Properly integrated with other geologic information, gravity surveying is a highly effective, accurate, and cost-effective method of obtaining subsurface information.
In addition, all surface geophysical methods are inherently limited by decreasing resolution with depth.
Limitations Specific to the Gravity Method:
A sufficient density contrast between the background conditions and the feature being mapped must exist for the feature to be detected. Some significant geologic or hydrogeologic boundaries may have no field-measurable density contrast across them, and consequently cannot be detected with this technique. An interpretation of gravity data alone does not yield a unique correlation between possible geologic models and a single set of field data. This ambiguity can only be resolved through the use of sufficient supporting geologic data and by an experienced interpreter.
Interferences Caused by Ambient, Geologic, and Cultural Conditions:
(1) The gravity method is sensitive to noise (vibrations) from a variety of natural ambient and cultural sources. Spatial variations in density caused by geologic factors may also produce unwanted noise.
(2) Ambient Sources of Noise
(a) (a) Earthquakes
(b) (b) Microseisms
(c) (c) Earth Tides
(d) (d) Wind and Rain
(e) (e) Extreme Temperatures
(f) (f) Geologic Sources of Noise
(g) (g) Topography
(h) (h) Cultural Sources of Noise
Summary—During the course of designing and carrying out a gravity survey, the sources of ambient, geologic, and cultural noise must be considered and time of occurrence and location noted. The exact form of the interference is not always predictable because it depends upon the type and magnitude of noise and distance from the source of noise.
Alternate Methods—In some cases, the factors previously discussed may prevent the effective use of the gravity method, and other geophysical (Guide D6429) or non-geophysical methods may be required to investigate subsurface conditions.
FIG. 2 Graphical Method of Regional-Residual Separation (from Butler (4))
1.1 Purpose and Application:
1.1.1 This guide summarizes the equipment, field procedures, and interpretation methods for the assessment of subsurface conditions using the gravity method.
1.1.2 The gravity method described in this guide is applicable to investigation of a wide range of subsurface conditions.
1.1.3 Gravity measurements indicate variations in the earth's gravitational field caused by lateral differences in the density of the subsurface soil or rock or the presence of natural voids or man-made structures. By measuring spatial changes in the gravitational field, variations in subsurface conditions can be determined.
1.1.4 Detailed gravity surveys (commonly called microgravity surveys) are used for near-surface geologic investigations and geotechnical, environmental, and archaeological studies. Geologic and geotechnical applications include location of buried channels, bedrock structural features, voids, and caves, and low-density zones in foundations. Environmental applications include site characterization, groundwater studies, landfill characterization, and location of underground storage tanks (1) .
1.2.1 This guide provides an overview of the gravity method. It does not address the details of the gravity theory, field procedures, or interpretation of the data. Numerous references are included for that purpose and are considered an essential part of this guide. It is recommended that the user of the gravity method be familiar with the references cited and with the Guides D420, D5753, D6235, and D6429, and Practices D5088, and D5608.
1.2.2 This guide is limited to gravity measurements made on land. The gravity method can be adapted for a number of special uses: on land, in a borehole, on water, and from aircraft and space. A discussion of these other gravity methods, including vertical gravity gradient measurements, is not included in this guide.
1.2.3 The approaches suggested in this guide for the gravity method are the most commonly used, widely accepted, and proven. However, other approaches or modifications to the gravity method that are technically sound may be substituted.
1.2.4 This guide offers an organized collection of information or a series of options and does not recommend a specific course of action. This document cannot replace education, experience, and should be used in conjunction with professional judgment. Not all aspects of this guide may be applicable in all circumstances. This ASTM document is not intended to represent or replace the standard of care by which the adequacy of a given professional service must be judged, nor should this document be applied without consideration of a project's many unique aspects. The word “Standard” in the title of this document means only that the document has been approved through the ASTM consensus process.
1.3.1 It is the responsibility of the user of this guide to follow any precautions in the equipment manufacturer's recommendations and to establish appropriate health and safety practices.
1.3.2 If this guide is used at sites with hazardous materials, operations, or equipment, it is the responsibility of the user of this guide to establish appropriate safety and health practices and to determine the applicability of any regulations prior to use.
1.3.3 This guide does not purport to address all of the safety concerns that may be associated with the use of the gravity method. It is the responsibility of the user of this guide to establish appropriate safety and health practices and to determine the applicability of regulations prior to use.
2. Referenced Documents (purchase separately) The documents listed below are referenced within the subject standard but are not provided as part of the standard.
D420 Guide to Site Characterization for Engineering Design and Construction Purposes
D653 Terminology Relating to Soil, Rock, and Contained Fluids
D5088 Practice for Decontamination of Field Equipment Used at Waste Sites
D5608 Practices for Decontamination of Field Equipment Used at Low Level Radioactive Waste Sites
D5753 Guide for Planning and Conducting Borehole Geophysical Logging
D6235 Practice for Expedited Site Characterization of Vadose Zone and Groundwater Contamination at Hazardous Waste Contaminated Sites
D6429 Guide for Selecting Surface Geophysical Methods
ICS Number Code 07.060 (Geology. Meteorology. Hydrology)
UNSPSC Code 81151902(Geophysical exploration); 41113804(Gravity geophysical instruments)
ASTM D6430-99(2010), Standard Guide for Using the Gravity Method for Subsurface Investigation, ASTM International, West Conshohocken, PA, 2010, www.astm.orgBack to Top