Skip navigation.
Enlightening Research

Self-potential method

Self-potential method is based on measuring the natural potential differences, which generally exist between any two points on the ground. These potentials are associated with electrical currents in the soil. In our study we are especially interested in the measurement of electrical potentials created in soils due to soil-forming process and water/ion movements. The electrical potentials in soils, clays, marls, and other water-saturated and unsaturated sediments can be explained by such phenomena as ionic layers, electro-filtration, pH differences, and electro-osmosis. The soil-forming processes can create electrically variable horizons in soil profiles. Another possible environmental and engineering application of self-potential method is to study subsurface water movement (Pozdnyakova et al., 2001). The SP method utilizes two electrodes (trailing and leading), a potentiometer, and connecting wire. Two measuring techniques, fixed-base (or total field) and gradient (or leapfrog), are suggested in conventional geophysics. We used the fixed-base technique to obtain distributions of electrical potentials in soil profiles. Measurements were conducted on the walls of open soil pits. The base or trailing electrode was permanently installed in the place of high potential, usually in illuvial, wet, fine-textured, or salty soil horizon. To obtain maps of electrical potential the gradient technique was implied. The usage of non-polarizing electrodes is mandatory when the SP method is applied in soil and environmental studies. The non-polarizing electrode consists of a metal element immersed in a solution of salt of the same metal with a porous membrane between the solution and the soil (Corwin and Butler, 1989). Because of easy breakage of the membrane and leakage of the electrode solution we adopted firm non-polarizing electrodes (carbon cores from the exhausted electrical cells) (Pozdnyakov et al., 1996).