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Evaluation of Artifacts and Misinterpretation in 2D Electrical Resistivity Tomography Caused by Three-Dimensional Resistive Structures of Regular or Irregular Shapes


Electrical resistivity tomography (ERT) is a well-known geophysical method applied to geological, hydrogeological and geoenvironmental research. To date, 2D ERT is still used much more than 3D ERT, thanks to its greater immediacy, survey speed and lower complexity in processing and inversion. However, the assumption of two-dimensionality of the underground structures can mean that the effects of 3D structures on the 2D ERT can sometimes lead to gross errors in interpretation. This work aims to evaluate these effects by testing synthetic and experimental models. Numerical simulations are performed starting from different resistivity models, and from the results, 2D data sets are derived to study and quantify the effects of 2D inversion on 3D structures. Tests simulating prismatic resistive blocks with a vertical square section are presented. Prisms extend orthogonally to the survey line. Depending on their length, they range from a minimum equal to the length of the section (cubic resistive block) to infinity (2D prism). On these models, 2D and 3D electrical resistivity tomography (ERT) surveys are simulated. The results show that resistive blocks with a limited extension orthogonal to the profile are not effectively resolved by 2D ERT. Additionally, resistivity values obtained from a 2D ERT inversion on a 3D resistive prism are underestimated more than those obtained on the corresponding 2D prism when compared with the true value. This underestimation increases with the three-dimensional characteristics. Furthermore, resistive blocks located near the survey line but not crossed by it create artifacts that can lead to erroneous interpretations. A field test performed on a calcarenite quarry, of which the three-dimensional geophysical model was reconstructed, confirmed the results obtained by the synthetic tests, highlighting that the effects of three-dimensionality can lead to the identification of artifacts in the vertical section or produce strong errors in the estimation of depth and size, thus causing misleading statements.