Magnetotellurics (MT) is an electromagnetic geophysical method of imaging the earth's subsurface by measuring natural variations of electrical and magnetic fields at the Earth's surface. Investigation depth ranges from 300m below ground by recording higher frequencies down to 10,000m or deeper with long-period soundings. Developed in Russia and France during the 1950s, MT is now an international academic discipline and is used in exploration surveys around the world. Commercial uses include hydrocarbon (oil and gas) exploration, geothermal exploration, mining exploration, as well as hydrocarbon and groundwater monitoring. Research applications include experimentation to further develop the MT technique, long-period deep crustal exploration, and earthquake precursor prediction research.
For hydrocarbon exploration, MT is mainly used as a complement to the primary technique of reflection seismology exploration. While seismic imaging is able to image subsurface structure, it cannot detect the changes in resistivity associated with hydrocarbons and hydrocarbon-bearing formations. MT does detect resistivity variations in subsurface structures, which can differentiate between structures bearing hydrocarbons and those that do not.
At a basic level of interpretation, resistivity is correlated with different rock types. High-velocity layers are typically highly resistive, whereas sediments – porous and permeable – are typically much less resistive. While high-velocity layers are an acoustic barrier and make seismic ineffective, their electrical resistivity means the magnetic signal passes through almost unimpeded. This allows MT to see deep beneath these acoustic barrier layers, complimenting the seismic data and assisting interpretation. 3-D MT survey results in Uzbekistan (32 x 32 grid of soundings) have guided further seismic mapping of a large known gas-bearing formation with complex subsurface geology.
Audio Magneto Telluric [AMT]
AMT is a higher-frequency magnetotelluric technique for shallower investigations. While AMT has less depth penetration than MT, AMT measurements often take only about one hour to perform (but deep AMT measurements during low-signal strength periods may take up to 24 hours) and use smaller and lighter magnetic sensors. Transient AMT is an AMT variant that records only temporarily during periods of more intense natural signal (transient impulses), improving signal-to-noise-ratio at the expense of strong linear polarization.
Controlled Source Electromagnetics - Audio Magneto Telluric [CSAMT]
Controlled source electro-magnetic is a deep-water offshore variant of controlled source audio magnetotellurics; CSEM is the name used in the offshore oil and gas industry.
Onshore CSEM / CSAMT may be effective where electromagnetic cultural noise (e.g. power lines, electric fences) present interference problems for natural-source geophysical methods. An extensive grounded wire (2 km or more) has currents at a range of frequencies (0.1 Hz to 100 kHz) passed through it. The electric field parallel to the source and the magnetic field which is at right angles are measured. The resistivity is then calculated, and the lower the resistivity, the more likely there is a conductive target (graphite, nickel ore or iron ore). CSAMT is also known in the oil and gas industry as Onshore Controlled Source ElectroMagnetics (Onshore CSEM).
An offshore variant of MT, the marine magnetotelluric (MMT) method, uses instruments and sensors in pressure housings deployed by ship into shallow coastal areas where water is less than 300m deep. A derivative of MMT is offshore single-channel measurement of the vertical magnetic field only (the Hz, or "tipper"), which eliminates the need for telluric measurements and horizontal magnetic measurements. While the theory is sound, no commercial system is yet available. Furthermore, any such system would require a solution providing for the precise orientation and stabilization of the magnetic sensor.