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Geophysical Airborne Survey

Compilation and Interpretation

Santiago Chile

Airborne Magnetic Data Compilation and

Table of Contents
Quality Control is one
of the most important
parts of the survey
operations. This QC
paper deals with the
what should be
expected of a Quality
Control ocer and
discusses the
following topics:
Basic Principals, QC
Mandate, Client
Representative, QC
Survey Specications
and Typical Tests
Required for a
Magnetic Survey

5.1 Data Compilation

5.1.1 Database
5.1.2 Flight Path Plotting
5.1.3 Leveling
5.1.4 Mapping the Total Magnetic Intensity
5.2 Interpretation
5.2.1 Interpreting Magnetic Data
5.2.2 Quantitative Interpretation
Appendix 1: Typical Magnetic Susceptibilities of
Earth Materials
Selected Bibliography -- Airborne Magnetometer

5.1 Data Compilation

Before the availability of high speed, portable personal computers, all data
compilation was done long after survey ying was complete and we had to wait
for many weeks to see the rst map products. With the advent of the integrated
airborne geophysical systems and PC based "in eld" geophysical data
compilation system, pioneered by High-Sense Geophysics now part of Fugro
Airborne Surveys, data can be compiled in the eld on a daily basis. On-site
processing not only provides an excellent means of quality control but provides
map results for immediate evaluation, planning and decision making.
Airborne data processing is achieved in the eld or on the oce computer
systems, by using a highly optimized binary data base systems to manage the
large volume of data associated with this type of surveying.

5.1.1 Database
Because large volumes of data are collected in airborne surveying, the
techniques associated with processing demand a special database architecture.
Very fast data access times are essential to both database management and
processing. To acquire the necessary speed one requires a highly optimized,
random access, database with a host of features for loading, managing, and
manipulating data including:
Multiple channels of information to accommodate both single and a variety
of multi-parameter surveys.
report summaries on data inventory
archiving functions
search functions
data corrections and channel manipulation functions.
functions to merge base station and survey platform data
higher level functions for leveling, griding, contouring and imaging data
prole manipulation and presentation functions

5.1.2 Flight Path Plotting

An important part of data compilation, and an essential part of data quality
control, is to be able to plot and label the ight path, annotate the lines with
ducials, and produce prole maps similar to the one shown in gure 1.

Figure 1:
Magnetic proles plotted
along recorded positions
in prole form.

Other important capabilities required for ight path and data control and display
include multichannel proling and survey amount calculations.

5.1.3 Leveling
Leveling of airborne magnetic data is required primarily to remove the eects of
temporal variations in the earth's magnetic eld. While leveling is an art, the
modern leveling system automates many of the repetitious tasks associated with
leveling to quickly produce a good rst approximation of the required
adjustments. A skilled processor then uses advanced tools to ne tune the
corrections. Important capabilities of the leveling system include:
Creating traverse line - control line intersection lists.
Building a traverse/control line intersection database.
Automatically calculating intersection corrections with a manual override.
Tool kit for interpolating, smoothing, etc.
Interpolating between intersection corrections and applying the corrections
to the database.

5.1.4 Mapping the Total Magnetic Intensity

While prole maps are useful for some interpretation methods, a two
dimensional map, usually contoured and coloured, is required to fully interpret
the data in the majority of magnetic surveys. Before a two dimensional map can
be plotted, the aeromagnetic data must be interpolated onto an equispaced grid,
(or matrix). Thus an ecient and accurate gridding algorithm must be included
in the data compilation system. Most contractor's data compilation system
includes several gridding algorithms but for airborne data the bi-directional
spline (usually employing some form of damping such as the akima spline)
approach is usually most accurate and has fewest side eects. Capabilities of the
gridding module include the following features:
An unlimited number of data points, input to the module directly from the
The size of the output grid should be virtually unlimited.
The module should include interactive lters to insure that the data is not
aliased by the gridding process.
Trend enhancement capabilities are an important optional application.
After the data has been gridded at an appropriate grid interval, a host of digital
processing techniques can be applied to the data as aids in interpretation.
However, at the compilation stage, the basic product that is almost always
required is a map of the total eld and other primary data. Most often, a contour
map is required, thus a contouring algorithm must be included in the data
compilation system that includes:
Capability to handle millions of grid data points.
Options to permit smoothing of the contours.
Incremental and discrete contour denition and labeling.
Suppression of contour plotting in high gradient areas.
User control of the range of data values to be contoured.

Figure 2 shows an example contoured map of the total magnetic intensity.

Figure 2: A typical colour contoured map of part of a total magnetic intensity grid.
Sometimes a coloured map (without contours) of a grid is useful for quick
visualization of the data on a computer screen. Coloured maps like the one
illustrated in gure 3. are used to quickly look for data artifacts or "in-eld"
evaluation and interpretation for rapid follow-up. Note that a number of
lineations which may be evidence of diorite dikes are clearly evident in the data.
In addition, some lineations show evidence of lateral osets which may be
related to faulting. The colour scheme, in the gure, indicates magnetic lows as
blue, and highs as red.
Because a two dimensional contoured map or couloured image is produced from
a grid of data values derived from the measured data by interpolation, it is the
most elementary example of an interpretation of the magnetic or other data.
It is important to note, that the two dimensional type of presentation is a result
of considerable degradation and interpolation of the data. Consider that in
modern survey systems, magnetic data for example, is measured at 10 times a
second. At xed wing survey speeds of between 200 and 360 km/hour this
results in a sample interval of between 5.5 and 10 metres. If the traverse lines
are spaced 250 metres apart one usually uses a 50 cell size for an interpolated
grid for two dimensional display. To achieve this using bi-directional spline

gridding one samples along the line every 50 metres and then splines across the
lines to interpolate points every 50 metres in the orthogonal direction. This
results in taking approximately between every tenth (200km/hr) to every fth
(360 km/hr) point along the line and then inventing 4 out of ve points across
the lines. Thus the gridding process throws out between 90% and 80% of the
prole data and then creates 80% of the data between the lines to construct the
grid for further contouring, imaging or grid ltering processes.
Although, the two dimensional display of data is the most common method of
viewing and interpreting data, because of the ease of use and the ability to
superimpose other types of parametric data one is only working with a
interpreted subset of the real data set which is contained in the one dimensional
prole information. The prole data is harder to work with but as usual there is
no substitute for ward work if one is interested in getting the most out of a data
There are a number of commercial processing software systems available that
include sophisticated routines to produce a host of other interpretation products
and aids, either from grids, or from more importantly the measured prole data.
In section 5.2, we will discuss a few of the available aids, and methods, of
interpreting the geological meaning of the geophysical data.

Figure 3: A grid of total magnetic intensity data displayed on a computer in

colour. screen as a coloured map.

5.2 Interpretation
There are, at least, two dierent types of interpretation, of all geophysical data,
involved in the exploration process.
Interpreting the behavior of the geophysical data itself
Interpreting the geological meaning of the geophysical data.
The rst type of interpretation is the relatively straight-forward process of using
mathematical techniques to enhance various characteristics of the observed data
and relate them to possible physical causes relevant to the distribution of the
particular property of the source of the phenomena; for example, enhancing a
magnetic trend to try to determine if there is a preferential direction to the
orientation of the distribution of magnetite, and indicating this trend on a map,
and perhaps, commenting on a possible source of the trend, e.g. a fault or dike.
This type of interpretation is the only type associated with most survey contracts
simply because most of the information required for the second type of
interpretation is not available to the geophysical contractor.
The second, and most dicult and speculative but perhaps the most important
and certainly the most useful to the exploration geologist, type of interpretation
requires correlation between dierent types of geophysical data as well as with
geological and geochemical information. Because of the requirement of intimate
knowledge and access to the full spectrum of data collect for a particular
project, this type of interpretation is usually done by the exploration company
itself or by a that companies preferred consultant. In reality there is not enough
of this type of interpretation carried out and as a result the airborne geophysical
survey client is typically not maximizing the value of the geophysical survey. This
failure to fully integrate the survey data into the exploration process has
resulted in numerous missed deposits and provides a wealth of opportunity for
those that are willing to rework old data sets in a comprehensive way.

5.2.1 Interpreting Magnetic Data

In section 5.1 we mentioned that a contour map of the total magnetic intensity is
the most elementary form of an interpretation. It is an interpretation in the
sense that it is a 2 dimensionally continuous model of the magnetic eld derived
from discrete data measured along specic lines. From this limited data, and a
number of assumptions about the eld, such as that the eld is continuous and
does not contain any sudden spikes or steps, and the particular interpolation
method used to grid and contour the data will not introduce any articial
features, we arrive at a map of the magnetic eld. In fact, particularly if the
ight lines are inappropriately oriented or spaced, dierent gridding and
contouring algorithms will produce dierent maps. Thus, a contour map is an
interpretation of the measured magnetic eld itself.
There are a variety of other ways of interpreting the measured values other than
contouring them. For example, we may prepare a coloured map where the colour
of any given point on the map is determined by a colour scale based on the
measured or interpolated value of the magnetic eld at that point. A few other
possibilities include:

We may produce a horizontal gradient map by calculating and colouring or

contouring the dierence in successive magnetic measurements or grid
We may produce a pseudo shadow map by pretending that the data is
topographic data and calculating the brightness that any point on the map
would have if it was illuminated by a light source placed somewhere in the
"sky" above the eld, then display this "brightness" as a shade of gray.
We may smooth, or lter, the map in various ways before contouring or
colouring the values.
For example, gure 4. shows a monochrome pseudo shadow map of data in the
same area as is shown by the colour map of gure 3. The illumination of this map
is produced by a source located directly to the north at an angle of 30 degrees
above the horizon. This placement of the source will tend to emphasize east-west
structures at the expense of north south oriented features. We see a variety of
trend directions within this map, three of which we have indicated by the
coloured lines drawn across it. The green north-east trending lineations appear
to be interrupted by the nearly east-west trending red lineations and the
southern blue lineation. When this type of observation is correlated with
geological information and other geophysical data it is often possible to identify
the geological nature of the sources that produce the magnetic trends indicated.

Figure 4: A monochrome shadow map of the total intensity data in gure 3. Note
that this interpretation enhances some of the trends within the eld at the
expense of others. The coloured lines indicate three trend directions.

For comparison, gure 5. shows a second vertical derivative, calculated from the
total eld, of nearly the same map area. This map emphasizes the shorter
wavelength magnetic anomalies thus giving us dierent information about the
magnetic eld than does the previous gure. Note that the trends indicated in
the shadow map are also evident in this map but they are portrayed dierently.
By a careful comparison of the maps shown in gures 3, 4 and 5 we see that
these various interpretations of the magnetic eld can reveal dierent
information about the eld. These diering interpretations can be invaluable
aids while attempting a type of interpretation that is more important to
exploration for minerals or petrolium, i.e., interpreting the geological meaning of
the geophysical data. In this case, the osets of and /or truncation of the north
west trending lineations by the nearly east-west lineations obvious in the second
vertical derivative map and indicated by the black lines, suggest that this E-W
trend may be due to faulting.

Figure 5: A calculated, coloured, second vertical derivative of the total magnetic

intensity of the same area as shown in gure 4. The black lines indicate possible
fault zones
Figure 6. shows a comparison between magnetic data collected useing a xed
wing aircraft, collected using a helicopter data measured measured on the
ground. Note that most of the detail seen in the ground magnetic survey is also
present in the helicopter aeromagnetics.

Figure 6: A comparison between xed wing, helicopter and ground magnetic

contoured maps. Moving the mouse, over the left third of the picture will reveal
the Fixed wing data, over the center of the picture will show the Helicopter data
and over the right side the Ground data.
The Helicopter data gives a much more detailed view of the magnetic character
of the geology than the xed wing survey principally because the xed wing
survey was own at 120 metres of the ground on 200 metre spaced lines
whereas the helicopter survey was own with th magnetic sensor 30 meters of
the ground on 50 metre spaced lines. The helicopter survey also provides
greater data continuity than the ground survey since the ground survey sensor is
to close to the surface and is inuenced by surface material. Thus the helicopter
survey provides the best data for interpretation and was used to produce the the
interpretation map bellow:

Figure 7: Interpretation of the helicopter magnetic data. Moving the mouse over
the left half of the picture will display the helicopter magnetic data contour map.

5.2.2 Quantitative Interpretation

There are numerous methods, algorithms and software programs in use for the
quantitative interpretation of magnetic data, we will only look a few possible
methods that can be used to extract additional geological information from the
magnetic data. Depth to source information is contained in the shape of the
anomaly. Because of the obvious importance of the thickness of the sedimentary
section to a hydrocarbon explorationist, the depth to source, usually referred to
as the depth to the magnetic basement, is of critical importance. In addition,
depth information may be important when potential mineral deposits are
covered by a thick layer of either consolidated or unconsolidated overburden.
The wavelength of magnetic anomalies is a fundamental result of the depth of
burial. Attenuation caused by thickness of non-magnetic overburden is due,
almost entirely, to the increase in distance between the sensor and the magnetic
source. This eect, for the case of dikes, is illustrated in gure 8.

Figure 8: Magnetic anomalies due to shallow and deeply buried bodies.

Indeed, following Vacquier et. al. (1951), by calculating theoretical models of
simple bodies and then deriving graphical estimators from the models, we can
use the anomaly shape to obtain a rst approximation to the source depth under
the assumption that the model is a reasonable approximation to the source
geometry. An example of this approach, for a vertically dipping dike at a high
magnetic latitude is shown in gure 9.

Figure 9: The derivation of "slope" estimators for source depth from a theoretical
magnetic model. Note that, at this magnetic latitude the source depth D is about
twice the horizontal component of the length of the most steeply dipping anks
of a north-south prole across the anomaly.
A variety of mathematical modeling techniques can make "automatic" depth
estimates. A few of these are Werner deconvolution, Euler deconvolution, and
"inverse" magnetic modeling.
We usually refer to "direct" or "forward" modeling as the process of calculating
the magnetic response from the parameters of the source and "inverse"
modeling as calculating a parameter, e.g. depth, of the source from the magnetic
response assuming that the source is a particular simple shape. Many
commercially available programs have been developed to permit an interpreter
to model a wide variety of geophysical data types, both airborne and ground, and
calculate either the forward response of the model or, by inverse modeling, the
value of a parameter from the geophysical response of the source.

Figure 10. illustrates a forward magnetic model scenario using simple model
geometries. The some system are also capable, in the case of magnetic and
gravity data, of modeling the response of very complex geometries using an
assemblage of vertical polygons, each having many sides. Thus, it is possible to
test the validity of a depth to basement interpretation by modeling the response
that the interpreted surface would produce and comparing it to the observed
response. Similarly, the gravity response of the complex shape of, for example, a
salt dome or ore body, can be modeled and the results compared with either data
proles or contour maps of the observed eld.

Figure 10: The theoretical magnetic response, calculated along two prole lines
of a number of dipping dikes and a sphere.
Many exploration companies have developed other interpretation techniques
that are unique to their particular needs. They have the advantage of having
access to data that is not generally available to survey contractors or to their

Appendix 1: Typical Magnetic Susceptibilities of Earth

Rock (Mineral)

Type Susceptibility (c.g.s.)


0.3 to 0.8







Iron Formation












Other Acid Intrusives


Ely Greenstone




Sedimentary Rocks

0.00001 to 0.001

Selected Bibliography -- Airborne Magnetometer Surveys

Cameron, J.B. and Eby, T.W., 1971, Introduction to Gravity Exploration,
Exploration Department, Amoco Canada Petroleum Company Ltd.
Goh, Rocque, 1972, A Marine Magnetic Survey in the Mackenzie Bay /
Beaufort Sea Area, Arctic Canada; M.Sc. Thesis, Department of Geophysics, The
University of British Columbia, Vancouver B.C., Canada.
Grant, Fraser S., 1982, Regional Magnetic/Gravity Data in Selecting Areas for
Exploration, in Mining Geophysics Workshop., Paterson Grant and Watson
Grant, F.S. and West, G.F., 1965, Interpretation Theory in Applied Geophysics,
McGraw-Hill Book Company.
Hood, Peter, 1969, Airborne Geophysical Methods, Section 2, Aeromagnetic
Methods: in Advances in Geophysics Volume 13, pp. 4-41, New York, Academic

Hood, P.J., Irvine, J.L., and Hansen, J., 1882, The Application of the
Aeromagnetic Gradiometer Survey Technique to Gold Exploration in the Val d'Or
Mining Camp, Quebec. Canadian Mining Journal, vol. 103, no. 9; pp.21-39
Irvine, J., Cepella, O., and Payne, T., 1983, Kenting Gradiometer System,
presented at the 53 annual S.E.G. International Meeting and Exposition, Los
Vagas, Nevada, U.S.A.
Misener, James D., 1982, Airborne Magnetometer Surveys, in Mining
Geophysics Workshop., Paterson Grant and Watson Limited.
Reford, M.S., 1964, Magnetic Anomalies Over Thin Sheets: Geophysics, V. 29,
pp. 532-536
Sype, W.R., (1971), Application of Magnetic Surveys in Petroleum Exploration,
Exploration Department, Amoco Production Company, Tulsa Oklahoma, U.S.A.
Vaquier, V., Steenland, Nelson Clarence, Roland,G., and Zietz, Isidore,
1951, Interpretation of Aeromagnetic Maps: Geological Society of America
Memoir 47.