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Acta Geophysica

vol. 55, no. 2, pp. 182-190


DOI 10.2478/s11600-007-0003-9

A simple formula for shape and depth determination


from residual gravity anomalies
Khalid S. ESSA
Geophysics Department, Faculty of Science, Cairo University, Giza, Egypt
e-mail: khalid_sa_essa@yahoo.com

Abstract
This paper presents a simple method for shape and depth determination of a
buried structure from residual gravity anomalies along profile. The method utilizes
the anomaly values of the origin and characteristic points of the profile to construct
a relationship between the shape factor and depth of the causative source. For fixed
points, the depth is determined for each shape factor. The computed depths are then
plotted against the shape factor representing a continuous monotonically increasing
curve. The solution for the shape and depth of the buried structure is then read at
the common intersection point of the depth curves. This method is applied to synthetic data with and without random errors. Finally, the validity of the method is
tested on two field examples from the USA.
Key words: gravity anomalies, shape and depth determination, gravity anomalies,
depth curves.
1. INTRODUCTION

The problem of ambiguity in the interpretation of potential field data cannot be solved
by any processing or interpretation technique (Roy 1962). However, a unique solution
may be obtained by incorporating some a priori information such as assigning a simple geometry to the causative source (Roy et al. 2000). Although simple models may
not be geologically realistic, they are usually sufficient to analyze sources of many
isolated anomalies (Nettleton 1976, Abdelrahman and El-Araby 1993). In most cases,
the shape of the model is assumed, and the depth variable may then be obtained by
graphical method (Nettleton 1976), ratio techniques (Bowin et al. 1986, Abdelrahman
et al. 1989), transformation techniques (Odegard and Berg 1965, Mohan et al. 1986),
least-squares approaches (Gupta 1983, Lines and Treitel 1984, Abdelrahman et al.
1991), and Euler deconvolution (Thompson 1982).
2007 Institute of Geophysics, Polish Academy of Sciences

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SIMPLE FORMULA FOR SHAPE AND DEPTH DETERMINATION

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However, a few methods have been developed to determine the shape of the buried structure from residual gravity anomaly such as Walsh transformation technique
(Shaw and Agarwal 1990), the least-squares methods (Abdelrahman and Sharafeldin
1995, Abdelrahman et al. 2001), and the use of correlation factor between successive
least-squares residuals (Abdelrahman and El-Araby 1993).
Here, we present a very simple method for determining the shape and depth of
the buried structures from residual gravity anomaly along profile. The validity of the
proposed method is tested on synthetic examples and field examples from the USA.
2. THE METHOD

The general gravity anomaly produced by a sphere, an infinite long horizontal cylinder, and a semi-infinite vertical cylinder is given in Abdelrahman et al. (1989) as
g ( xi , z , q ) = A

zm
,
( x + z 2 )q
2
i

(1)

where
4 3 GR3

A = 2GR2 ,
GR 2

m = 1 ,
0

3 2

q = 1
1 2

for a sphere
for a horizontal cylinder
for a vertical cylinder

where z is the depth, q is the shape factor, xi is the position coordinate, is the density
contrast, G is the universal gravitational constant, and R is the radius.
At the origin (xi = 0), eq. (1) gives the following relationship:
g (0) =

A
z

2q m

(2)

Using eq. (1), we obtain the following normalized equation at xi = N (N = 1, 2, 3, ):


q

g ( N ) z2
= 2
.
2
g (0)
N +z

(3)

Let F = g ( N ) g (0) , then from eq. (3) we get


z=N

F1 q
.
1 F1 q

(4)

Equation (4) is then solved by simple calculation to determine the shape (shape factor)
and the depth of the buried structure.
In details, the method uses the gravity anomaly values of the origin point and
characteristic points of the profile to set a relationship between the shape factor and
depth of the buried structure. For several fixed points, the corresponding depth is de-

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K.S. ESSA

184

termined for each shape factor. The obtained depths are then plotted against the shape
factor generating a continuous monotonically increasing curve. The estimated solution
of the shape and depth of the buried structure is then read at the common intersection
point (or narrow zone) of the depth curves. The estimated parameters are then needed
to be interpreted and assessed with the known geology of the area under study and
other available geophysical results.
3. SYNTHETIC EXAMPLES

We have computed three different residual gravity anomalies due to a semi-infinite


vertical cylinder, a horizontal cylinder, and a sphere. The equations used in these
200

100

Residual gravity anomaly (mGal)

80

Model parameters:
A = 200 mGal
z = 2 km
q = 0.5

(b)
180
160

Residual gravity anomaly (mGal)

90

(a)

70
60
50
40
30

Model parameters:
A = 600 mGal*km
z = 3 km
q = 1.0

140
120
100
80
60
40

20

20

10

0
-14 -12 -10 -8

-6

-4

-2

10

12

14

Horizontal position (km)

-14 -12 -10 -8

-6

-4

-2

10

12

14

Horizontal position (km)

100
90

Residual gravity anomaly (mGal)

80

(c)
Model parameters:
A = 1500 mGal*km
z = 4 km
q = 1.5

70
60
50
40
30
20
10
0
-14 -12 -10 -8

-6

-4

-2

Horizontal position (km)

10

12 14

Fig. 1. Residual gravity anomalies


of a semi-infinite vertical cylinder
(a), a horizontal cylinder (b), and a
sphere (c).

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SIMPLE FORMULA FOR SHAPE AND DEPTH DETERMINATION

185

modeling computations, respectively, are:


g1 ( xi ) =

200
,
( x + 22 )0.5

(5)

g2 ( xi ) =

1800
,
( xi2 + 32 )

(6)

g3 ( xi ) =

6000
.
( x + 42 )1.5

(7)

2
i

2
i

Figure 1 shows the computed gravity anomalies. Equation (4) has been applied
to the residual anomaly profiles, yielding depth solutions for all possible q for N = 1,
2, 3, 4, 5, 6 km. The computed depths are plotted against the shape factor leading to
6.0

4.5

(a)

(b)

5.5

4.0
Interpretation:
z = 2 km
q = 0.5

5.0
4.5

Depth curves

4.0
3.5
3.0
2.5

Interpretation:
z = 3 km
q = 1.0
Intersection point

3.0

Depth (km)

Depth (km)

3.5

2.5
Depth curves

2.0

N = 1 km

Intersection point

2.0

N = 2 km

N = 1 km

1.5

N = 2 km

N = 3 km

1.5

N = 4 km

1.0

N = 3 km

1.0

N = 4 km

N = 5 km
N = 6 km

0.5
0.0

N = 5 km

0.5

N = 6 km

0.0
0.1 0.2 0.3 0.4 0.5 0.6 0.7 0.8 0.9 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5

Shape factor (q)

0.1 0.2 0.3 0.4 0.5 0.6 0.7 0.8 0.9 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5

Shape factor (q)

4.0
Intersection point

3.5

(c)

Interpretation:
z = 4 km
q = 1.5

3.0

Depth (km)

2.5

Depth curves

2.0
N = 1 km

1.5

N = 2 km
N = 3 km

1.0

N = 4 km
N = 5 km

0.5

N = 6 km

0.0

Fig. 2. The depth z versus shape factor


q for N = 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6 km as obtained from the gravity anomalies: g1
(panel a), g2 (panel b), and g3 (panel c)
using the present method. The estimated
z and q are shown.

0.1 0.2 0.3 0.4 0.5 0.6 0.7 0.8 0.9 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5

Shape factor (q)

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K.S. ESSA

186

continuous depth curves for the different N values, and the results are summarized in
Fig. 2. Figure 2 shows that the depth curves intersect at the correct locations (q = 0.5
and z = 2 km, q = 1 and z = 3 km, and q = 1.5 and z = 4 km) of each of the three structures. In all cases, the solutions for shape factor and depth are in excellent agreement
with the true parameters given in Fig. 1.
In order to examine the effect of noise on the suggested method, 5% random
errors were added to each gravity anomaly to produce noisy data (Fig. 3). In case of
the vertical cylinder model, the depth curves intersect each other in a narrow region
where 0.60 > q > 0.44 and 2.20 km > z > 1.70 km, and the central point of this region
has q = 0.51, z = 1.90 km (Fig. 3a). In case of the horizontal cylinder model, the depth
curves intersect also at a narrow region where 1.10 > q > 0.92 and 3.25 km > z > 2.85
km, and the central point of this region has q = 1.05, z = 3.20 km (Fig. 3b). On the
5.5

4.5

(a)

(b)

5.0
4.5

4.0
Interpretation:
z = 1.90 km
q = 0.51

Interpretation:
z = 3.20 km
q = 1.05

3.5

Depth curves

4.0

Intersection point

3.0

Depth (km)

Depth (km)

3.5
3.0
2.5
2.0

Intersection point

2.5
Depth curves

2.0

N = 1 km
N = 2 km

1.5

N = 1 km

1.5

N = 2 km

N = 3 km
N = 4 km

1.0

N = 3 km

1.0

N = 4 km

N = 5 km
N = 6 km

0.5
0.0

N = 5 km

0.5

N = 6 km

0.0
0.1 0.2 0.3 0.4 0.5 0.6 0.7 0.8 0.9 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5

Shape factor (q)

0.1 0.2 0.3 0.4 0.5 0.6 0.7 0.8 0.9 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5

Shape factor (q)

4.5
4.0

(c)

Interpretation:
z = 3.80 km
q = 1.40

Intersection point

3.5

Depth (km)

3.0
2.5

Depth curves

2.0
N = 1 km

1.5

N = 2 km
N = 3 km

1.0

N = 4 km
N = 5 km

0.5

N = 6 km

0.0

Fig. 3. The depth z versus shape factor


q for N = 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6 km as obtained from the gravity anomalies: g1
(panel a), g2 (panel b), and g3 (panel c)
after adding 5% random errors to data
using the present method. The estimated z and q are shown.

0.1 0.2 0.3 0.4 0.5 0.6 0.7 0.8 0.9 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6

Shape factor (q)

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SIMPLE FORMULA FOR SHAPE AND DEPTH DETERMINATION

187

other hand, in case of the sphere model, the curves intersect each other at a point located at q = 1.40 and z = 3.80 km (Fig. 3c). In all cases, the solutions for shape and
depth are in a good agreement with the parameters given in Fig. 1. This demonstrates
that our method could produce reliable results even when the gravity data are contaminated with noise.
0

(a)

-2

(b)

-10

Residual gravity anomaly


-4

-20

Residual gravity anomaly


-6

-30
-8

-40

-10

-50

-12

-14
-4

-3

-2

-1

-60
-7

Horizontal position (km)

-6

-5

-4

-3

-2

-1

Horizontal position (m)

Fig. 4: (a) Residual gravity profile over Humble salt dome, TX, USA (after Nettleton 1976);
(b) Residual gravity profile over a cavity at the Medford test site (after Butler 1984).
5.5

(a)
Intersection point

5.0
4.5

5.0

Interpretation:
z= 4.30 m
q= 0.88
Intersection point

4.5

3.5

Depth (km)

(b)

6.0
5.5

Interpretation:
z= 4.85 km
q= 1.4

4.0

3.0

6.5

4.0
Depth curves

3.5
3.0

2.5

Depth curves

2.5

2.0
N= 0.427 km

N= -1 m

2.0

N= -2 m

N= 0.854 km

1.5

N= 1.281 km

1.0

N= 1.608 km
N= 2.035 km

0.5

1.5

N= -3 m
N= -4 m

1.0

N= -5 m

0.5
0.0

0.0
0.1 0.2 0.3 0.4 0.5 0.6 0.7 0.8 0.9 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6

shape factor (q)

0.1 0.2 0.3 0.4 0.5 0.6 0.7 0.8 0.9 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5

shape factor (q)

Fig. 5. The depth z versus shape factor q: (a) for N = 0.427, 0.854, 1.281, 1.608, and 2.035 km
as obtained from the Humble gravity anomaly profile, using the present method; (b) for N = 1,
2, 3, 4, and 5 m as obtained from the Medford cavity gravity anomaly profile using the
present method. The estimated z and q are shown.

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188

K.S. ESSA

4. FIELD EXAMPLES

To examine the applicability of the proposed method, the following two field examples are presented.
Humble salt dome

A residual gravity profile of the Humble salt dome, TX, USA (Nettleton 1976) was
digitized at an interval of 0.427 km (Fig. 4a). Equation (4) was used to determine
the depth and shape factor using all possible cases of N values (N = 0.427, 0.854,
1.281, 1.608, and 2.035 km). The results are plotted in Fig. 5a. Figure 5a shows the
depth curves intersect each other in a narrow region where 1.44 > q > 1.35 and 5.15
km > z > 4.55 km, and the central point of this region occurs at the location
q = 1.4, z = 4.85 km. The obtained depth agrees very well with the results obtained
from drilling and seismic information (4.97 km; after Nettleton 1976). However, the
shape factor (q = 1.4; almost a sphere) may not be very suitable (probably because of
the equivalence of the inverse problem solution) for describing the salt dome which
likely could geologically be described by a vertical cylinder.
Medford cavity

Figure 4b shows the residual gravity profile for a cavity anomaly located at the Medford site, Florida, USA (Butler 1984). The residual anomaly data was interpolated
using 1 m. Equation (4) was applied for each N value (N = 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 m).
The results are shown in Fig. 5b. Figure 5b shows the depth curves intersect each
other in a narrow region where 0.94 > q > 0.75 and 4.70 km > z > 4.0 m, and the depth
curves intersect each other approximately at z = 4.3 m and q = 0.88. The obtained
shape factor suggests that the cavity could reasonably be approximated by a cylinder
model. Besides, the results show that there is a reasonable correlation between the
depth obtained from the method proposed (4.3 km) and that obtained from drilling
information (3.57 m).
5. CONCLUSIONS

A simple method to simultaneously determine the shape and depth of a buried structure from the residual gravity anomalies has been introduced. The technique utilizes
the gravity anomaly values along profile to construct a relationship between the shape
factor and depth of the causative source. The depth of the buried structure is determined for each shape factor using a number of fixed points along the profile. The determined depths are then plotted against the shape factor generating a continuous
monotonically increasing curve. The solution for the shape and depth of the buried
structure is then read at the common intersection point (or narrow region) of the depth
curves. The method has been applied to synthetic data with and without random errors
and produced good results.

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SIMPLE FORMULA FOR SHAPE AND DEPTH DETERMINATION

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Finally, the method has been validated and tested on two field examples from the
USA, and the produced depths values are found in a reasonable agreement with those
obtained from drilling. The obtained results should be further interpreted in a collective manner with other available geophysical results and the known geology of the
area under study.
A c k n o w l e d g m e n t s . The author wishes to thank Prof. Andrzej Leniak, the
Editor, and Prof. Janusz Madej, the reviewer, for their excellent suggestions and
through review that improved the manuscript. Many thanks to Prof. El-Sayed M. Abdelrahman, Geophysics Department, Faculty of Science, Cairo University, for his constant help and encouragement and Dr. Salah Mehanee, Department of Mathematics,
Macquarie University, for his help and encouragement.

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190

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Received 26 August 2006
Accepted in revised form 10 January 2007

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