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Aerial Electromagnetic Surveying


AEM aquifer mapping is the core element of the AIA programme.  AEM delivers a step change in the understanding of groundwater and its interaction with surface water.  It is used widely overseas to support decision making about the allocation and use of water.  It will provide New Zealand with similar benefits to those provided by LIDAR in relation to land use.   

Groundwater is a foundational water resource that is not as well understood as surface water.  Aquifers facilitate both storage and flows of groundwater.  While less visible than surface water, groundwater also requires protection from overuse to ensure these vital stores are not depleted.  As 80% of surface water comes from groundwater, overuse of aquifers will impact on surface water volumes.  Better information on groundwater will prevent overuse that may arise from inadequate understanding of aquifer characteristics. 

AEM provides a 3D continuous ‘picture’ of aquifers.  This is a significant scientific advancement on the point-based evaluation and interpolation from bore log data alone, that is currently used to inform groundwater models. AEM provides councils with much greater resolution of data on which to model groundwater, test future scenarios and make allocation decisions.  AEM markedly reduces the uncertainty in groundwater modelling (Figure 1) and thus improves the confidence that councils can have in setting groundwater allocation policies because groundwater systems are better understood (Figure 2).  This leads to greater user certainty in water availability and investment security.  It also improves surface water allocation policies, given the interface between the groundwater and surface water. 


Figure 1: Higher data resolution to support greater understanding and management regimes


Figure 2: Groundwater elevation map based on 518 boreholes (left) compared to 1,400 TEM soundings. 


Aerial Electromagnetic Surveying

The water availability national science platform is now in place through AIA and can be usefully extended to provide benefits for the environment, people and productivity in other regions and subregions.  AEM aquifer mapping is the core element of the AIA programme, delivering a step change improvement in the understanding of groundwater and its interaction with surface water.   We are seeking funding from the government to extend AEM to new regions.  Contact us if you wish to explore the potential benefits of AEM for your region.


What type of surveying will be done?

We’re using the latest airborne electromagnetic technology (AEM) to understand more about one of our critical groundwater resources.

What is involved in AEM surveying

AEM surveying involves flying over the land with a loop system suspended from beneath a helicopter. Transmitters on the loop send electromagnetic signals underground, and sensors measure the behaviour of the returning signals. Similar to radar, this method allows us to ‘see’ what’s under the ground by looking at and interpreting, the way the signals return. 

When will the helicopter by flying the AEM surveying?

The surveys are likely to be undertaken during spring - autumn. Preferred conditions for the surveying include low wind, little cloud, and no heavy rain. 

Is AEM safe?

AEM is a safe and effective measurement tool that is used around the world. You may see the helicopter flying overhead but you will not notice any impact from the electromagnetic signals. Airborne SkyTEM is flown at high speed so there is limited exposure to the magnetic field generated from the equipment. The exposure is safer than watching a LCD or plasma TV or blow-drying your hair. 

What about my animals?

The technology is safe to use above animals. Experience in other farming areas is that stock generally aren’t disturbed much by the technology. In New Zealand the team has observed that horses moved to the other side of the paddock when the system came very near.

What will I see?

You may see a low-flying helicopter towing a large loop hanging from a cable. It will fly over the area on the below map and ‘scan’ to about 300 metres deep underground, where we’ve never seen before. We won’t be flying over towns or built-up areas.

How will the helicopter fly the survey?

The helicopter will fly at 80-120 km/hr in parallel lines generally 200 m apart and at a height of approximately 100 m. The measurement instruments are suspended under the helicopter and will be about 30 – 50 m above the ground. The noise from the helicopter has been described as equivalent to a truck going past on a motorway and lasts for around two to four minutes. The helicopter flies up and down in lines, so once it flies over, it will then return approximately 15 minutes later but be at least 200 m further away.

Will the helicopter take aerial images too?

We will not be gathering data or information on anything above ground. While the helicopter will carry a camera, this is only to guide the crew managing the loop, and no photos or video are retained or shared.

What will the information be used for?

The information gathered by the helicopter and loop will take some time to process and analyse. Once available, it will provide a much better picture of the underground water resource and reduce uncertainty to help guide decisions for environmental protection, development, resource consents, water management, and water availability for the local community. It will be available to councils, tangata whenua, and community groups, subject to agreed guidelines.

We want to assure you that these flights are not in any way used for compliance monitoring. We only want to know about water.

What if I have more questions or concerns?

Once the flight lines have been planned for each region, we will publish them on this website and on information flyers.

Please contact us if you have any questions or concerns about helicopter flights over your place. Let us know if you have an event you’d like us to avoid (eg a stock sale, wedding, hui) and we’ll do our best to plan around it.


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