Transcat Application Note:

Why Measure Soil Resistivity?

Soil resistivity measurements have a threefold purpose. First, such data is used to make sub-surface geophysical surveys as an aid in identifying ore locations, depth of bedrock and other geological phenomena. Second, resistivity has a direct impact on the degree of corrosion in underground pipelines. A decrease in resistivity relates to an increase in corrosion activity and therefore dictates the protective treatment to be used. Third, soil resistivity directly affects the design of a grounding system, and it is to that task that this discussion is directed. When designing an extensive grounding system, it is advisable to locate the area of lowest soil resistivity in order to achieve the most economical grounding installation.

Effects of Soil Resistivity on Ground Electrode Resistance

Soil resistivity is the key factor that determines what the resistance of a grounding electrode will be and to what depth it must be driven to obtain low ground resistance. The resistivity of the soil varies widely throughout the world and changes seasonally. Soil resistivity is determined largely by its content of electrolytes, which consist of moisture, minerals and dissolved salts. A dry soil has high resistivity if it contains no soluble salts.

Factors Affecting Soil Resistivity

Two samples of soil, when thoroughly dried, may in fact become very good insulators. The resistivity of the soil sample is seen to change quite rapidly until approximately 20% or greater moisture content is reached.

The resistivity of the soil is also influenced by temperature. For example, the variation of the resistivity of sandy loam, containing 15.2% moisture, with temperature changes from 20 to -15 Deg C. In this temperature range the resistivity is seen to vary from 7200 to 330,000 ohm-centimeters.

Because soil resistivity directly relates to moisture content and temperature, it is reasonable to assume that the resistance of any grounding system will vary throughout the different seasons of the year. Since both temperature and moisture content become more stable at greater distances below the surface of the earth, it follows that a grounding system, to be most effective at all times, should be constructed with the ground rod driven down a considerable distance below the surface of the earth. Best results are obtained if the ground rod reaches the water table.

In some locations, the resistivity of the earth is so high that low-resistance grounding can be obtained only at considerable expense and with an elaborate grounding system. In such situations, it may be economical to use a grounding rod system of limited size and to reduce the ground resistivity by periodically increasing the soluble chemical content of the soil.

Chemically treated soil is subject to considerable variation of resistivity with temperature changes. If salt treatment is employed, it is necessary to use ground rods which will resist chemical corrosion.

Content for this article provided compliments of AEMC Instruments

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