1Institute of Geophysics, University of Lausanne, Lausanne, Switzerland
2Institute of Geophysics, ETH Zurich, Switzerland
3Geothermal Explorers International Ltd, Pratteln, Switzerland
4US Geological Survey, Denver, CO, USA
5Eawag, Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology, Dübendorf, Switzerland
6Institute of Environmental Engineering, ETH Zurich, Switzerland
7Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research, WSL, Birmensdorf, Switzerland
Abstract. Self-potentials (SP) are sensitive to water fluxes and concentration gradients in both saturated and unsaturated geological media, but quantitative interpretations of SP field data may often be hindered by the superposition of different source contributions and time-varying electrode potentials. Self-potential mapping and close to two months of SP monitoring on a gravel bar were performed to investigate the origins of SP signals at a restored river section of the Thur River in northeastern Switzerland. The SP mapping and subsequent inversion of the data indicate that the SP sources are mainly located in the upper few meters in regions of soil cover rather than bare gravel. Wavelet analyses of the time-series indicate a strong, but non-linear influence of water table and water content variations, as well as rainfall intensity on the recorded SP signals. Modeling of the SP response with respect to an increase in the water table elevation and precipitation indicate that the distribution of soil properties in the vadose zone has a very strong influence. We conclude that the observed SP responses on the gravel bar are more complicated than previously proposed semi-empiric relationships between SP signals and hydraulic head or the thickness of the vadose zone. We suggest that future SP monitoring in restored river corridors should either focus on quantifying vadose zone processes by installing vertical profiles of closely spaced SP electrodes or by installing the electrodes within the river to avoid signals arising from vadose zone processes and time-varying electrochemical conditions in the vicinity of the electrodes.