VLF-EM surveying is carried out with a combination magnetometer and VLF-EM receiver. This instrument is designed to measure the electromagnetic component of the very low frequency field (VLF-EM) which is transmitted from various stations within North America.
In all electromagnetic prospecting, a transmitter induces an alternating magnetic field (called the primary field) by having a strong alternating current move through a coil of wire. This primary field travels through any medium and if a conductive mass such as a sulphide body is present, the primary field induces a secondary alternating current in the conductor, and this current in turn induces a secondary magnetic field. The receiver picks up the primary field and, if a conductor is present, the secondary field distorts the primary field. The fields are expressed as a vector, which has two components, the “in-phase” (or real) component and the “out-of-phase” (or quadrature) component. For the VLF-EM receiver, the tilt angle in degrees of the distorted electromagnetic field with a conductor is measured from that which it would have been if the field was not distorted with a conductor.
Since the fields lose strength proportionally with the distance they travel, a distant conductor has less of an effect than a close conductor. Also, the lower the frequency of the primary field, the further the field can travel and therefore the greater the depth penetration.
The VLF-EM uses a frequency range from 13 to 30 kHz, whereas most EM instruments use frequencies ranging from a few hundred to a few thousand Hz. Because of its relatively high frequency, the VLF-EM can pick up bodies of a much lower conductivity and therefore is more susceptible to clay beds, electrolyte-filled fault or shear zones and porous horizons, graphite, carbonaceous sediments, lithological contacts as well as sulphide bodies of too low a conductivity for other EM methods to pick up. Consequently, the VLF-EM has additional uses in mapping structure and in picking up sulphide bodies of too low a conductivity for conventional EM methods and too small for induced polarization (in places it can be used instead of IP).
However, its susceptibility to lower conductive bodies results in a number of anomalies, many of them difficult to explain and, thus, VLF-EM preferably should not be interpreted without a good geological knowledge of the property and/or other geophysical and geochemical surveys.