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Electrode Sparker

Image of sparker electrode.
The schematic above (derived from Trabant, 1984) illustrates the basic components of the electrode sparker system

The sparker is an acoustic sound source, that generates an electrical arc that momentarily vaporizes water between positive and negative leads. The collapsing bubbles produce a broad band (50 Hz - 4 kHz) omnidirectional pulse which can penetrate several hundred meters into the subsurface. Hydrophone arrays towed nearby receive the return signals. It can operate only in salt water.

Electrode Sparker
Sparker readied to deploy

System Operation

The sparker system (operated at 50-4000Hz); generally yields greater penetration than the boomer or chirp systems, with resolution on the order of a few meters. Sparker systems have a simple design and are versatile in that the resolution and penetration can be varied by changing the capacitance and/or the voltage of the system. However, the long generated pulse length, limited directivity and repeatability, and creation of a bubble pulse limit its efficacy in many settings. It requires a power supply on board the ship to generate the electrical energy imparted to the point electrodes. It is easily deployed off the stern, or may be towed along-side the ship.

Sparker lighting up the water

System Usage

The sparker works well in continental shelf regions where hard sand and semi-consolidated sediments are common bottom types. It also can be used in deeper-water environments.

section of boomer profile collected on Cape Cod
Sparker profile collected off Washington Shelf.
Sparker profile collected off Washington Shelf. Vertical scale is sec. two-way travel time. Channels are cut into surrounding sediments (Foster et al., 2000).
section of boomer profile collected on Cape Cod
Sparker profile collected offshore southern Long Island, N.Y. Vertical scale is sec. two-way travel time. Channels, filled with muddy sediments are cut into more sandy sedimentary layers (Foster et al, 1999).


Foster, D.S., McKinney, B.A., and Schwab, W.C., 1999, Stratigraphic Framework Maps of the Nearshore Area of Southern Long Island from Fire Island to Montauk Point, New York: U.S. Geological Survey Open File Report 99-559.

Foster, D.S., P. A. McCrory, W. W. Danforth, and T. F. O'Brien, 2000, Archive of Boomer/Sparker Data Collected During USGS Cruise MCAR 98008 (M3-98-WO)

Washington Shelf, 24 June - 5 July, 1998, U.S.G.S. Open File Report 99-592, 3 CD-ROM’s.

Trabant, P.K., 1984, Applied High-Resolution Geophysical Methods: Boston, Ma., International Human Resources Development Corporation, p.103.

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