A telluric current (from Latin tellūs, "earth"), or Earth current,[1] is an electric current which moves underground or through the sea. Telluric currents result from both natural causes and human activity, and the discrete currents interact in a complex pattern. The currents are extremely low frequency and travel over large areas at or near the surface of Earth.


Telluric currents are phenomena observed in the Earth's crust and mantle. In September 1862, an experiment to specifically address Earth currents was carried out in the Munich Alps (Lamont, 1862). The currents are primarily induced by changes in the outer part of the Earth's magnetic field, which are usually caused by interactions between the solar wind and the magnetosphere or solar radiation effects on the ionosphere. Telluric currents flow in the surface layers of the earth. The electric potential on the Earth's surface can be measured at different points, enabling us to calculate the magnitudes and directions of the telluric currents and hence the Earth's conductance. These currents are known to have diurnal characteristics wherein the general direction of flow is towards the sun.[2][3] Telluric currents will move between each half of the terrestrial globe at all times. Telluric currents move equator-ward (daytime) and pole-ward (nighttime).

Both the telluric and magnetotelluric methods are used for exploring the structure beneath the Earth's surface (such as in industrial prospecting). For mineral exploration the targets are any subsurface structure with a distinguishable resistivity from its surroundings. Uses include geothermal exploration, mining exploration, petroleum exploration, mapping fault zones, ground water exploration and monitoring, investigating magma chambers, and investigating plate tectonic boundaries. Telluric currents can be harnessed to produce a useful low voltage current by means of earth batteries. Such devices were used for telegraph systems in the United States as far back as 1859. There is a major hotspot near Boston Common that actually diverted the construction of the Western Hemisphere's first subway system from Boylston to Park St in 1897.[citation needed]

In industrial prospecting activity that uses the telluric current method, electrodes are properly located on the ground to sense the voltage difference between locations caused by the oscillatory telluric currents.[4][5] It is recognized that a low frequency window (LFW) exists when telluric currents pass through the earth's substrata. In the frequencies of the LFW, the earth acts as a conductor.[6]

In fiction

In William Hope Hodgson's novel The Night Land, the "Earth-Current", a powerful telluric current, is the source of power for the Last Redoubt, the arcology home of man after the Sun has died. Hodgson's Earth-Current is a spiritual force as well as an electrical one, warding off the monsters of the Night Lands.

The main plot of the novel Foucault's Pendulum by Umberto Eco revolves around search for the Ombilicus Mundi (Latin: The Navel of the World), the mystic Center of The Earth which is supposed to be a certain point from where a person could control the energies and shapes of the earth thus reforming it at will. The novel takes this even further by suggesting that monuments like the Eiffel Tower are nothing more than giant antennae to catalyze these energies.

Telluric currents are also used as a means of travel by the woman Hsien-Ko and her minions in the Doctor Who "Missing Adventures" novel, The Shadow of Weng-Chiang, by David A McIntee.

Telluric currents, along what are effectively ley lines, are discovered to be a means of mysterious communication in Thomas Pynchon's Mason and Dixon and are associated with the book's Chinese-Jesuit subplot. As with Eco, cited above, Pynchon also reflects upon hollow earth theories in this work.

See also


  1. In Chisholm, H. (1910). "Earth current". The Encyclopædia britannica: A dictionary of arts, sciences, literature and general information. New York: The Encyclopædia Britannica Company. Page 813-816.
  2. U.S. Patent 3,361,957, D. L. Hings, Telluric current responsive device having spaced conductors for positioning adjacent the Earth's surface
  3. Jahr, Emil, "U.S. Patent 690,151 Method of utilizing electrical earth currents".
  4. Dobrin, "Introduction to Geophysical Prospecting", McGraw Hill (3rd Ed. 1976) pg. 592.
  5. U.S. Patent 4,686,475, C. L. Kober, Passive geophysical prospection system based upon the detection of the vertical electric field component of telluric currents and method therefore
  6. Burrell et al., "Pulse Propagation in Lossy Media Using the Low Frequency Window for Video Pulsed Radar Application", Proceedings of the IEEE, Vol. 67, No. 7, July 1979, pgs. 981-990.

Further reading

  • Wait, J.R., "On the relation between telluric currents and the earth’s magnetic field", Geophysics, 19, 281-289, 1954.
  • Gideon, D. N., A. T. Hopper, and R. E. Thompson, "Earth current effects on buried pipelines : analysis of observations of telluric gradients and their effects". Battelle Memorial Institute and the American Gas Association. New York, 1970.
  • Seeley, Robert L., Tippens, C. L., and Hoover, Donald B., "Circuitry of the U.S.G.S. telluric profiler". U.S. Geological Survey open-file report ; 87-332, Denver, Colo. : U.S. Dept. of the Interior, Geological Survey.
  • Berdichevskiĭ, Mark Naumovich, "Elektricheskaya razvedka metodom telluricheskikh tokov". Boston Spa, Yorkshire : National Lending Library for Science and Technology, 1963. LCCN 92140338 (Tr., "Electrical surveying by means of telluric currents"; Translation by J.E.S. Bradley)
  • Hoover, Donald B., Pierce, H. A., and Merkel, D. C., "Telluric traverse and self potential data release in the vicinity of the Pinson Mine, Humboldt County, Nevada". U.S. Geological Survey open-file report; 86-341. U.S. Dept. of the Interior, Geological Survey, 1986.

External links

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hi:भूधाराएँ nl:Tellurische stroom ja:地電流 pl:Prądy telluryczne pt:Corrente telúrica sv:Jordströmmar zh:大地电流