Quantifying Hydraulic Properties and Connections Between Structural Blocks at Pahute Mesa, Nevada National Security Site

Friday, 19 December 2014
Tracie R Jackson1, Keith J Halford2 and C. Amanda Garcia1, (1)USGS Nevada Water Science Center, Carson City, NV, United States, (2)USGS, Carson City, NV, United States
Underground testing of high-yield nuclear devices on eastern Pahute Mesa in the Nevada National Security Site during the period from 1965-92 has introduced radionuclides into the groundwater system. Groundwater flow is complex because Pahute Mesa is underlain by a thick sequence of alternating lava flows and tuffs which have been faulted into distinct structural blocks. Hydraulic properties of volcanic-rock aquifers, confining units, and fault structures have been quantified across a 50 mi² area where radionuclide transport occurs. This large area has been investigated by pumping 60 million gallons of groundwater during 16 large-scale aquifer tests. Water-level changes have been detected in observation wells more than 3 mi from pumped wells and were interpreted simultaneously with multiple groundwater flow models—one model for each well site. Hydraulic properties were distributed with a single hydrogeologic framework model that was sampled by each groundwater-flow model. Hydraulic properties were estimated across structural blocks with offsets of 1,500 ft where pumping signals were measured across fault structures. The resulting large-scale estimates of hydraulic conductivity distributions and regional transmissivity map will improve predictions of radionuclide transport.