Hydraulic characteristics of fault zones and their impact on groundwater flow
Friday, 19 December 2014: 8:45 AM
An important source of groundwater recharge to sedimentary basin aquifers is from mountain block recharge and in many instances the rate and direction of groundwater flow is controlled by regional scale fault systems. Vertical faults may act as either barriers to horizontal groundwater flow perpendicular to the fault, conduits to horizontal flow along the fault or a combination of both. Faults can also provide conduits for vertical flow. There are very few evaluations of the impact of fault zones on groundwater flow. This study investigated groundwater flow characteristics across a fault zone between a fractured rock and sedimentary aquifer system. Hydrogeological and hydrogeophysical techniques were used to design a drilling program whereby multi-level observation wells were constructed at 3 field sites either side of the Willunga fault in the Willunga Basin, South Australia, up to 300 metres below ground level. The observed hydraulic gradients across the fault zone were very significant (2.5), with a head difference of 80 metres over a horizontal distance of less than 30 metres. Despite the high hydraulic gradient, calculating the groundwater flux across the fault was more complicated. A 3D numerical model was developed to determine the relative proportion of groundwater flow across the fault and flow parallel to the fault. This model was also used to assess the impact of the fault zone permeability on the hydraulic gradients across the fault and evaluate the mechanisms and behaviour of these conduit-barrier systems to groundwater flow. Groundwater age dating and hydrochemical analyses were conducted to examine and constrain the contributing end members of the different aquifer systems and trace groundwater movement and residence time across the fault zone.