Groundwater flow within a sub-aerial orogenic wedge subject to depth-dependent permeability structure

Wednesday, 17 December 2014: 8:30 AM
Ryan Pollyea1, Erik Van Dusen2 and Mark P Fischer1, (1)Northern Illinois University, Chicago, IL, United States, (2)Murphy Oil Corporation, Houston, TX, United States
In recent years, investigators have revisited the problem of basin-scale fluid flow with an emphasis on depth-dependent permeability, which is a frequently observed geological phenomenon that is seldom accounted for in basin-scale flow models. These recent investigations have shown that depth-dependent permeability at the basin scale strongly influences the relationship between sub-basin and regional-scale flow paths. Here, we revisit topography driven fluid flow within a foreland basin using a numerical modeling experiment designed to assess first-order fluid system behavior when permeability decreases systematically with depth. Critical taper theory is invoked to define two-dimensional basin geometry, and three sub-aerially exposed orogenic wedge models are presented with critical taper angles of 2°, 4°, and 10°. To assess the combined influence of topographic slope and depth-dependent permeability, a constant rate infiltration is applied at the wedge surface and a transient simulation is performed within each model for 500,000 years. Our results suggest that fluid system structure within the narrowly tapering orogenic wedge (2°) is explained by recent investigations applying depth-decaying permeability to the classic Tóth basin; however, increasing topographic slope beyond 3° results in a fundamentally different fluid system architecture. As topographic slope increases, fluid system structure is characterized by (1) dominant regional flow paths and little, if any, sub-basin scale fluid circulation, (2) shallow meteoric water penetration, (3) a stratified distribution of groundwater residence time without pronounced stagnation points. Moreover, for a given detachment slope, these effects become more pronounced as topographic gradient increases.