How fault zones impact regional permeability and groundwater systems: insights from global database of fault zone studies.

Wednesday, 17 December 2014: 3:05 PM
Jacek Scibek, Jeffrey M McKenzie and Tom Gleeson, McGill University, Montreal, QC, Canada
Regional and continental scale groundwater flow models derive aquifer permeability distributions from datasets based on hydraulic tests and calibrated local and regional flow models, however, much of this data does not account for barrier/conduit effects of fault zones, local and regional geothermal flow cells, and other fault-controlled flow systems. In this study we researched and compiled fault zone permeability and conceptual permeability models in different geologic settings from published multidisciplinary literature (structural- and hydro-geology, engineering geology of tunnels and mines, and geothermal projects among others). The geospatial database focuses on data-rich regions such as North America, Europe, and Japan. Regionalization of the dominant conceptual models of fault zones was regionalized based on geological attributes and tested conceptually with simple numerical models, to help incorporate the effect of fault zones on regional to continental flow models.

Results show that for large regional and continental scale flow modeling, the fault zone data can be generalized by geology to determine the relative importance of fault conduits vs fault barriers, which can be converted to effective anisotropy ratios for large scale flow, although local fault-controlled flow cells in rift zones require appropriate upscaling. The barrier/conduit properties of fault zones are present in all regions and rock types, and the barrier effect must be properly conceptualized in large scale flow models. The fault zone data from different geologic disciplines have different biases (e.g. outcrop studies, deep drillhole tests, tunnels, etc.) depending on scale of hydraulic tests. Finally, the calibrated recharge estimates for fault controlled flow systems may be lower than for unfaulted flow systems due to predominant barrier (regional anisotropy or permeability reduction), suggesting a “scaling effect” on recharge estimates.