Vertical Subsurface Flow Mixing and Horizontal Anisotropy in Coarse Fluvial Aquifers: Structural Aspects

Thursday, 18 December 2014
Peter Huggenberger and Emanuel Huber, University of Basel, Basel, Switzerland
Detailed descriptions of the subsurface heterogeneities in coarse fluvial aquifer gravel often lack in concepts to distinguish between the essence and the noise of a permeability structure and the ability to extrapolate site specific hydraulic information at the tens to several hundred meters scale. At this scale the heterogeneity strongly influences the anisotropies of the flow field and the mixing processes in groundwater. However, in many hydrogeological models the complexity of natural systems is oversimplified. Understanding the link between the dynamics of the surface processes of braided-river systems and the resulting subsurface sedimentary structures is the key to characterizing the complexity of horizontal and vertical mixing processes in groundwater.

From the different depositional elements of coarse braided-river systems, the largest permeability contrasts can be observed in the scour-fills. Other elements (e.g. different types of gravel sheets) show much smaller variabilities and could be considered as a kind of matrix. Field experiments on the river Tagliamento (Northeast Italy) based on morphological observation and ground-penetrating radar (GPR) surveys, as well as outcrop analyses of gravel pit exposures (Switzerland) allowed us to define the shape, sizes, spatial distribution and preservation potential of scour-fills. In vertical sections (e.g. 2D GPR data, vertical outcrop), the spatial density of remnant erosional bounding surfaces of scours is an indicator for the dynamics of the braided-river system (lateral mobility of the active floodplain, rate of sediment net deposition and spatial distribution of the confluence scours). In case of combined low aggradation rate and low lateral mobility the deposits may be dominated by a complex overprinting of scour-fills. The delineation of the erosional bounding surfaces, that are coherent over the survey area, is based on the identification of angular discontinuities of the reflectors. Fence diagrams and horizontal time-slices from GPR data are used to construct simplified 3D hydraulic properties distribution models and to derive anisotropy patterns. On the basis of this work, conceptual models could be designed and implemented into numerical models to simulate the flow field and mixing in heterogeneous braided-river deposits.