Karstbase Bibliography Database

Annable, W. K.
Numerical analysis of conduit evolution in karstic aquifers. Phd thesis
2003

Fractured and solutionally enhanced carbonate aquifers supply approximately 20 percent of the Worlds potable water supply. Although in rare cases these geologic settings can geochemically evolve into conduits which are of sufficient size to be explored and interpreted by researchers, the majority of the solutionally enlarged networks providing fresh water supplies remain too small to be directly measured. As such, we rely upon indirect hydraulic testing and tracer studies to infer the complexity and size of such aquifers. Because solutionally enhanced (karstic) aquifers have multiple scales of porosity ranging from matrix flow, fracture flow and open channel conduit flow, they are particularly vulnerable to contamination due to the high rates of chemical transport. In this study, a numerical model which solves for the variably-saturated flow, chemically-reactive transport and sediment transport within fractured carbonate aquifers has been developed to investigate the evolution of proto conduits from discrete fractures towards the minimum limits of caves which can be explored. The model results suggest that, although potentiometric surfaces can be of assistance in forecasting the possible locations of proto conduits at depth, many conduits are never detected using conventional observation wells relying upon hydraulic head data. The model also demonstrates the strong dependence in the pattern of vertical jointing on how conduits may evolve: fractures oriented similar to the mean groundwater flow direction show conduits evolving along the vertical fracture orientation; however, vertical fractures that differ significantly from the mean groundwater flow direction have vastly more complex dissolution networks. The transport of fine-grained sediments within the fractures has been shown to reduce the rates of conduit development in all but the highest velocity regions, resulting in simplified conduit networks, but at accelerated dissolution rates. The fully-coupled advective-dispersive and reactive chemistry equations were employed strictly with equilibrium reactions to simulate calcite dissolution. This study further shows that higher order kinetics in the form of the kinetic trigger effect of White (1997) are not required if diffusion between the rock matrix and the fracture surfaces account for multi-component matrix diffusion effects between the evolving conduits and the carbonate rock matrix according to the diffusional characteristics of the fractured rock system at hand.

karstic aquifers, conduit evolution