Are Visible Fractures Accurate Predictors of Flow and Mass Transport in Fractured Till?

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Young, Nathan
Simpkins, William
Horton, Robert
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AgronomyGeological and Atmospheric Sciences

Tracer experiments conducted in the laboratory on undisturbed core samples (<7.3-cmdiameter) have been a standard method for estimating hydraulic and transport properties of fractured till since the 1980s. This study assesses the relationship between visible fractures on the top and bottom of core samples and the resulting hydraulic and mass transport properties of the core. We hypothesized that more visible fractures would indicate the presence of a wellconnected fracture network, leading to greater hydraulic conductivity (K) values and earlier chemical breakthrough times. To test this hypothesis, water flow and bromide (Br-) tracer experiments were performed on ten, 16-cm diameter, 16-cm-tall samples of fractured Dows Formation till from central Iowa. Visually identifiable fractures were present on the top and bottom of every sample. Results indicate that the visual identification of fractures does not predict a connected fracture network, as some samples produced breakthrough curves showing rapid first arrival times and shapes characteristic of solute transport in a fractured medium, while others appeared similar to an unfractured medium. No correlation was found between the number of visible fractures and K (Pearson’s r = 0.25), or Br- first arrival time (r = -0.33), but a strong negative correlation between K and first arrival time (r = -0.92). Results indicate that the sample volume was not large enough to reliably contain a connected fracture network. Thus, testing large volumes of till at the field scale coupled with fracture-flow modeling likely represents the best approach for estimating hydraulic and mass transport properties for fractured till.


This is the peer reviewed version of the following article: Young, Nathan L., William W. Simpkins, and Robert Horton. "Are Visible Fractures Accurate Predictors of Flow and Mass Transport in Fractured Till?" Groundwater (2020), which has been published in final form at doi: 10.1111/gwat.13013. This article may be used for non-commercial purposes in accordance with Wiley Terms and Conditions for Use of Self-Archived Versions.

Wed Jan 01 00:00:00 UTC 2020