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Time-domain electromagnetic soundings and passive-seismic measurements for delineation of saline groundwater in the Genesee Valley-fill aquifer system, western New York, 2016–17

April 29, 2021

The U.S. Geological Survey, in cooperation with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, used noninvasive surface geophysics in the investigation of the distribution of saline groundwater in the valley-fill aquifer system of the Genesee River Valley near the former Retsof salt mine in western New York. In 1994, the Retsof salt mine, the largest of its kind in the western hemisphere, underwent a catastrophic roof collapse that resulted in groundwater inflow from the valley-fill aquifer system and bedrock fracture zones into the mine through two bedrock-rubble chimneys and the subsequent dissolution and filling of the mine with saturated brine. Since the early 2000s, except for a period of remedial pumping in 2006 to 2013, high-salinity water has migrated upward through the rubble chimneys into the basal part the aquifer system. The extent of saline-water migration within the aquifer system had not been evaluated since the end of remedial pumping when all the monitoring wells were grouted shut and abandoned. Installation of a monitoring-well network would be expensive and difficult given the thickness and heterogeneous character of valley fill. An investigation of the current extent of saline water in the aquifer system was warranted because the basal part of the aquifer is shallow to the north and it is used for water supply.

In fall 2016 and fall 2017, the U.S. Geological Survey collected time-domain electromagnetic soundings at 105 sites along 13 cross-valley transects north and south of the mine-collapse area, east of Piffard, and on the Fowlerville Moraine. The time-domain electromagnetic soundings were colocated with passive-seismic measurements to estimate the bedrock-surface elevation through use of a regression equation developed from measurements at well sites with reported bedrock depths in the study area. An integrated analysis of the time-domain electromagnetic soundings with the depth-to-bedrock estimates, well logs, and past chloride-monitoring data suggests the presence of a zone of high electrical conductivity associated with saline water in the confined lower part of the valley-fill aquifer system. This high-salinity zone delineated in the lower confined aquifer extends from the mine-collapse area northward for more than 2.5 miles (4.0 kilometers). The chloride concentration in groundwater within this high-conductivity zone may be about 20,000 milligrams per liter. Saline water flowing upward through the bedrock-rubble chimneys and mixing with northward groundwater flow in the lower confined aquifer likely is a major source of chlorides for this high-conductivity zone. The northern extent of the zone is unclear because of the presence of highly saline water zones that were delineated by time-domain electromagnetic soundings in the lower confined aquifer and uppermost bedrock and are probably associated with historic salt-solution wells in Piffard or possibly sourced from natural brine pools.

Publication Year 2021
Title Time-domain electromagnetic soundings and passive-seismic measurements for delineation of saline groundwater in the Genesee Valley-fill aquifer system, western New York, 2016–17
DOI 10.3133/sir20215008
Authors John H. Williams, William M. Kappel, Carole D. Johnson, Eric A. White, Paul M. Heisig, John W. Lane
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Scientific Investigations Report
Series Number 2021-5008
Index ID sir20215008
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization New York Water Science Center