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Control on groundwater flow in a semiarid folded and faulted intermountain basin

January 1, 2013

The major processes controlling groundwater flow in intermountain basins are poorly understood, particularly in basins underlain by folded and faulted bedrock and under regionally realistic hydrogeologic heterogeneity. To explore the role of hydrogeologic heterogeneity and poorly constrained mountain hydrologic conditions on regional groundwater flow in contracted intermountain basins, a series of 3-D numerical groundwater flow models were developed using the South Park basin, Colorado, USA as a proxy. The models were used to identify the relative importance of different recharge processes to major aquifers, to estimate typical groundwater circulation depths, and to explore hydrogeologic communication between mountain and valley hydrogeologic landscapes. Modeling results show that mountain landscapes develop topographically controlled and predominantly local-scale to intermediate-scale flow systems. Permeability heterogeneity of the fold and fault belt and decreased topographic roughness led to permeability controlled flow systems in the valley. The structural position of major aquifers in the valley fold and fault belt was found to control the relative importance of different recharge mechanisms. Alternative mountain recharge model scenarios showed that higher mountain recharge rates led to higher mountain water table elevations and increasingly prominent local flow systems, primarily resulting in increased seepage within the mountain landscape and nonlinear increases in mountain block recharge to the valley. Valley aquifers were found to be relatively insensitive to changing mountain water tables, particularly in structurally isolated aquifers inside the fold and fault belt.

Publication Year 2013
Title Control on groundwater flow in a semiarid folded and faulted intermountain basin
DOI 10.1002/2013WR014451
Authors Lyndsay B. Ball, Jonathan S. Caine, Shemin Ge
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Water Resources Research
Index ID 70123891
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Crustal Geophysics and Geochemistry Science Center