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High-resolution mapping of the freshwater-brine interface using deterministic and Bayesian inversion of airborne electromagnetic data at Paradox Valley, USA

February 1, 2020

Salt loads in the Colorado River Basin are a primary water quality concern. Natural groundwater brine discharge to the Dolores River where it passes through the collapsed salt anticline of the Paradox Valley in western Colorado is a significant source of salt to the Colorado River. An airborne electromagnetic survey of Paradox Valley has provided insights into the 3D distribution of brine in the surficial aquifer. A combination of stochastic and deterministic resistivity inversions were used to interpret the top of the freshwater-brine interface and to qualitatively describe the vertical salinity gradients across the interface. Low-resistivity regions indicative of brine occur near the land surface where brine discharges to the Dolores River and increase in depth several kilometers up-gradient along the axis of the valley. The most conductive parts of the brine plume are found in the areas below and adjacent to the river, suggesting that the brine becomes shallower and more concentrated as it reaches its natural discharge location. A significant freshwater lens overlying the brine west of the Dolores River is spatially correlated to the intermittent West Paradox Creek and agricultural irrigation. Below this lens, the transition from freshwater to brine appears to occur abruptly over a few meters and correlates to available well information. However, away from these regions and particularly with distance from the river, the freshwater-brine interface appears to be more diffuse.