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Hydrostratigraphic interpretation of test-hole and surface geophysical data, Elkhorn and Loup River Basins, Nebraska, 2008 to 2011

November 29, 2012

The Elkhorn-Loup Model (ELM) was begun in 2006 to understand the effect of various groundwater-management scenarios on surface-water resources. During phase one of the ELM study, a lack of subsurface geological information was identified as a data gap. Test holes drilled to the base of the aquifer in the ELM study area are spaced as much as 25 miles apart, especially in areas of the western Sand Hills. Given the variable character of the hydrostratigraphic units that compose the High Plains aquifer system, substantial variation in aquifer thickness and characteristics can exist between test holes. To improve the hydrogeologic understanding of the ELM study area, the U.S. Geological Survey, in cooperation with the Nebraska Department of Natural Resources, multiple Natural Resources Districts participating in the ELM study, and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Conservation and Survey Division, described the subsurface lithology at six test holes drilled in 2010 and concurrently collected borehole geophysical data to identify the base of the High Plains aquifer system. A total of 124 time-domain electromagnetic (TDEM) soundings of resistivity were collected at and between selected test-hole locations during 2008-11 as a quick, non-invasive means of identifying the base of the High Plains aquifer system. Test-hole drilling and geophysical logging indicated the base-of-aquifer elevation was less variable in the central ELM area than in previously reported results from the western part of the ELM study area, where deeper paleochannels were eroded into the Brule Formation. In total, more than 435 test holes were examined and compared with the modeled-TDEM soundings. Even where present, individual stratigraphic units could not always be identified in modeled-TDEM sounding results if sufficient resistivity contrast was not evident; however, in general, the base of aquifer [top of the aquifer confining unit (ACU)] is one of the best-resolved results from the TDEM-based models, and estimates of the base-of-aquifer elevation are in good accordance with those from existing test-hole data. Differences between ACU elevations based on modeled-TDEM and test-hole data ranged from 2 to 113 feet (0.6 to 34 meters). The modeled resistivity results reflect the eastward thinning of Miocene-age and older stratigraphic units, and generally allowed confident identification of the accompanying change in the stratigraphic unit forming the ACU. The differences in elevation of the top of the Ogallala, estimated on the basis of the modeled-TDEM resistivity, and the test-hole data ranged from 11 to 251 feet (3.4 to 77 meters), with two-thirds of model results being within 60 feet of the test-hole contact elevation. The modeled-TDEM soundings also provided information regarding the distribution of Plio-Pleistocene gravel deposits, which had an average thickness of 100 feet (30 meters) in the study area; however, in many cases the contact between the Plio-Pleistocene deposits and the overlying Quaternary deposits cannot be reliably distinguished using TDEM soundings alone because of insufficient thickness or resistivity contrast.

Publication Year 2012
Title Hydrostratigraphic interpretation of test-hole and surface geophysical data, Elkhorn and Loup River Basins, Nebraska, 2008 to 2011
DOI 10.3133/ofr20121227
Authors Christopher M. Hobza, Paul A. Bedrosian, Benjamin R. Bloss
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Open-File Report
Series Number 2012-1227
Index ID ofr20121227
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Nebraska Water Science Center