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Measurement of unsaturated hydraulic properties and evaluation of property-transfer models for deep sedimentary interbeds, Idaho National Laboratory, Idaho

November 14, 2014

Operations at the Idaho National Laboratory (INL) have the potential to contaminate the underlying Eastern Snake River Plain (ESRP) aquifer. Methods to quantitatively characterize unsaturated flow and recharge to the ESRP aquifer are needed to inform water-resources management decisions at INL. In particular, hydraulic properties are needed to parameterize distributed hydrologic models of unsaturated flow and transport at INL, but these properties are often difficult and costly to obtain for large areas. The unsaturated zone overlying the ESRP aquifer consists of alternating sequences of thick fractured volcanic rocks that can rapidly transmit water flow and thinner sedimentary interbeds that transmit water much more slowly. Consequently, the sedimentary interbeds are of considerable interest because they primarily restrict the vertical movement of water through the unsaturated zone. Previous efforts by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) have included extensive laboratory characterization of the sedimentary interbeds and regression analyses to develop property-transfer models, which relate readily available physical properties of the sedimentary interbeds (bulk density, median particle diameter, and uniformity coefficient) to water retention and unsaturated hydraulic conductivity curves.


During 2013–14, the USGS, in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Energy, focused on further characterization of the sedimentary interbeds below the future site of the proposed Remote Handled Low-Level Waste (RHLLW) facility, which is intended for the long-term storage of low-level radioactive waste. Twelve core samples from the sedimentary interbeds from a borehole near the proposed facility were collected for laboratory analysis of hydraulic properties, which also allowed further testing of the property-transfer modeling approach. For each core sample, the steady-state centrifuge method was used to measure relations between matric potential, saturation, and conductivity. These laboratory measurements were compared to water-retention and unsaturated hydraulic conductivity parameters estimated using the established property-transfer models. For each core sample obtained, the agreement between measured and estimated hydraulic parameters was evaluated quantitatively using the Pearson correlation coefficient (r). The highest correlation is for saturated hydraulic conductivity (Ksat) with an r value of 0.922. The saturated water content (qsat) also exhibits a strong linear correlation with an r value of 0.892. The curve shape parameter (λ) has a value of 0.731, whereas the curve scaling parameter (yo) has the lowest r value of 0.528. The r values demonstrate that model predictions correspond well to the laboratory measured properties for most parameters, which supports the value of extending this approach for quantifying unsaturated hydraulic properties at various sites throughout INL.

Publication Year 2014
Title Measurement of unsaturated hydraulic properties and evaluation of property-transfer models for deep sedimentary interbeds, Idaho National Laboratory, Idaho
DOI 10.3133/sir20145206
Authors Kimberlie Perkins, Brittany D. Johnson, Benjamin B. Mirus
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Scientific Investigations Report
Series Number 2014-5206
Index ID sir20145206
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Idaho Water Science Center