A Multi-Scale Approach in Mapping the Sedimentological and Hydrostratigraphical Features of Complex Aquifers
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Accessibility to consistent subsurface hydrostratigraphic information is crucial for the development of robust groundwater flow and contaminant transport models. However, full three-dimensional understanding of the subsurface geology is often the missing link. Construction of watershed-scale hydrostratigraphic models continues to be limited by the quality and density of borehole data which often lack detailed geologic information. This can become a serious problem where rapid sediment facies changes and intricate sediment architecture occur. This research is motivated by the idea that if we can understand more about the distribution of sediments and structures of complex deposits, we learn more about depositional processes and how they affect the internal geometry of a deposit and the distribution of hydraulic properties. One approach is to study surficial excavations (e.g. sand and gravel pits) that often punctuate shallow aquifers. The purpose of this study is to develop and test a method of integrating high-resolution georeferenced stratigraphic and sedimentologic information from sand and gravel pits as a means to better document sedimentologic data and improve understanding of the depositional environments. The study area is located within the Waterloo Moraine, in southwestern Ontario, and is an unconsolidated shallow aquifer system with a complex internal architecture and sediment heterogeneity. The method involves the integration of high-resolution field data with borehole and geophysical information in a computer-based 3D environment. A total of fourteen virtual sedimentary sections were constructed by georegistering digital photographs within a framework of georeferenced positions collected using a reflectorless total station and GPS. Fourteen sediment facies have been described in the field. These include crudely stratified gravel beds, planar and cross-laminated sandy strata (ripple and dune scales), along with laminated and massive silty and clayey beds. Calculated hydraulic conductivities span over seven orders of magnitude. The analysis of a single excavation has shown contrasting sediment assemblages from one end of the pit to the other, highlighting the complexity of the Waterloo Moraine. The heterogeneous and deformed layers of gravel, sand, and mud may be the product of an ice-contact to ice-proximal environment, whereas the extensive sandy assemblages may reflect an intermediate subaqueous fan region. The results also suggest that the borehole database overestimates the amount of fine-grained material in the study area. Finally, this research demonstrates that it is possible to build in a timely manner a 3D virtual sedimentologic database. New emerging technologies will lead to increased resolution and accuracy, and will help streamline the process even further. The possibility of expanding the 3D geodatabase to other excavations across the region in a timely manner is likely to lead to improved hydrostratigraphic models and, by extension, to more efficient strategies in water resources planning, management and protection.