Water Recharge and Solute Transport Through the Vadose Zone of Fractured Chalk Under Desert Conditions Academic Article uri icon

abstract

  • This study focuses on water flow and solute migration through unsaturated fractured chalk in an arid area. The chalk underlies a major industrial complex in the northern Negev desert, where groundwater contamination has been observed. Four dry-drilling holes were bored through the vadose zone. Core and auger samples, collected at 30- to 50-cm intervals, were used for chemical and isotopic analyses, enabling the construction of the following profiles: (1) a tritium profile, to estimate the rate of water flow through the unsaturated zone; (2) oxygen 18 and deuterium profiles, to assess the evaporation of water at land surface before percolation, and in the upper part of the vadose zone after infiltration; and (3) chloride and bromide profiles, as tracers for inert solutes and pollutants. The tritium and bromide profiles showed the rate of infiltration through the unsaturated matrix to be very slow (1.6–11 cm/yr). The chemical and isotopic data from the core holes suggested that the pore water changes characteristics with depth. Close to land surface, the pore water is strongly evaporated (δ18O = +5.94‰) and highly concentrated (∼29 meq Cl/100 g rock), but changes gradually with depth to amore dilute concentration (∼4 meq Cl/100 g rock) and isotopically depleted composition (δ18O = −4.4‰), closer to the isotopic composition of precipitation and groundwater. Nearby monitoring wells have shown anthropogenic contribution of heavy metals, organic compounds, and tritium (Nativ and Nissim, 1992). A conceptual model is proposed in which a small portion of the rainwater percolates downward through the matrix, while a larger percentage of the percolating water moves through preferential pathways in fractures. The water flowing through the fractures penetrates the matrix across the fracture walls, where it increases the tritium concentrations, depletes the stable isotopic composition, and dilutes the salt concentrations. The observed rapid downward migration of tritium and heavy metals through the profuse fractures makes the chalk inefficient as a hydrologic barrier.

publication date

  • January 1, 1995