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Unsaturated Groundwater Flow Beneath Upper Mortandad Canyon, Los Alamos, New Mexico

Description: Mortandad Canyon is a discharge site for treated industrial effluents containing radionuclides and other chemicals at Los Alamos National Laboratory, New Mexico. This study was conducted to develop an understanding of the unsaturated hydrologic behavior below the canyon floor. The main goal of this study was to evaluate the hypothetical performance of the vadose zone above the water table. Numerical simulations of unsaturated groundwater flow at the site were conducted using the Finite Element Heat and Mass Transfer (FEHM) code. A two-dimensional cross-section along the canyon's axis was used to model flow between an alluvial groundwater system and the regional aquifer approximately 300 m below. Using recharge estimated from a water budget developed in 1967, the simulations showed waters from the perched water table reaching the regional aquifer in 13.8 years, much faster than previously thought. Additionally, simulations indicate that saturation is occurring in the Guaje pumice bed an d that the Tshirege Unit 1B is near saturation. Lithologic boundaries between the eight materials play an important role in flow and solute transport within the system. Horizontal flow is shown to occur in three thin zones above capillary barriers; however, vertical flow dominates the system. Other simulations were conducted to examine the effects of changing system parameters such as varying recharge inputs, varying the distribution of recharge, and bypassing fast-path fractured basalt of uncertain extent and properties. System sensitivity was also explored by changing model parameters with respect to size and types of grids and domains, and the presence of dipping stratigraphy.
Date: October 15, 1998
Creator: Dander, D.C.