In weathered bedrock aquifers, groundwater is stored in pores and fractures that open as rocks are exhumed and minerals interact with meteoric fluids. Little is known about this storage because geochemical and geophysical observations are limited to pits, boreholes, or outcrops or to inferences based on indirect measurements between these sites. We trained a rock physics model to borehole observations in a well-constrained ridge and valley landscape and then interpreted spatial variations in seismic refraction velocities. We discovered that P-wave velocities track where a porosity-generating reaction initiates in shale in three boreholes across the landscape. Specifically, velocities of 2.7 ± 0.2 km/s correspond with growth of porosity from dissolution of chlorite, the most reactive of the abundant minerals in the shale. In addition, sonic velocities are consistent with the presence of gas bubbles beneath the water table under valley and ridge. We attribute this gas largely to CO2produced by 1) microbial respiration in soils as meteoric waters recharge into the subsurface and 2) the coupled carbonate dissolution and pyrite oxidation at depth in the rock. Bubbles may nucleate below the water table because waters depressurize as they flow from ridge to valley and because pores have dilated as the deep rock has been exhumed by erosion. Many of these observations are likely to also describe the weathering and flow path patterns in other headwater landscapes. Such combined geophysical and geochemical observations will help constrain models predicting flow, storage, and reaction of groundwater in bedrock systems.
Subsurface weathering has traditionally been measured using cores and boreholes to quantify vertical variations in weathered material properties. However, these measurements are typically available at only a few, potentially unrepresentative points on hillslopes. Geophysical surveys, conversely, span many more points and, as shown here, can be used to obtain a representative, site‐integrated perspective on subsurface weathering. Our approach aggregates data from multiple seismic refraction surveys into a single frequency distribution of porosity and depth for the surveyed area. We calibrated the porosities at a site where cores are coincident with seismic refraction surveys. Modeled porosities from the survey data match measurements at the core locations but reveal a frequency distribution of porosity and depth that differs markedly from the cores. Our results highlight the value of using the site‐integrated perspective obtained from the geophysical data to quantify subsurface weathering and water‐holding capacity.more » « less
- NSF-PAR ID:
- Publisher / Repository:
- DOI PREFIX: 10.1029
- Date Published:
- Journal Name:
- Geophysical Research Letters
- Medium: X
- Sponsoring Org:
- National Science Foundation
More Like this
Fractures in Earth's critical zone influence groundwater flow and storage and promote chemical weathering. Fractured materials are difficult to characterize on large spatial scales because they contain fractures that span a range of sizes, have complex spatial distributions, and are often inaccessible. Therefore, geophysical characterizations of the critical zone depend on the scale of measurements and on the response of the medium to impulses at that scale. Using P-wave velocities collected at two scales, we show that seismic velocities in the fractured bedrock layer of the critical zone are scale-dependent. The smaller-scale velocities, derived from sonic logs with a dominant wavelength of ~0.3 m, show substantial vertical and lateral heterogeneity in the fractured rock, with sonic velocities varying by 2,000 m/s over short lateral distances (~20 m), indicating strong spatial variations in fracture density. In contrast, the larger-scale velocities, derived from seismic refraction surveys with a dominant wavelength of ~50 m, are notably slower than the sonic velocities (a difference of ~3,000 m/s) and lack lateral heterogeneity. We show that this discrepancy is a consequence of contrasting measurement scales between the two methods; in other words, the contrast is not an artifact but rather information—the signature of a fractured medium (weathered/fractured bedrock) when probed at vastly different scales. We explore the sample volumes of each measurement and show that surface refraction velocities provide reliable estimates of critical zone thickness but are relatively insensitive to lateral changes in fracture density at scales of a few tens of meters. At depth, converging refraction and sonic velocities likely indicate the top of unweathered bedrock, indicative of material with similar fracture density across scales.more » « less
Understanding how soil thickness and bedrock weathering vary across ridge and valley topography is needed to constrain the flowpaths of water and sediment production within a landscape. Here, we investigate saprolite and weathered bedrock properties across a ridge‐valley system in the Northern California Coast Ranges, USA, where topography varies with slope aspect such that north‐facing slopes have thicker soils and are more densely vegetated than south‐facing slopes. We use active source seismic refraction surveys to extend observations made in boreholes to the hillslope scale. Seismic velocity models across several ridges capture a high velocity gradient zone (from 1,000 to 2,500 m/s) located ∼4–13 m below ridgetops that coincides with transitions in material strength and chemical depletion observed in boreholes. Comparing this transition depth across multiple north‐ and south‐facing slopes, we find that the thickness of saprolite does not vary with slope aspects. Additionally, seismic survey lines perpendicular and parallel to bedding planes reveal weathering profiles that thicken upslope and taper downslope to channels. Using a rock physics model incorporating seismic velocity, we estimate the total porosity of the saprolite and find that inherited fractures contribute a substantial amount of pore space in the upper 6 m, and the lateral porosity structure varies strongly with hillslope position. The aspect‐independent weathering structure suggests that the contemporary critical zone structure at Rancho Venada is a legacy of past climate and vegetation conditions.
Weathering processes weaken and break apart rock, freeing nutrients and enhancing permeability through the subsurface. To better understand these processes, it is useful to constrain physical properties of materials derived from weathering within the critical zone. Foliated rocks exhibit permeability, strength and seismic anisotropy–the former two bear hydrological and geomorphological consequences while the latter is geophysically quantifiable. Each of these types of anisotropy are related to rock fabric (fractures and foliation); thus, characterizing weathering‐dependent changes in rock fabric with depth may have a range of implications (e.g., landslide susceptibility, groundwater modeling, and landscape evolution). To better understand how weathering effects rock fabric, we quantify seismic anisotropy in saprolite and weathered bedrock within two catchments underlain by the Precambrian Loch Raven schist, located in Oregon Ridge Park, MD. Using circular geophone arrays and perpendicular seismic refraction profiles, anisotropy versus depth functions are created for material 0–25 m below ground surface (bgs). We find that anisotropy is relatively low (0%–15%) in the deepest material sampled (12–25 m bgs) but becomes more pronounced (29%–33%) at depths corresponding with saprolite and highly weathered bedrock (5–12 m bgs). At shallow soil depths (0–5 m bgs), material is seismically isotropic, indicating that mixing processes have destroyed parent fabric. Therefore, in situ weathering and anisotropy appear to be correlated, suggesting that in‐place weathering amplifies the intrinsic anisotropy of bedrock.
Unaweep Canyon (Western Colorado, US) is an enigmatic alpine landform and hypothesized to represent a partially exhumed paleo valley which was glacially over-deepened in the late Paleozoic. Processing and interpretation of recently acquired 2D seismic reflection and refraction data support the concept of glacial over-deepening and indicate maximum bedrock depths of about 550 meters. Additionally, pronounced reflectors are observed within the sedimentary infill. The seismic data have also been subjected to surface wave analysis revealing a significant increase of the Vp/Vs ratio below a shallow (50 - 150 m depth) intra-sedimentary reflector. A large Vp/Vs ratio can be caused by both saturation and poor consolidation of dry low-porosity materials (e.g. dry sands).To investigate the potential occurrence of an aquifer associated with this interface, a high-density/long-offset electrical resistivity survey was conducted in fall 2019 along the seismic line. The maximum offset is 915 m at an electrode spacing of 5 meters, aiming at reaching depths of investigations between 150 and 200 meters. Inversion of the ERT data was initially conducted by means of smoothness-constrained algorithms. The imaging results revealed consistent structures with those resolved through seismic methods, at least within the required depth of investigation between 150 - 200 m. Furthermore, improvements in the resolution of the ERT imaging results was investigated after the inclusion of seismic interfaces as structural constraints in the inversion of the data. The comparison of the two approaches permitted to improve the interpretation of the ERT imaging results, which indicate low resistivities in the zone of high Vp/Vs ratios and thus strengthen the aquifer hypothesis. We present an integrated interpretation based on seismic structure, resistivity distribution, Vp and Vs velocities, and a distant well core. In a larger context, the results provide new insights on the subsurface hydrology in this arid part of the continental US as well as on the significance of multi-valued datasets for the interpretation and characterization of aquifers.more » « less