Turn up the heat to locate and quantify groundwater flow in fractured rock aquifers in coastal zones of the tropical island of Curaçao

Dual porosity flow is an important mechanism for groundwater transport in fractured rock aquifers. However, quantification and characterization of fracture flow systems remains challenging, as it often involves complex procedures such as the injection of tracers. In this study we conducted single-well pumping tests in 11 uncased wells in a coastal fractured rock aquifer while monitoring in-well salinity and temperature gradients through downhole casts using a Conductivity-Temperature-Depth (CTD) logger. In this way, we aimed to observe how naturally occurring salinity gradients in the well become disturbed by induced groundwater flow to the well, and if these gradients may serve as natural tracers for fracture flow. Since natural temperature gradients in the wells are minimal, we applied point electrical heating at the bottom of the well to create a plume of slightly warmer water to migrate up the wellbore during pumping from the top. During the pumping tests in this set-up, repeated CTD casts suggest that groundwater flow to these wells is strongly focused along narrow zones and is occurring at various rates over a range of salinities and temperatures. Hence, the observed patterns in both salinity and temperature presumably reflect the presence of fracture zones, which could indeed be confirmed by downhole camera observations for some wells. Further data analysis resulted in detailed hydrogeological characterization of the 11 wells, comprising an assessment of the fracture density and hydraulic conductivity of the aquifers, as well as the origin of the inflowing water being meteoric mostly fresh water or deeper saline groundwater.

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