Hydrogeology of an Atoll Island: A Conceptual Model from Detailed Study of a Micronesian Example

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Findings from a detailed hydrogeologic study of a Micronesian atoll island are combined with published descriptions of the hydrogeology of other atoll islands. The purpose is to propose a conceptual model which describes how the occurrence and flow of ground water in atoll islands are related to the underlying geologic framework. The study island is Deke, a small, uninhabited island on Pingelap Atoll in the Eastern Caroline Islands.

Integrated studies on Deke of surface geology and physiography, water levels and their variation, surface geophysics (seismic refraction and resistivity), and subsurface core samples indicate a hydrogeologic system that is more complex than would ordinarily be expected for a small and, at first glance, uncomplicated island. Of utmost importance to the occurrence and flow of ground water is the fact that the island straddles the lagoonward edge of the very firmly indurated reef‐flat plate. This plate is a hard, impermeable substrate beneath the northern portion (ocean side) of the island, occurs at sea level, and is underlain by unconsolidated or loosely cemented sediments. Study results indicate that this reef‐flat plate acts as a confining bed along the ocean side of the lens; elsewhere the lens is unconfined, receives recharge directly, and forms a thicker fresh‐water nucleus.

The conceptual model of atoll‐island hydrogeology involves a dual aquifer system: (1) an aquifer of mostly unconsolidated Holocene sediments resting on (2) a once emergent and now very permeable Pleistocene limestone platform. The Holocene aquifer, which is where the island lens occurs, is heterogeneous with respect to its hydraulic properties and is confined in part of the island and unconfined elsewhere, with the location of the two regions depending on where the island sits relative to the pinchout of the reef‐flat plate. In the unconfined region, there is a hydrologically‐important central depression, where low lying sediments are enclosed by ocean‐derived washover fans and a lagoon‐bordering dune. This area is a likely ground‐water sink due to direct evapotranspiration during the dry season. Accordingly, the model includes two flow patterns: a wet‐season pattern radiating outward from the unconfined lagoon‐side of the island, and a dry‐season pattern that includes a superimposed area of centripetal flow at the central depression.

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Groundwater, v. 24, issue 2, p. 185-198