Quantifying Seasonal Dynamic Water Storage in a Fractured Bedrock Vadose Zone with Borehole Nuclear Magnetic Resonance

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In many uplands landscapes, water is transiently stored in the weathered and fractured bedrock that underlies soils. The timing and spatial pattern of this “rock moisture” has strong implications for ecological and biogeochemical processes that influence global cycling of water and solutes. However, available technologies for direct monitoring of rock moisture are limited. Here, we quantify temporal and spatial changes in rock moisture at the field scale across thick (up to 20 m) fractured vadose zone profiles using a novel narrow diameter borehole nuclear magnetic resonance system (BNMR). Successive BNMR surveys were performed using the Vista Clara Inc. Dart system in a network of boreholes within two steep, intensively hydrologically monitored hillslopes associated with the Eel River Critical Zone Observatory (ERCZO) in Northern California. BNMR data showed agreement with estimates of the temporal and spatial pattern of rock moisture depletion over the dry season via downhole neutron and gamma density surveys, as well as permanently installed continuous time domain reflectometry. Observable shifts in the BNMR-derived T2 distribution over time provide a direct measure of changes in the amount of water held within different pore sizes (large vs. small) in fractured rock. Analysis of both BNMR and laboratory-scale NMR (using a 2MHz benchtop NMR spectrometer) measurements of ERCZO core samples at variable saturation suggest that rock moisture changes associated with summer depletion occur within both large (fracture) and small (matrix) pore sizes. Collectively, our multi-method field- and laboratory- scale measurements highlight the potential for BNMR to improve quantification of rock moisture storage for better understanding of the biogeochemical and ecohydrological implications of rock moisture circulation in the Critical Zone.

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Presented at the American Geophysical Union Annual Meeting on December 13, 2017 in New Orleans, LA.