Karst aquifer evolution in fractured, porous rock.


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February 2000


The evolution of flow in a fractured, porous karst aquifer is studied by means of the finite element method on a two‐dimensional mesh of irregularly spaced nodal points. Flow within the karst aquifer is driven by surface recharge from the entire region, simulating a precipitation pattern, and is directed toward an entrenched river as a base level. During the early phase of karstification both the permeable rock matrix, modeled as triangular elements, and fractures within the rock matrix, modeled as linear elements, carry the flow. As the fractures are enlarged with time by chemical dissolution within the system calcite–carbon dioxide–water, flow becomes more confined to the fractures. This selective enlargement of fractures increases the fracture conductivity by several orders of magnitude during the early phase of karstification. Thus flow characteristics change from more homogeneous, pore‐controlled flow to strongly heterogeneous, fracture‐controlled flow. We study several scenarios for pure limestone aquifers, mixed sandstone‐limestone aquifers, and various surface recharge conditions as well as the effect of faulting on the aquifer evolution. Our results are sensitive to initial fracture width, faulting of the region, and recharge rate.

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Water Resources Research, Vol. 36, no. 6 (2000-02-01).