Reactive-transport modelling of gypsum dissolution in a coastal karst aquifer in Puglia, southern Italy


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The gypsum coastal aquifer of Lesina Marina (Puglia, southern Italy) has been affected by sinkhole formation in recent decades. Previous studies based on geomorphologic and hydrogeological data ascribed the onset of collapse phenomena to the erosion of material that fills palaeo-cavities (suffosion sinkholes). The change in the hydrodynamic conditions of groundwater induced by the excavation of a canal within the evaporite formation nearly 100 years ago was identified as the major factor in triggering the erosion, while the contribution of gypsum dissolution was considered negligible. A combined reactive-transport/density-dependent flow model was applied to the gypsum aquifer to evaluate whether gypsum dissolution rate is a dominant or insignificant factor in recent sinkhole formation under current hydrodynamic conditions. The conceptual model was first defined with a set of assumptions based on field and laboratory data along a two-dimensional transect of the aquifer, and then a density-dependent, tide-influenced flow model was set up and solved using the numerical code SEAWAT. Finally, the resulting transient flow field was used by the reactive multicomponent transport model PHT3D to estimate the gypsum dissolution rate. The validation tests show that the model accurately represents the real system, and the multi-disciplinary approach provides consistent information about the causes and evolution time of dissolution processes. The modelled porosity development rate is too low to represent a significant contribution to the recent sinkhole formation in the Lesina Marina area, although it justifies cavity formation and cavity position over geological time.


Karst, Aquifers, Italy

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