13 Jan 2022
13 Jan 2022
Status: a revised version of this preprint is currently under review for the journal HESS.

Characterizing groundwater heat-transport in a complex lowland aquifer using paleo-temperature reconstruction, satellite data, temperature-depth profiles, and numerical models

Jesus Alberto Casillas-Trasvina1,2, Bart Rogiers1, Koen Beerten1, Laurent Wouters3, and Kristine Walraevens2 Jesus Alberto Casillas-Trasvina et al.
  • 1Institute for Environment, Health and Safety. Belgian Nuclear Research Centre, SCK CEN, Boeretang 200, 2400 Mol, Belgium
  • 2Laboratory for Applied Geology and Hydrogeology, Department of Geology, Ghent University, Krijgslaan 281-S8, B-9000 Ghent, Belgium
  • 3ONDRAF/NIRAS, Belgian Agency for Radioactive Waste and Enriched Fissile Materials, Kunstlaan 14, B-1210 Brussels, Belgium

Abstract. Heat is a naturally occurring widespread groundwater tracer that can be used to identify flow patterns in groundwater systems. Temperature measurements, being relatively inexpensive and effortless to gather, represent a valuable source of information which can be exploited to reduce uncertainties on groundwater flow, and e.g. support performance assessment studies on waste disposal sites. In a lowland setting, however, hydraulic gradients are typically small, and whether temperature measurements can be used to inform us about catchment-scale groundwater flow remains an open question. For the Neogene aquifer in Flanders, groundwater flow and solute transport models have been developed in the framework of safety and feasibility studies for the underlying Boom Clay Formation as potential host rock for geological disposal of radioactive waste. However, the simulated fluxes by these models are still subject to large uncertainties, as they are typically constrained by hydraulic heads only. In the current study we use a state-of-the-art 3D steady-state groundwater flow model, calibrated against hydraulic head measurements, to build a 3D transient heat-transport model, for assessing the use of heat as an additional state variable, in a lowland setting, at the catchment scale. We therefore use temperature-depth (TD) profiles as additional state variable observations for inverse conditioning. Furthermore, a Holocene paleo-temperature time curve was constructed based on paleo-temperature reconstructions in Europe from several sources in combination with land-surface temperature (LST) imagery remote sensing monthly data from 2001 to 2019 (retrieved from NASA’s MODIS). The aim of the research is to understand the mechanisms of heat transport and to characterize the temperature distribution and dynamics in the Neogene aquifer. The simulation results clearly underline advection/convection and conduction as the major heat transport mechanisms, with a reduced role of advection/convection in zones where flux magnitudes are low, which suggests temperature is a useful indicator also in a lowland setting. Furthermore, performed scenarios highlight the important roles of i) surface hydrological features and withdrawals driving local groundwater flow systems, and ii) the inclusion of subsurface features like faults in the conceptualization and development of hydrogeological investigations. These findings serve as a proxy of the influence of advective transport and barrier/conduit role of faults, particularly the Rauw Fault in this case, and suggest that solutes released from the Boom Clay might be affected in similar ways.

Jesus Alberto Casillas-Trasvina et al.

Status: final response (author comments only)

Comment types: AC – author | RC – referee | CC – community | EC – editor | CEC – chief editor | : Report abuse
  • RC1: 'Comment on hess-2021-586', Anonymous Referee #1, 07 Mar 2022
    • AC1: 'Reply on RC1', Alberto Casillas-Trasvina, 27 Apr 2022
  • RC2: 'Comment on hess-2021-586', Anonymous Referee #2, 04 Apr 2022
    • AC2: 'Reply on RC2', Alberto Casillas-Trasvina, 27 Apr 2022

Jesus Alberto Casillas-Trasvina et al.

Jesus Alberto Casillas-Trasvina et al.


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Short summary
Heat in the subsurface can be used to characterize aquifer flow behaviour. The temperature data obtained can be useful to understand the groundwater flow which is of particular importance in waste disposal studies. Satellite images of surface temperature and a temperature-time curve were used implemented in a heat-transport model. Results indicate conduction playing a major role in the aquifer, and support the usefulness of temperature measurements.