Transient hydrodynamics within intercratonic sedimentary basins during glacial cycles

V. F. Bense, M. A. Person

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The hydrodynamic consequences of a glaciation/deglaciation cycle within an intercratonic sedimentary basin on subsurface transport processes is assessed using numerical models. In our analysis we consider the effects of mechanical ice sheet loading, permafrost formation, variable density fluids, and lithospheric flexure on solute/isotope transport, groundwater residence times, and transient hydraulic head distributions. The simulations are intended to apply, in a generic sense, to intercratonic sedimentary basins that would have been near the southern limit of the Laurentide Ice Sheet during the last glacial maximum (~20 ka B.P.), such as the Williston, Michigan, and Illinois basins. We show that in such basins fluid flow and recharge rates are strongly elevated during glaciation as compared to nonglacial periods. Furthermore, our results illustrate that steady state hydrodynamic conditions in these basins are probably never reached during a 32.5 ka cycle of advance and retreat of a wet-based ice sheet. Present-day hydrogeological conditions across formerly glaciated areas are likely to still reflect the impact of the last glaciation and associated processes that ended locally more than 10 ka B.P. Our results reveal characteristic spatial patterns of underpressure and overpressure that occur in aquitards and aquifers, respectively, as a result of recent glaciation. The calculated emplacement of low salinity, isotopically light glacial meltwater along basin margins is roughly consistent with observations from formerly glaciated basins in North America. The modeling presented in this study will help to improve the management of groundwater resources in formerly glaciated basins as well as to evaluate the viability on geological timescales of nuclear waste repositories located at high latitudes.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research
Issue numberF4
Early online date11 Oct 2008
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2008

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