Conjoint use of hydraulic head and groundwater age data to detect hydrogeologic barriers

Sarah K. Marshall, Peter G. Cook, Leonard F. Konikow, Craig T. Simmons, Shawan Dogramaci

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)


Hydraulic head and groundwater age data are effective in building understanding of groundwater systems. Yet their joint role in detecting and characterising low-permeability geological structures, i.e. hydrogeologic barriers such as faults and dykes, has not been widely studied. Here, numerical flow and transport models, using MODFLOW-NWT and MT3D-USGS, were developed with different hydrogeologic barrier configurations in a hypothetical aquifer. Computed hydraulic head and groundwater age distributions were compared to those without a barrier. The conjoint use of these datasets helps in detecting vertically-oriented barriers. Two forms of recharge were compared: (1) applied across the entire aquifer surface (uniform), and (2) applied to the upstream part of the aquifer (upgradient). The hydraulic head distribution is significantly impacted by a barrier that penetrates the aquifer’s full vertical thickness. This barrier also perturbs the groundwater age distribution when upgradient recharge prevails; however, with uniform recharge, groundwater age is not successful in detecting the barrier. When a barrier is buried, such as by younger sediment, hydraulic head data also do not clearly identify the barrier. Groundwater age data could, on the other hand, prove to be useful if sampled at depth-specific intervals. These results are important for the detection and characterisation of hydrogeologic barriers, which may play a significant role in the compartmentalisation of groundwater flow, spring dynamics, and drawdown and recovery associated with groundwater extraction.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1003-1019
Number of pages17
JournalHydrogeology Journal
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2020


  • Groundwater age
  • Groundwater flow
  • Hydrogeologic barriers
  • Numerical modeling


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