Physical Investigation of Field Scale Groundwater Recharge Processes in the Virginia Blue Ridge Physiographic Province

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Virginia Tech

Physical and geophysical data collected at the Fractured Rock Research Site in Floyd County, Virginia indicate that recharge rates to the subsurface are controlled by a small scale thrust fault associated with regional thrust faulting within the Blue Ridge Province. Recharge rates appear to be correlated to spatial variation in the hydraulic conductivity of the regolith, which has been influenced by weathering rates and the metamorphic and structural history of the underlying parent material. Previous studies conducted at the Fractured Rock Research Site suggest that recharge potential can be separated into two regions: one over a vertically oriented shear zone associated with the small scale thrust fault, and the other overlying a thrust fault hanging wall. The angle of dip of the thrust fault shear zone and the fracturing within the crystalline rock adjacent to the fault plane appear to serve as geologic controls that preferentially direct infiltrated meteoric water to a deeper confined aquifer. The structural competence of the granulite gneiss thrust fault hanging wall appears to act as a barrier to deeper groundwater recharge, causing the formation of a shallow semi-confined aquifer within the overlying regolith.

In-situ analysis of matric potential and moisture content shows two distinctly different recharge processes that are spatially correlated with the structure of the shallow subsurface (regolith overlying the vertically oriented shear zone and regolith overlying the thrust fault hanging wall), and have been shown to have strong temporal correlations with the dynamics of the underlying saturated conditions.

Recharge flux estimates within the regolith overlying the thrust fault hanging wall are uncharacteristically high, and appear to be offset within the monitored region by the upward hydraulic gradient associated with the potentiometric surface of the underlying semi-confined aquifer. Because of the influence exerted by the upward hydraulic gradient on matric potential within the unsaturated regolith overlying the semi-confined aquifer, accurate recharge estimates could not be obtained from the matric potential data recorded by the tensiometers along this portion of the transect. Recharge flux within the regolith overlying the vertically oriented shear zone is strongly controlled by the orientation and aerial extent of the thrust fault shear zone, and highlights the importance of accurate delineation of recharge areas in crystalline rock aquifer systems.

tensiometer, blue ridge province, groundwater recharge, vadose zone, unsaturated zone