Water Resources Research

Paleohydrogeology of the Cretaceous sediments of the Williston Basin using stable isotopes of water

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Abstract

[1] Hydraulic and isotopic data collected from aquifers are routinely used to characterize hydrogeological conditions within sedimentary basins, but similar data from confining units are generally not collected despite their ability to provide insights on important water/solute transport controls. We characterized paleogroundwater flow and solute transport mechanisms across 384 m of Cretaceous shale (aquitard) in the Williston Basin, Canada, using high-resolution depth profiles of water isotopes (δ18O, δ2H). Water samples were also collected from wells installed in the underlying regional sandy aquifer (Mannville Fm; 93 m thick) and from seepage inflows into potash mine shafts (to 825 m below ground). The 1-D numerical transport modeling of δ18O profiles provided insight into large-scale/long-term solute transport in both Cretaceous sediments and the basin. Despite the potential for significant advective migration during glaciations, molecular diffusion appears to be the dominant solute transport mechanism through the aquitard. Simulations suggest average vertical groundwater velocities of <0.05 m/10 ka and an average excess hydraulic head of <10 m; these values are much less than anticipated by successive glaciations. The dominant paleoevent reflected in present-day profiles is introduction during the Pleistocene of glaciogenic meteoric water to the aquifer underlying the shale, likely along an aquifer outcrop area east of the site or through local vertical conduits. Simulations suggest these recharge events occurred during one or more glacial periods. The isotopic profile over the upper 25 m of Pleistocene till and shale is consistent with glacial deposition and transport processes within these units over the Holocene (past 10 ka).

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