Early-stage hypogene karstification in a mountain hydrologic system: A coupled thermohydrochemical model incorporating buoyant convection


  • A. Chaudhuri,

    1. Department of Applied Mechanics, Indian Institute of Technology Madras, Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India
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  • H. Rajaram,

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Civil, Environmental and Architectural Engineering, University of Colorado, Boulder, Colorado, USA
    • Corresponding author: H. Rajaram, University of Colorado, Civil, Environmental, & Architectural Engineering, Engineering Center Office Tower 441, 428 UCB, Engineering Center ECOT 441, Boulder, CO 80309, USA. (hari@colorado.edu)

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  • H. Viswanathan

    1. Earth and Environmental Sciences Division, Los Alamos National Laboratory, Los Alamos, New Mexico, USA
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[1] The early stage of hypogene karstification is investigated using a coupled thermohydrochemical model of a mountain hydrologic system, in which water enters along a water table and descends to significant depth (∼1 km) before ascending through a central high-permeability fracture. The model incorporates reactive alteration driven by dissolution/precipitation of limestone in a carbonic acid system, due to both temperature- and pressure-dependent solubility, and kinetics. Simulations were carried out for homogeneous and heterogeneous initial fracture aperture fields, using the FEHM (Finite Element Heat and Mass Transfer) code. Initially, retrograde solubility is the dominant mechanism of fracture aperture growth. As the fracture transmissivity increases, a critical Rayleigh number value is exceeded at some stage. Buoyant convection is then initiated and controls the evolution of the system thereafter. For an initially homogeneous fracture aperture field, deep well-organized buoyant convection rolls form. For initially heterogeneous aperture fields, preferential flow suppresses large buoyant convection rolls, although a large number of smaller rolls form. Even after the onset of buoyant convection, dissolution in the fracture is sustained along upward flow paths by retrograde solubility and by additional “mixing corrosion” effects closer to the surface. Aperture growth patterns in the fracture are very different from those observed in simulations of epigenic karst systems, and retain imprints of both buoyant convection and preferential flow. Both retrograde solubility and buoyant convection contribute to these differences. The paper demonstrates the potential value of coupled models as tools for understanding the evolution and behavior of hypogene karst systems.