Estimating specific yield and storage change in an unconfined aquifer using temporal gravity surveys

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Abstract

[1] Two high-precision gravity surveys were conducted to determine groundwater mass changes at a managed groundwater recharge site in northeastern Colorado. Gravity data were collected during pumping and two months after pumping ceased. During pumping, gravity was lower by as much as 46 μGal near the pumping wells and higher by as much as 90 μGal near the recharge ponds in comparison to data collected after pumping had ceased. These differences are attributed to changes in groundwater mass associated with drawdown and infiltration. Inverse modeling of the gravity data indicates a 5.1 × 105 m3 decrease in storage beneath the recharge ponds between the two surveys, which we attribute to dissipation of the groundwater mound created by recharge during pumping. This estimate of the change in groundwater storage is made independently of assumptions of physical properties of the aquifer. Dividing the change in water volume per unit area determined from the gravity modeling by the change in water level measured in wells provides an estimate of specific yield (Sy) of 0.21 ± 0.03, which is within the range of specific yield estimates derived from aquifer tests at the site. Water level changes predicted from the gravity data agree on average to within ±0.45 m of those measured, which we take to be an estimate of the uncertainty in water table depth predictions that can be obtained from gravimetric data in unconfined aquifers. The study covers a 3.2 km2 area, providing a prototype for similar studies at larger scales.

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