Mapping permeability over the surface of the Earth



[1] Permeability, the ease of fluid flow through porous rocks and soils, is a fundamental but often poorly quantified component in the analysis of regional-scale water fluxes. Permeability is difficult to quantify because it varies over more than 13 orders of magnitude and is heterogeneous and dependent on flow direction. Indeed, at the regional scale, maps of permeability only exist for soil to depths of 1–2 m. Here we use an extensive compilation of results from hydrogeologic models to show that regional-scale (>5 km) permeability of consolidated and unconsolidated geologic units below soil horizons (hydrolithologies) can be characterized in a statistically meaningful way. The representative permeabilities of these hydrolithologies are used to map the distribution of near-surface (on the order of 100 m depth) permeability globally and over North America. The distribution of each hydrolithology is generally scale independent. The near-surface mean permeability is of the order of ∼5 × 10−14 m2. The results provide the first global picture of near-surface permeability and will be of particular value for evaluating global water resources and modeling the influence of climate-surface-subsurface interactions on global climate change.