Structural Uncertainty Due to Fault Timing: A Multimodel Case Study from the Perth Basin

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Abstract

Faults can fundamentally change a groundwater flow regime and represent a major source of uncertainty in groundwater studies. Much research has been devoted to uncertainty around their location and their barrier-conduit behavior. However, fault timing is one aspect of fault uncertainty that appears to be somewhat overlooked. Many faulted models feature consistent layer offsets, thereby presuming that block faulting has occurred recently and almost instantaneously. Additionally, barrier and/or conduit behavior is often shown to extend vertically through all layers when a fault may in fact terminate well below-ground surface. In this study, we create three plausible geological interpretations for a transect in the Perth Basin. Adjacent boreholes show stratigraphic offsets and thickening which indicate faulting; however, fault timing is unknown. Flow modeling demonstrates that the model with the most recent faulting shows profoundly different flow patterns due to aquifer juxtaposition. Additionally, multiple realizations with stochastically generated parameter sets for layer, fault core, and fault damage zone conductivity show that fault timing influences flow more than layer or fault zone conductivity. Finally, fault conduit behavior that penetrates aquitards has significant implications for transport, while fault barrier behavior has surprisingly little. This research advocates for adequate data collection where faults may cause breaches in aquitards due to layer offsets or conduit behavior in the damage zone. It also promotes the use of multiple geological models to address structural uncertainty, and highlights some of the hurdles in doing so such as computational expense and the availability of seamless geological-flow modeling workflows.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages11
JournalGroundwater
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 20 Jun 2024

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