Self-Organized Permeability in Carbonate Aquifers
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Advances over the past 40 years have resulted in a clear understanding of how dissolution processes in carbonate rocks enhance aquifer permeability. Laboratory experiments on dissolution rates of calcite and dolomite have established that there is a precipitous drop in dissolution rates as chemical equilibrium is approached. These results have been incorporated into numerical models, simulating the effects of dissolution over time and showing that it occurs along the entire length of pathways through carbonate aquifers. The pathways become enlarged and integrated over time, forming self-organized networks of channels that typically have apertures in the millimeter to centimeter range. The networks discharge at point-located springs. Recharge type is an important factor in determining channel size and distribution, resulting in a range of aquifer types, and this is well demonstrated by examples from England. Most carbonate aquifers have a large number of small channels, but in some cases large channels (i.e., enterable caves) can also develop. Rapid velocities found in ground water tracer tests, the high incidence of large-magnitude springs, and frequent microbial contamination of wells all support the model of self-organized channel development. A large majority of carbonate aquifers have such channel networks, where ground water velocities often exceed 100 m/d.
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