Groundwater chemistry and hydrological processes within a Quaternary coastal plain: Pimpama, Southeast Queensland

Harbison, John Edwin (2007) Groundwater chemistry and hydrological processes within a Quaternary coastal plain: Pimpama, Southeast Queensland. PhD by Publication, Queensland University of Technology.


The Pimpama estuarine plain in subtropical southeast Queensland is comprised of Quaternary sediments infilling older bedrock. These multilayered unconsolidated sediments have various depositional origins, and are highly heterogeneous. The plain is low-lying and the surface drainage is controlled by flood mitigation measures including tidal gates and channelised streams. The control of surface drainage potentially affects the shallow water table. This modification of hydrology has implications for future viability of agriculture and also the environmental health of waterways. Increased landscape modification and water management is likely in the coming years. The combination of sediment heterogeneity, low hydraulic gradients, and artificial drainage modification result in the plain being hydrogeologically complex. In order to understand hydrologic processes in this setting, a multi-disciplinary research programme was conducted which included a drilling program, overland electromagnetic induction and other geophysical surveys (downhole gamma log, electromagnetic induction and magnetic susceptibility) to initially establish the geologic framework. These surveys were followed by hydrogeochemical testing which includes for major and minor ions and also stable isotopes, and mineralogical analysis of drillhole material. Underlying basement rock occurs at up to 60 m depth. Unconsolidated gravel and sand deposits occur within incised paleo-valleys and are overlain by predominantly low-permeability fluvial sandy clays and estuarine and lagoonal muds. Fine-grained delta sands occur in the top 15 m of the sub-surface. Within the unconsolidated sediments, hydrodynamic trends clearly discriminated between upper unconfined and lower semi-confined aquifer systems. A comparison of surface water and shallow groundwater levels indicate limited interaction of groundwater and surface water. Hydrogeochemical analysis effectively distinguished between groundwater bodies, and also distinguished saline groundwater from seawater. Trends in major ion chemistry in the semi-confined system (particularly Na/Cl and Ca/Cl ratios) showed ion exchange accompanying saline intrusion. However, due to factors such as mineral dissolution, major ion chemistry does not clearly identify solute flux trends in the shallow aquifer system. Water stable isotope analysis (δ18O and δ2H) indicated the provenance of fresh and saline groundwater and also the relative importance of the principal hydrologic processes, i.e. evaporation and water uptake by plants. Groundwater exhibited a wide range in salinity, from very fresh to hypersaline. The formation of hypersaline groundwater was attributed largely to uptake of water by mangrove forests. Since mangrove forests were more extensive at the time of the Holocene maximum sea level (approximately 6,000 years ago) than at present, some of this groundwater may represent relict salinity from this earlier time. The relationship of relict salinity to low permeability sediments, particularly at intermediate depths, and their depositional history was examined. Vertical salinity gradients and hydrogeochemistry within these sediments varied according to position within the plain, suggesting deposition under various hydrological and sea level regimes. A preliminary investigation using analysis of stable sulfate isotopes (δ34S and δ18OSO4) was made. This study shows substantial potential for the application of this technique for quantification of solute flux and sulfur chemical transformations within settings such as this coastal plain. To establish shallow groundwater flow processes, a MODFLOW-based numerical model was used to inversely estimate aquifer parameters under various recharge scenarios. The model was designed to examine the relative importance of evapotranspiration and discharge to surface waters. However, largely due to the complexity of the drainage network and non-uniform surface water flows, the quantification of surface water- groundwater interaction by consideration of hydrodynamics is problematic. Therefore, the chemistry of groundwater and surface water was compared. While the estimated contribution of rainfall to groundwater level fluctuations was significant (46%), high evapotranspiration rates reduced net recharge and it was concluded that baseflow to drains and creeks during dry periods was insignificant, and groundwater velocities in the shallow aquifer are low. The study illustrates the value of both hydrodynamic and hydrogeochemical analyses in estuarine settings where relict salinity and groundwater-aquifer interactions impact significantly on water quality. Saline groundwater is chemically distinct from theoretical mixtures of seawater and freshwater. The study also demonstrates the value of particular chemical parameters, e.g. Na/Cl and SO4/Cl ratios and stable water isotopes, for identifying hydrologic processes in this setting.

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ID Code: 16647
Item Type: QUT Thesis (PhD by Publication)
Supervisor: Cox, Malcolm & Turner, Ian
Keywords: Pimpama River, southern Moreton Bay, estuarine plain, coastal, hydrogeology, estuarine stratigraphy, sedimentary evolution, Holocene, mangroves, crop removal, hypersalinity, electromagnetic induction, sediment mineralogy, geophysical methods, groundwater monitoring, groundwater/ surface water relations, hydrogeochemistry, inverse groundwater modelling, isotopes, numerical modelling, paleohydrology, salt-water/fresh-water relations, unconsolidated sediments
Divisions: Past > Schools > Biogeoscience
Past > QUT Faculties & Divisions > Faculty of Science and Technology
Department: Faculty of Science
Institution: Queensland University of Technology
Copyright Owner: Copyright John Edwin Harbison
Deposited On: 03 Dec 2008 04:07
Last Modified: 13 Apr 2015 23:44

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