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Title: Monitoring seawater intrusion into the fractured UK Chalk aquifer using measurements of self-potential (SP)
Author: MacAllister, Donald John
ISNI:       0000 0004 5918 6540
Awarding Body: Imperial College London
Current Institution: Imperial College London
Date of Award: 2016
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Using laboratory, numerical and field experiments this study investigated whether borehole measurements of self-potential (SP) can be used to monitor seawater intrusion into the fractured UK Chalk aquifer. The SP, a natural voltage, arises in water saturated fractured porous media due to gradients in pressure (electrokinetic (EK) potential) and concentration (exclusion-diffusion (EED) potential), both features of seawater intrusion. An electrode array was installed in a monitoring borehole c.1.7 km from the coast, in Saltdean, East Sussex, and c.1.3 km from an active abstraction borehole. Head fluctuations in the monitoring borehole were controlled by tidal processes and seasonal changes in inland head. SP monitoring over 1.5 years revealed tidal SP signals. The fluctuations (c.600 μV) were two orders of magnitude larger than those observed at an inland site in the same aquifer, near Reading in Berkshire. Numerical simulation, supported by laboratory measurements, of the coupled hydrodynamic and electrical processes in the coastal aquifer suggested that the EK potential generated by tidal processes was one order of magnitude too small to be responsible for the tidal SP fluctuations. Instead, SP was caused by the EED potential that arose due to the concentration gradient between groundwater and seawater across the saline front (i.e. the 1000 mg/l isoline) some distance from the borehole. The saline front moved through a fracture at the base of the borehole in response to tides. A vertical SP gradient (c.0.22 mV/m), only present in the coastal borehole, was also observed. Modelling suggested that the gradient was due to the close proximity of the saline front (c.4 m) below the borehole and was caused by the EED potential. In August 2013 and 2014, tides and a decline in inland head caused saline water to enter the borehole. Fluid electrical conductivity logging showed that entry was via the fracture. Prior to each occurrence of saline breakthrough, an increase in the SP of c.300 μV was observed, commencing c.7 days before saline water was detected in the borehole. Although this study focused on a monitoring borehole, SP arrays could be installed in abstraction boreholes. The results suggest that SP monitoring may be used to provide early warning of saline water breakthrough, allowing for improved management of groundwater resources in coastal aquifers.
Supervisor: Jackson, Matthew ; Butler, Adrian Sponsor: Natural Environment Research Council
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral