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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Saltwater Upconing and Decay Beneath a Well Pumping Above an Interface Zone

  • Author(s): Zhou, Quanlin
  • Bear, Jacob
  • Bensabat, Jacob
  • et al.

Saltwater, or brine, underlies fresh water in many aquifers, with a transition zone separating them. Pumping fresh water by wells located above the transition zone produces upconing of the latter, eventually salinizing the pumped water, forcing shut-off. The salinity of the pumped water depends on the pumping rate, on the location of the well's screen, on the fresh water flow regime, and on the difference in density between fresh and salt water, expressed as a dimensionless factor called density difference factor (DDF). Following the well's shut-off, the upconed saltwater mound undergoes decay, tending to return to the pre-pumping regime. In this paper, the upconing-decay processes in an axially symmetrical system are investigated to discover how they are affected by the DDF and by the dispersivities. The code FEAS-Brine, developed for the simulation of coupled density-dependent flow and salt transport, is used. In this code, the flow equation is solved by the Galer:wqkin finite element method (FEM), while the advective-dispersive salt transport equation is solved in the Eulerian-Lagrangian framework. This code does not suffer from the instability constraint on the Peclet number in the vicinity of the pumping well, where advection dominates the salt transport. Simulation results show that upconing is very sensitive to the DDF, which, in our work, is in the range from 0 (for ideal tracer) to 0.2 (for brine). It is shown that for the DDF of 0.025 (for seawater), local upconing occurs only for low iso-salinity surfaces, while those of high salt concentration, practically, do not shift toward the pumping well. For an ideal tracer, all iso-salinity surfaces rise toward the pumping well. For brine, however, only iso-salinity surfaces of very low salinity upcone towards the pumping well. The decay process is lengthy; it takes a long time for the upconed saltwater to migrate back to the original horizontal transition zone prior to pumping. However, the wider transition zone caused by hydrodynamic dispersion can never return to the initial one. This indicates that once a pumping well is abandoned because of high salinity, it can be reused for groundwater utilization only after a long time.

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