The usefulness of outcrop-analogue air-permeameter measurements for analysing aquifer heterogeneity: testing outcrop hydrogeological parameters with independent borehole data
Outcropping sediments can be used as easily accessible analogues for studying subsurface sediments, especially to determine the small-scale spatial variability of hydrogeological parameters. The use of cost-effective in situ measurement techniques potentially makes the study of outcrop sediments even more attractive. We investigate to what degree air-permeameter measurements on outcrops of unconsolidated sediments can be a proxy for aquifer saturated hydraulic conductivity ( K) heterogeneity. The Neogene aquifer in northern Belgium, known as a major groundwater resource, is used as the case study. K and grain-size data obtained from different outcropping sediments are compared with K and grain-size data from aquifer sediments obtained either via laboratory analyses on undisturbed borehole cores ( K and grain size) or via large-scale pumping tests ( K only). This comparison shows a pronounced and systematic difference between outcrop and aquifer sediments. Part of this difference is attributed to grain-size variations and earth surface processes specific to outcrop environments, including root growth, bioturbation, and weathering. Moreover, palaeoenvironmental conditions such as freezing–drying cycles and differential compaction histories will further alter the initial hydrogeological properties of the outcrop sediments. A linear correction is developed for rescaling the outcrop data to the subsurface data. The spatial structure pertaining to outcrops complements that obtained from the borehole cores in several cases. The higher spatial resolution of the outcrop measurements identifies small-scale spatial structures that remain undetected in the lower resolution borehole data. Insights in stratigraphic and K heterogeneity obtained from outcrop sediments improve developing conceptual models of groundwater flow and transport.