Regional hydraulic model of the Upper Rhine Graben

Koltzer, Nora; Scheck-Wenderoth, Magdalena; Cacace, Mauro; Frick, Maximilian; Bott, Judith

In this study we make use of 3-D hydraulic simulations to investigate the regional groundwater flow in the Upper Rhine Graben. The modeling is based on an existing detailed 3-D structural model covering the whole Upper Rhine Graben from the surface down to 14 km of depth. The overall goal of this study is to provide some quantitative analysis on the role of the hydraulic head topology in shaping the underground hydrodynamics by taking into account interactions with the heterogeneous subsurface sedimentary configuration of the basin system. Therefore, the main question addressed by this study can be summarized as follows: does the deep graben flow follow the topographic gradient and the flow direction of the river Rhine from the Alps northward to the northernmost area of the Upper Rhine Graben?

Our results demonstrate the presence of a regional subsurface flow in the sedimentary rocks aligning from the graben flanks towards its center and in the southern half of the graben from south to north. The graben-parallel flow velocity is found to be about 1 order of magnitude lower than the velocity predicted perpendicular to the main graben axis. Besides these general trends, the modeling highlights local heterogeneities in the shallow 3-D flow field. Those arise from the interaction between regional groundwater flow and the heterogeneous sedimentary configuration. Within the Cenozoic sediments forming the uppermost aquifer in the model, groundwater flows are driven by imposed hydraulic gradients from recharge areas located at higher elevations in the Black Forest and Vosges Mountains to the discharge region at a lower elevation in the Rhine valley. The presence of a regional aquitard (Keuper) separating the shallow and the deeper aquifer system (Muschelkalk, Buntsandstein, and Rotliegend) hinders hydraulic connection among the two aquifer systems. This is exemplified by the development of a flow system in the deeper aquifers, which shows a more continuous graben-parallel south–north direction. Based on these results we can conclude that both the hydraulic head topology and the level of structuration of the sedimentary sequence exert a 1st-order role in shaping the regional flow system at depth. The regional model predicts a heterogeneous flow system within the upper 4 km of the Upper Rhine Valley, where flow velocities in the graben valley can reach up to 45 mm yr−1 in the upper and lower aquifers. Back to the current conceptual hydrogeological model, the results question the presence of a graben through northward flow, being limited to the southern half of the graben. In the north, the groundwater dynamics turn out to be more complex, being structurally linked to the local geology. This calls for additional studies with a higher level of both structural and stratigraphic attributes in order to arrive at a better quantification of the local to the regional groundwater dynamics in the area.

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Zitierform:

Koltzer, Nora / Scheck-Wenderoth, Magdalena / Cacace, Mauro / et al: Regional hydraulic model of the Upper Rhine Graben. 2019. Copernicus Publications.

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