Using subtle variations in groundwater geochemistry to identify the proximity of individual geological structures : a case study from the Grimsel Test Site (Switzerland)

Stillings, M. and Shipton, Z.K. and Lord, R.A. and Lunn, R.J. (2024) Using subtle variations in groundwater geochemistry to identify the proximity of individual geological structures : a case study from the Grimsel Test Site (Switzerland). Geoenergy. ISSN 2755-1725 (https://doi.org/10.1144/geoenergy2024-005)

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Abstract

Understanding groundwater flow and the evolution of groundwater chemistry in networks of fractures in crystalline rock is of fundamental interest for geothermal projects, nuclear waste disposal, and groundwater resources. Groundwater chemistry at a given location is typically conceived of being of a specific ‘type’ (e.g. meteoric, juvenile, connate, marine), with associated chemical types controlled through water-rock interactions. Minor chemical variations between groundwater sample locations with the same chemical type are generally considered as ‘noise’ in the geochemical data. Here, we argue that this noise contains useful information on the mineral phases encountered by the groundwater as it travels through specific flow pathways. We analyse the spatial variability of groundwater chemistry around the Grimsel Test Site (GTS), Switzerland, where groundwater is hosted in two lithologies: the Central Aar Granite and the Grimsel Granodiorite, where flow occurs predominantly in a fracture network created by brittle reactivation of ductile shear zones. Groundwater chemistry is analysed using principal component and hierarchical cluster analyses, which identify two groundwater types based on their chemistry. The primary control on groundwater type is the host rock lithology (granite/granodiorite). While the spatial variability of groundwater chemistry within each of the two lithologies is small, statistical analysis of the data shows similar groundwater chemistry in borehole intervals that are crosscut by similar geological structures, implying a structural control on groundwater chemistry. Our research shows that subtle chemical variations in groundwater provide information on fracture network connectivity and the proximity of geological features, that specific volumes of groundwater has interacted with.