Dissolved 222Rn concentrations in ground water from a small wellfield underlain by fractured Middle Proterozoic Pikes Peak Granite southwest of Denver, Colorado range from 124 to 840 kBq m-3 (3360-22700 pCi L-1). Numerical simulations of flow and transport between two wells show that differences in equivalent hydraulic aperture of transmissive fractures, assuming a simplified two-fracture system and the parallel-plate model, can account for the different 222Rn concentrations in each well under steady-state conditions. Transient flow and transport simulations show that 222Rn concentrations along the fracture profile are influenced by 222Rn concentrations in the adjoining fracture and depend on boundary conditions, proximity of the pumping well to the fracture intersection, transmissivity of the conductive fractures, and pumping rate. Non-homogeneous distribution (point sources) of 222Rn parent radionuclides, uranium and 226Ra, can strongly perturb the dissolved 222Rn concentrations in a fracture system. Without detailed information on the geometry and hydraulic properties of the connected fracture system, it may be impossible to distinguish the influence of factors controlling 222Rn distribution or to determine location of 222Rn point sources in the field in areas where ground water exhibits moderate 222Rn concentrations. Flow and transport simulations of a hypothetical multifracture system consisting of ten connected fractures, each 10 m in length with fracture apertures ranging from 0.1 to 1.0 mm, show that 222Rn concentrations at the pumping well can vary significantly over time. Assuming parallel-plate flow, transmissivities of the hypothetical system vary over four orders of magnitude because transmissivity varies with the cube of fracture aperture. The extreme hydraulic heterogeneity of the simple hypothetical system leads to widely ranging 222Rn values, even assuming homogeneous distribution of uranium and 226Ra along fracture walls. Consequently, it is concluded that 222Rn concentrations vary, not only with the geometric and stress factors noted above, but also according to local fracture aperture distribution, local groundwater residence time, and flux of 222Rn from parent radionuclides along fracture walls.
Additional publication details
222Rn transport in a fractured crystalline rock aquifer: Results from numerical simulations