The presence of perched water near the potential high-level nuclear waste repository area at Yucca Mountain, Nevada, has important implications for waste isolation. Perched water occurs because of sharp contrasts in rock properties, in particular between the strongly fractured repository host rock (the Topopah Spring welded tuff) and the immediately underlying vitrophyric (glassy) subunit, in which fractures are sealed by clays that were formed by alteration of the volcanic glass. The vitrophyre acts as a vertical barrier to unsaturated flow throughout much of the potential repository area. Geochemical analyses (Yang et al. 1996) indicate that perched water is relatively young, perhaps younger than 10,000 years. Given the low permeability of the rock matrix, fractures and perhaps fault zones must play a crucial role in unsaturated flow. The geologic setting of the major perched water bodies under Yucca Mountain suggests that faults commonly form barriers to lateral flow at the level of the repository horizon, but may also form important pathways for vertical infiltration from the repository horizon down to the water table. Using the numerical code UNSAT2, two factors believed to influence the perched water system at Yucca Mountain, climate and fault-zone permeability, are explored. The two-dimensional model predicts that the volume of water held within the perched water system may greatly increase under wetter climatic conditions, and that perched water bodies may drain to the water table along fault zones. Modeling results also show fault flow to be significantly attenuated in the Paintbrush Tuff non-welded hydrogeologic unit.
Additional publication details
Numerical modeling of perched water under Yucca Mountain, Nevada