Water movement in the unsaturated zone at a low-level radioactive-waste burial site near Barnwell, South Carolina

Open-File Report 87-46




Four unsaturated zone monitoring sites and a meteorologic station were installed at the low level radioactive waste burial site near Barnwell, South Carolina, to investigate the geohydrologic and climatologic factors affecting water movement in the unsaturated zone. The study site is located in the Atlantic Coastal Plain. The unsaturated zone consists of a few centimeters to > 1 m of surface sand, underlain by up to 15 m of clayey sand. Two monitoring sites were installed in experimental trenches and two were installed in radioactive waste trenches. Two different trench designs were evaluated at the monitoring sites. A meteorologic station was used to measure precipitation and to calculate actual evapotranspiration using the Bowen ratio method. Soil-moisture tensiometers, soil-moisture conductance probes, and temperature sensors were used to monitor soil-water movement in and adjacent to the trenches. Tracer tests using sodium chloride were conducted at each monitoring site. Data collection at the monitoring sites began in January 1982 and continued until early May 1984. Tensiometer data show that the unsaturated materials had their highest percent saturations in the winter and spring. Saturations in the backfill sand varied from 20 to 100%. They varied from about 75 to 100% in the adjacent undisturbed and overlying compacted clayey sand. Additionally, because tensiometer data indicate negligible water storage changes in the unsaturated zone, it is estimated that approximately 43 cm of recharge reached the water table. During 1984, the rise and fall of ponded water in an experimental trench was continuously monitored with a digital recorder. A cross-sectional finite element model of variably saturated flow was used to test the conceptual model of water movement in the unsaturated zone and to illustrate the effect of trench design on water movement into the experimental trenches. Monitoring and model results show that precipitation on trenches infiltrated the trench cap and moved vertically into the trench backfill material. The trench construction practice of placing a compacted clayey-sand barrier around the trench greatly inhibits soil water from entering the trench. (Author 's abstract)

Study Area

Additional publication details

Publication type:
Publication Subtype:
USGS Numbered Series
Water movement in the unsaturated zone at a low-level radioactive-waste burial site near Barnwell, South Carolina
Series title:
Open-File Report
Series number:
Year Published:
U.S. Geological Survey,
Contributing office(s):
South Atlantic Water Science Center
v, 66 p. :ill., maps ;28 cm.
United States
South Carolina