The Retsof salt mine in upstate New York was flooded from 1994 to 1996 after two roof collapses created rubble chimneys in overlying bedrock that intersected a confined aquifer in glacial sediments. The mine now contains about 60 billion liters of saturated halite brine that is slowly being displaced as the weight of overlying sediments causes the mine cavity to close, a process that could last several hundred years. Saline water was detected in the confined aquifer in 2002, and a brine-mitigation project that includes pumping followed by onsite desalination was implemented in 2006 to prevent further migration of saline water from the collapse area. A study was conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey using geochemical and variable-density flow modeling to determine sources of salinity in the confined aquifer and to assess (1) processes that control movement and mixing of waters in the collapse area, (2) the effect of pumping on salinity, and (3) the potential for anhydrite dissolution and subsequent land subsidence resulting from mixing of waters induced by pumping.
The primary source of salinity in the collapse area is halite brine that was displaced from the flooded mine and transported upward by advection and dispersion through the rubble chimneys and surrounding deformation zone. Geochemical and variable-density modeling indicate that salinity in the upper part of the collapse area is partly derived from inflow of saline water from bedrock fracture zones during water-level recovery (January 1996 through August 2006). The lateral diversion of brine into bedrock fracture zones promoted the upward migration of mine water through mixing with lower density waters. The relative contributions of mine water, bedrock water, and aquifer water to the observed salinity profile within the collapse area are controlled by the rates of flow to and from bedrock fracture zones. Variable-density simulations of water-level recovery indicate that saline water has probably not migrated beyond the collapse area, while simulations of pumping indicate that further upward migration of brine and saline water is now prevented by groundwater withdrawals under the brine-mitigation project. Geochemical modeling indicates that additional land subsidence as a result of anhydrite dissolution in the collapse area is not a concern, as long as the rate of brine pumping is less than the rate of upward flow of brine from the flooded mine.
The collapse area above the flooded salt mine is within a glacially scoured bedrock valley that is filled with more than 150 meters of glacial drift. A confined aquifer at the bottom of the glacial sediments (referred to as the lower confined aquifer, or LCA) was the source of most of the water that flooded the mine. Two rubble chimneys that formed above the roof collapses in 1994 hydraulically connect the flooded mine to the LCA through 180 meters of sedimentary rock. From 1996 through 2006, water levels in the aquifer system recovered and the brine-displacement rate ranged from 4.4 to 1.6 liters per second, as estimated from land-surface subsidence above the mine. A zone of fracturing within the bedrock (the deformation zone) formed around the rubble chimneys as rock layers sagged toward the mine cavity after the roof collapses. Borehole geophysical surveys have identified three saline-water-bearing fracture zones in the bedrock: at stratigraphic contacts between the Onondaga and Bertie Limestones (O/B-FZ) and the Bertie Limestone and the Camillus Shale (B/C-FZ), and in the Syracuse Formation (Syr-FZ). The only outlets for brine displaced from the mine are through the rubble chimneys, but some of the brine could be diverted laterally into fracture zones in the rocks that lie between the mine and the LCA.
Inverse geochemical models developed using PHREEQC indicate that halite brine in the flooded mine is derived from a mixture of freshwater from the LCA (81 percent), saline water from bedrock fracture zones (16 per