Because characterizing the unsaturated hydraulic properties of sediments over large areas or depths is costly and time consuming, development of models that predict these properties from more easily measured bulk-physical properties is desirable. At the Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory, the unsaturated zone is composed of thick basalt flow sequences interbedded with thinner sedimentary layers. Determining the unsaturated hydraulic properties of sedimentary layers is one step in understanding water flow and solute transport processes through this complex unsaturated system. Multiple linear regression was used to construct simple property-transfer models for estimating the water-retention curve and saturated hydraulic conductivity of deep sediments at the Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory. The regression models were developed from 109 core sample subsets with laboratory measurements of hydraulic and bulk-physical properties. The core samples were collected at depths of 9 to 175 meters at two facilities within the southwestern portion of the Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory-the Radioactive Waste Management Complex, and the Vadose Zone Research Park southwest of the Idaho Nuclear Technology and Engineering Center. Four regression models were developed using bulk-physical property measurements (bulk density, particle density, and particle size) as the potential explanatory variables. Three representations of the particle-size distribution were compared: (1) textural-class percentages (gravel, sand, silt, and clay), (2) geometric statistics (mean and standard deviation), and (3) graphical statistics (median and uniformity coefficient). The four response variables, estimated from linear combinations of the bulk-physical properties, included saturated hydraulic conductivity and three parameters that define the water-retention curve.
For each core sample,values of each water-retention parameter were estimated from the appropriate regression equation and used to calculate an estimated water-retention curve. The degree to which the estimated curve approximated the measured curve was quantified using a goodness-of-fit indicator, the root-mean-square error. Comparison of the root-mean-square-error distributions for each alternative particle-size model showed that the estimated water-retention curves were insensitive to the way the particle-size distribution was represented. Bulk density, the median particle diameter, and the uniformity coefficient were chosen as input parameters for the final models. The property-transfer models developed in this study allow easy determination of hydraulic properties without need for their direct measurement. Additionally, the models provide the basis for development of theoretical models that rely on physical relationships between the pore-size distribution and the bulk-physical properties of the media. With this adaptation, the property-transfer models should have greater application throughout the Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory and other geographic locations.
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USGS Numbered Series
Development of property-transfer models for estimating the hydraulic properties of deep sediments at the Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory, Idaho