The spatial distribution of sediment in the eastern Snake River Plain aquifer was evaluated and modeled to improve the parameterization of hydraulic conductivity (K) for a subregional-scale ground-water flow model being developed by the U.S. Geological Survey. The aquifer is hosted within a layered series of permeable basalts within which intercalated beds of fine-grained sediment constitute local confining units. These sediments have K values as much as six orders of magnitude lower than the most permeable basalt, and previous flow-model calibrations have shown that hydraulic conductivity is sensitive to the proportion of intercalated sediment.
Stratigraphic data in the form of sediment thicknesses from 333 boreholes in and around the Idaho National Laboratory were evaluated as grouped subsets of lithologic units (composite units) corresponding to their relative time-stratigraphic position. The results indicate that median sediment abundances of the stratigraphic units below the water table are statistically invariant (stationary) in a spatial sense and provide evidence of stationarity across geologic time, as well. Based on these results, the borehole data were kriged as two-dimensional spatial data sets representing the sediment content of the layers that discretize the ground-water flow model in the uppermost 300 feet of the aquifer.
Multiple indicator kriging (mIK) was used to model the geographic distribution of median sediment abundance within each layer by defining the local cumulative frequency distribution (CFD) of sediment via indicator variograms defined at multiple thresholds. The mIK approach is superior to ordinary kriging because it provides a statistically best estimate of sediment abundance (the local median) drawn from the distribution of local borehole data, independent of any assumption of normality. A methodology is proposed for delineating and constraining the assignment of hydraulic conductivity zones for parameter estimation, based on the locally estimated CFDs and relative kriging uncertainty. A kriging-based methodology improves the spatial resolution of hydraulic property zones that can be considered during parameter estimation and should improve calibration performance and sensitivity by more accurately reflecting the nuances of sediment distribution within the aquifer.