Halite Brine in the Onondaga Trough near Syracuse, New York: Characterization and Simulation of Variable-Density Flow

Scientific Investigations Report 2007-5058

Prepared in cooperation with the Onondaga Lake Partnership and the Onondaga Environmental Institute



Halite brine (saturation ranging from 45 to 80 percent) lies within glacial-drift deposits that fill the Onondaga Trough, a 40-km long bedrock valley deepened by Pleistocene ice near Syracuse, N.Y. The most concentrated brine occupies the northern end of the trough, more than 15 kilometers (km) beyond the northern limit of halite beds in the Silurian Salina Group, the assumed source of salt. The chemical composition of the brine and its radiocarbon age estimated from geochemical modeling with NETPATH suggest that the brine formed through dissolution of halite by glacial melt water, and later mixed with saline bedrock water about 16,500 years ago. Transient variable-density flow simulations were conducted with SEAWAT to assess current (2005) ground-water flow conditions within the glacial drift. A transient three-dimensional (3D) model using a grid spacing of 100 meters (m) and maximum layer spacing of 30 m was used to simulate a 215-year period from 1790 to 2005. The model was calibrated to observations of water levels, chloride concentrations, and discharges of water and chloride. The model produced an acceptable match to the measured data and provided a reasonable representation of the density distribution within the brine pool. The simulated mass of chloride in storage declined steadily during the 215-year period; however, the decline was mainly due to dispersion, which is probably overestimated because of the large layer spacing. Model results suggest that saline water from waste-disposal operations associated with a chemical plant has migrated beneath the western shore of Onondaga Lake. Two-dimensional (2D) cross-sectional models of the aquifer system within the Onondaga Trough were prepared to test the plausibility of a hypothesis that the brine was derived from a relict source of halite that was dissolved by glacial melt water. The 2D models used parameter estimates obtained with the calibrated 3D model. Model results indicated the brine could have migrated from the bedded-halite subcrop area and remained in the glacial sediments at the northern end of trough for over 16,000 years, as suggested by radiocarbon dating. The 2D models also indicated that slow dissipation of brine occurs through a mixing zone formed by upward flow of freshwater over the southern end of the brine pool. The simulated depletion rate is controlled by the rate of mixing, which is limited by the specified grid resolution and the accuracy of the numerical method used to solve the advection-dispersion equation. A numerical solution obtained by using an implicit finite-difference method with upstream weighting and a 2D grid containing a column and layer spacing of 76 m and 3 m, respectively, provided an acceptable match to chloride concentration profiles measured at three locations within the Onondaga Trough.

Study Area

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USGS Numbered Series
Halite Brine in the Onondaga Trough near Syracuse, New York: Characterization and Simulation of Variable-Density Flow
Series title:
Scientific Investigations Report
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Geological Survey (U.S.)
Contributing office(s):
New York Water Science Center
viii, 40 p.