The usefulness of outcrop-analogue air-permeameter measurements for analysing aquifer heterogeneity: testing outcrop hydrogeological parameters with independent borehole data

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Outcropping sediments can be used as easily accessible analogues for studying subsurface sediments. The use of cost-effective in situ measurement techniques potentially makes the study of outcrop sediments even more attractive. We investigate to what degree air-permeameter measurements on outcrops of unconsolidated sediments can be a proxy for aquifer saturated hydraulic conductivity (K), and its heterogeneity. The Neogene aquifer in northern Belgium is used as the case study. K and grain-size data obtained from different outcropping sediments are compared with data from aquifer sediments obtained either via laboratory analyses on undisturbed borehole cores (K and grain size) or via large-scale pumping tests (K only). This comparison shows a pronounced and systematic difference between outcrop and aquifer sediments. Part of this difference is attributed to grain-size variations and earth surface processes specific to outcrop environments, including root growth, bioturbation, and weathering. Moreover, palaeoenvironmental conditions such as freezing–drying cycles and differential compaction histories will further alter the initial hydrogeological properties of the outcrop sediments. The spatial structure pertaining to outcrops however complements that obtained from the borehole cores in several cases. Insights in stratigraphic and K heterogeneity obtained from outcrop sediments improve developing conceptual models of groundwater flow and transport.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5155-5166
JournalHydrology and Earth System Sciences
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2013


  • hydraulic conductivity, spatial variability, weathering, sedimentary structures, porosity, grain size

ID: 325168