Abstract

The possibility that 100-200 m changes in water-table elevation can be mechanically induced by earthquakes is a consideration in site studies of a potential high-level nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain, Nevada. However, numerical simulations of tectonohydrologic coupling involving earthquakes typical of the Basin and Range province produce 2-3 m excursions of a water table that is 500 m below the land surface. Even displacements corresponding to extraordinary seismic events drive water-table excursions of less than 20 m. Flow resulting from earthquake-induced pore-pressure fields below the water table tends to be mainly horizontal; vertical flows that cause changes of the level of the water table are secondary. Strongly anisotropic permeability, intended to enhance vertical flow within fault zones, only doubles water-table rise in the models considered. These simulations of water-table rise compare well with observations following large earthquakes in the Basin and Range. Our models suggest that exceptional hydrologic and/or tectonic conditions would be required to produce substantially larger water-table rises.

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