Abstract

In small limestone islands, the depositional history and subsequent chemical interactions between ground water and the aquifer host rock play critical roles in the occurrence, movement, and chemical quality of ground water. The hydrogeochemistry of the Laura fresh-water lens, Majuro atoll, Marshall Islands, is an example of these relations.

Laura is underlain by two principal hydrologic units. The upper unit is a back-reef-marginal-lagoonal deposit which formed during the Holocene interglacial stage. It is composed of moderately permeable carbonate sediments. The lower hydrologic unit consists of highly permeable limestone that was subaerially exposed, most likely during a Pleistocene glacial lowstand. Similar stratification is found at Bikini and Enewetak atolls.

The upper hydrologic unit contains a calcium bicarbonate-rich fresh-water lens, in which a potable fresh-water nucleus as much as 14 m thick occurs on the lagoon side of the island. Storage in the fresh-water nucleus ranged from 1.70 x 106 to 2.08 x 106 m3 during 1984-1985. Ground-water occurrence and flow are governed by an asymmetric distribution of lithofacies about the longitudinal axis of the island and an abrupt increase in permeability at the contact between the upper and lower hydrologic units. The highly permeable lower hydrologic unit contains sea water and truncates the fresh-water-sea-water mixing zone.

The fresh-water lens and associated fresh-water-sea-water mixing zone are the site of continuously occurring diagenetic reactions that significantly affect the porosity and permeability of the aquifer. Non-equilibrium dissolution-precipitation reactions, coupled with variations in CO2 input, control the chemical evolution of Laura ground water. At the present rate of chemical weathering, 465 m3 of sediment are being dissolved and transported to the sea by ground water each year. This dissolution results in an annual increase in porosity of 0.01%.

The primary factors controlling the occurrence and flow of ground water in the leeward reef islet of Laura are (1) the depositional history of the upper hydrologic unit, which has resulted in a greater accumulation of low-permeability (fine-grained) sediments beneath the lagoon side of the island and a high- to low-permeability (coarse-to fine-grained sediment) gradation between the ocean and lagoon; and (2) the diagenetic history of the lower hydrologic unit, which has resulted in a highly permeable basement.

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