Abstract

The Cretaceous Chalk in Northern Ireland (Ulster White Limestone Formation) is a locally important aquifer for both public and private supply, yet little is known about its groundwater flow regime. This issue is important for the protection of existing groundwater abstractions and for the development of new sources as it will help determine groundwater vulnerability and resource potential in the Chalk. The subject has been addressed using hydrochemical variations from individual springs, together with artificial and natural water tracing techniques employed from river-sinks located at outcrop.

A common orientation has been established between traced groundwater flow routes and the dominant northwest-southeast fracture trend within the Ulster White Limestone Formation. Hydraulic gradient has also been shown to have little significance in controlling the flow direction, suggesting poor fracture connectivity and thus extreme aquifer heterogeneity. Tracer breakthrough curve characteristics and velocities (up to 2838 metres per day) are indicative of conduit rather than fracture flow. In addition, the highly variable water chemistry associated with all the proven river-sink supplied springs has been independently classified to meet conduit flow criteria. Conversely, the much less variable water chemistry associated with springs draining Chalk subcrop areas (with no influence from river-sinks) is consistent with a less active karstic regime.

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