3D modelling of superficial geology is challenging, particularly for complex industrial sites such as the Sellafield nuclear site, Cumbria, UK. A lithostratigraphic approach is sufficient to show distribution of key units where only a general understanding of hydrogeology is required. For many sites however, a much higher-resolution understanding is needed to better characterise heterogeneity and identify potential pathways for contaminant transport within safety case development and remediation planning. Models that focus on often thin, laterally discontinuous, heterogeneous sedimentary units are beset with issues including (i) a lack of exposure coupled with a dearth of data gathered by low-intrusive and intrusive means, (ii) structural, stratigraphic, and sedimentological complexities making correlation between datapoints difficult, and (iii) uncertainties associated with data quality. However, these problems may be overcome by combining land-system-based sedimentary and glaciotectonic architectural analysis of local field analogues with the creation of a portfolio of generic unit-bounding surface geometries. We test this through the development of a high-resolution 3D geological model of Sellafield nuclear site, where exposures are sparse, but shallow site-investigation boreholes are many. The results demonstrate serious shortcomings with other, less labour-intensive models for the district created from selected datasets and with limited reference to considerable published knowledge.

Scientific editing by Jonathan Smith; Christopher Swainston

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