Abstract

The present paper addresses two major problems encountered during tunnel drilling and related to the hydraulic interaction with surrounding groundwater bodies. The first one is the prediction of water discharge into the tunnel, as a function of the geometric and hydrogeological data. The second problem is related to the assessment of the draining effects on surface waters (springs, lakes, wetlands). Surface monitoring campaigns are costly and evaluating their duration is a sensitive question. Both problems are tightly related and depend on aquifer dynamics. It is shown that in a geological context with steeply dipping structures, nearly vertical, inducing series of aquifers and aquicludes such as in the Alps, the drainage of the aquifer by the tunnel can be modelled by the analytical solution of Jacob and Lohman [1952] for artesian wells. First developed for horizontal, confined unsteady flow towards a vertical well with constant drawdown, it is adapted here to a horizontal tunnel by a rotation of π/2. The main difference between this solution and more classical Theis’ solutions is that a constant drawdown condition replaces the constant discharge rate condition. Hence, a relation is obtained for the time-dependent discharge rate Q(t) detected at the tunnel after drilling, as a function of aquifer transmissivity (T), storage coefficient (S), initial drawdown (so) and tunnel radius (ro). This analytical solution is compared to a finite-elements model simulating a draining tunnel in a simplified 2D vertical cross-section. The comparisons show that the decay of the tunnel discharge can be divided into two periods. During the first period, radial drawdown develops around the tunnel and there is excellent match between analytical and numerical results. Tunnel discharge results from the decompression of rock and water (storage effects) as a response to the sudden initial drawdown at the tunnel location. During the second period, the drawdown cone reaches the aquifer limits (lateral and upper) and numerical discharge rates decrease faster than analytical rates because of hydraulic heads decline at the aquifer limits. In the Alps, such trends were observed for the discharge rates into the Simplon and Mont-Blanc tunnels, and the analytical solution of Jacob and Lohman [1952] was applied to the first discharge period to evaluate aquifer transmissivity and storage coefficients. As indicated by the simulations, and corroborated by field observations, the analytical solution is only valid during a first period after tunnel opening, the duration of which scaling with the inverse of the aquifer diffusivity (T/S). In the second part of the paper, dimensionless type-curves are presented to enable rapid evaluation of the time where a given drawdown is observed at a given distance from the tunnel. Accounting for tunnel geometry (radius and depth) and aquifer parametres (T and S), these curves could for instance help in practice to determine when surface waters would start to be affected by a draining tunnel underneath. Although neglecting the boundary effects discussed in the first part of the paper, these type-curves demonstrate the great inertia of mountain aquifers, and could be used to adjust the duration of surface monitoring campaigns according to the specific tunnel/aquifer settings.

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