Characterization of the physical and unsaturated hydrologic properties of subsurface materials is necessary to calculate flow and transport for land use practices and to evaluate subsurface processes such as perched water or lateral diversion of water, which are influenced by features such as faults, fractures, and abrupt changes in lithology. Input for numerical flow models typically includes parameters that describe hydrologic properties and the initial and boundary conditions for all materials in the unsaturated zone, such as bulk density, porosity, and particle density, saturated hydraulic conductivity, moisture-retention characteristics, and field water content. We describe an approach for systematically evaluating the site features that contribute to water flow, using physical and hydraulic data collected at the laboratory scale, to provide a representative set of physical and hydraulic parameters for numerically calculating flow of water through the materials at a site. An example case study from analyses done for the heterogeneous, layered, volcanic rocks at Yucca Mountain is presented, but the general approach for parameterization could be applied at any site where depositional processes follow deterministic patterns. Hydrogeologic units at this site were defined using (i) a database developed from 5320 rock samples collected from the coring of 23 shallow (<100 m) and 10 deep (500–1000 m) boreholes, (ii) lithostratigraphic boundaries and corresponding relations to porosity, (iii) transition zones with pronounced changes in properties over short vertical distances, (iv) characterization of the influence of mineral alteration on hydrologic properties such as permeability and moisture-retention characteristics, and (v) a statistical analysis to evaluate where boundaries should be adjusted to minimize the variance within layers. Model parameters developed in this study, and the relation of flow properties to porosity, can be used to produce detailed and accurate representations of the core-scale hydrologic processes ongoing at Yucca Mountain.

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