Heterogeneous seepage at the Nopal I natural analogue site, Chihuahua, Mexico

Dobson, P. F. and Ghezzehei, T. A. and Cook, P. J. and Rodriguez-Pineda, J. A. and Villalba, L. and De la Garza, R.

Hydrogeology Journal, vol. 20(1), pp. 155-166 , 2012.


An integrated field, laboratory, and modeling study of the Pena Blanca (Chihuahua, Mexico) natural analogue site is being conducted to evaluate processes that control the mobilization and transport of radionuclides from a uranium ore deposit. One component of this study is an evaluation of the potential for radionuclide transport through the unsaturated zone (UZ) via a seepage study in an adit at the Nopal I uranium mine, excavated 10 m below a mined level surface. Seasonal rainfall on the exposed level surface infiltrates into the fractured rhyolitic ash-flow tuff and seeps into the adit. An instrumented seepage collection system and local automated weather station permit direct correlation between local precipitation events and seepage within the Nopal I +00 adit. Monitoring of seepage within the adit between April 2005 and December 2006 indicates that seepage is highly heterogeneous with respect to time, location, and quantity. Within the back adit area, a few zones where large volumes of water have been collected are linked to fast flow path fractures (0-4 h transit times) presumably associated with focused flow. In most locations, however, there is a 1-6 month time lag between major precipitation events and seepage within the adit, with longer residence times observed for the front adit area. Seepage data obtained from this study will be used to provide input to flow and transport models being developed for the Nopal I hydrogeologic system.