Hydrogeology, Land-Surface Subsidence, and Documentation of the Gulf Coast Land Subsidence and Groundwater-Flow (GULF) Model, Southeast Texas, 1897–2018
As a part of the Texas Water Development Board groundwater availability modeling program, the U.S. Geological Survey developed the Gulf Coast Land Subsidence and Groundwater-Flow model (hereinafter, the “GULF model”) and ensemble to simulate groundwater flow and land-surface subsidence in the northern part of the Gulf Coast aquifer system (the study area) in Texas from predevelopment (1897) through 2018. Since the publication of a previous groundwater model for the greater Houston area in 2012, there have been changes to the distribution of groundwater withdrawals and advances in modeling tools. To reflect these changes and to simulate more recent conditions, the GULF model was developed in cooperation with the Harris-Galveston and Fort Bend Subsidence Districts to provide an updated Groundwater Availability Model.
Since the early 1900s, most of the groundwater withdrawals in the study area have been from three of the hydrogeologic units that compose the Gulf Coast aquifer system—the Chicot, Evangeline, and Jasper aquifers and, more recently, from the Catahoula confining unit. Withdrawals from these hydrogeologic units are used for municipal supply, commercial and industrial use, and irrigation purposes. Withdrawals of large quantities of groundwater in the greater Houston area have caused widespread groundwater-level declines in the Chicot, Evangeline, and Jasper aquifers of more than 300 feet (ft). Early development of the aquifer system, which began before 1900, resulted in nearly 50 percent of the eventual historical groundwater-level minimums having been reached as early as 1946 in some areas. These groundwater-level declines led to more than 9 ft of land-surface subsidence—historically in central and southeastern Harris County and Galveston County, but more recently in northern, northwestern, and western Harris County, Montgomery County, and northern Fort Bend County—from depressurization and compaction of clay and silt layers interbedded in the aquifer sediments.
In a generalized conceptual model of the Gulf Coast aquifer system, water enters the groundwater system in topographically high outcrops of the hydrogeologic units in the northwestern part of the aquifer system. Groundwater that does not discharge to streams flows to intermediate and deep zones of the aquifer system southeastward of the outcrop areas where it is discharged by wells and by upward leakage in topographically low areas near the coast. The uppermost parts of the aquifer system, which include outcrop areas, are under water-table (unconfined) conditions where the groundwater is not confined under pressure. As depth increases in the aquifer system and interbedded clay and silt layers accumulate, water-table conditions evolve into confined conditions where the groundwater is under pressure.
Groundwater flow and land-surface subsidence in the GULF model and ensemble were simulated by using MODFLOW 6 with the Skeletal Storage, Compaction, and Subsidence package. The model consists of six layers, one for each of the five hydrogeologic units in the northern part of the Gulf Coast aquifer system and a surficial top layer that includes part of each hydrogeologic unit. Transient groundwater flow was simulated during 1897–2018 by using a combination of multiyear, annual, and monthly stress periods. An initial steady-state stress period was configured to represent predevelopment mean annual inflows and outflows. The subsidence package used in the GULF model and ensemble uses a head-based subsidence formulation that simulates the delayed drainage response from clay and silt sediment to changes in groundwater levels.
The GULF model and ensemble were history matched to groundwater-level observations at selected wells, land-surface subsidence at benchmarks, aquifer compaction at borehole extensometers, and vertical displacement from Global Positioning System stations. A Bayesian framework was used to represent uncertainty in modeled parameters and simulated outputs of interest. History matching and uncertainty quantification were performed by using a Monte Carlo approach enabled through iterative ensemble smoother software to produce an ensemble of models fit to historical data. The iterative ensemble smoother substantially reduced the computational demand of parameter estimation by approximating the first-order relation between model inputs and outputs, thereby allowing 183,207 adjustable parameters to be used for history matching at a relatively low computational and time cost.
The history-matched parameter values are within the ranges of previously published values and agree with the current understanding of the spatial and temporal patterns of parameter uncertainty for the Gulf Coast aquifer system. A good agreement between the observed (or estimated) and simulated groundwater levels, land-surface subsidence, compaction, and vertical displacement was obtained across the modeled area based on qualitative and quantitative comparisons. Ensemble mean annual groundwater-flow rates to the Chicot, Evangeline, Jasper aquifers and Catahoula confining unit were 0.0–0.49 inch (in.), 0.09–0.33 in., 0.01–0.07 in., and 0.01–0.05 in., respectively. GULF model mean annual groundwater-flow rates to the Chicot, Evangeline, and Jasper aquifers and Catahoula confining unit were 0.31 in., 0.19 in., 0.03 in., and 0.03 in., respectively.
The GULF-model-simulated recharge to the outcrop area was the largest inflow (75 percent), and recharge to other areas was 25 percent of the model inflow. The simulated outflows included (1) net surface-water/groundwater exchange with study area streams (50 percent), (2) groundwater use (49 percent), and (3) net surface-water/groundwater exchange with the Gulf of Mexico (1 percent). The sum of the simulated values of the outflows (1,041,973 acre-feet per year [acre-ft/yr]) and the elastic expansion of the fine-grained sediment and numerical solver error (339 acre-ft/yr) minus the inflows (654,172 acre-ft/yr) represents the reduction of storage from the Gulf Coast aquifer system (388,140 acre-ft/yr). Most of the storage depletion is caused by the long-term groundwater-level declines that have resulted primarily in inelastic compaction.
The GULF model was used to estimate Jasper aquifer compaction at selected benchmarks in Montgomery County and northern Harris County, which are the primary locations of Jasper aquifer groundwater use. Simulated Jasper aquifer compaction in northern Harris County was between 0.2 and 0.5 ft, or between about 5 and 16 percent of simulated subsidence at the benchmark locations. Simulated Jasper aquifer compaction in Montgomery County was between 0.8 and 1.2 ft, or between about 33 and 57 percent of simulated subsidence at the benchmark locations.
Ellis, J.H., Knight, J.E., White, J.T., Sneed, M., Hughes, J.D., Ramage, J.K., Braun, C.L., Teeple, A., Foster, L., Rendon, S.H., and Brandt, J., 2023, Hydrogeology, land-surface subsidence, and documentation of the Gulf Coast Land Subsidence and Groundwater-Flow (GULF) model, southeast Texas, 1897–2018: U.S. Geological Survey Professional Paper 1877, 407 p., https://doi.org/10.3133/pp1877.
ISSN: 2330-7102 (online)
Table of Contents
- Executive Summary
- Land-Surface Subsidence
- Simulation of Groundwater Flow and Land-Surface Subsidence
- Model Uses, Limitations, and Assumptions
- References Cited
- Appendix 1. Model Grid Construction
- Appendix 2. Groundwater Use
- Appendix 3. Predevelopment to Early Development Groundwater-Level Measurements
- Appendix 4. Climate Stations In and Near the Gulf Coast Aquifer System Study Area
- Appendix 5. Historical Subsidence Contour Maps
- Appendix 6. Global Navigation Satellite System Survey Uncertainty
- Appendix 7. History Matching and Uncertainty Analysis with PESTPP-IES
- Appendix 8. Groundwater Model Observation Processing
|Publication Subtype||USGS Numbered Series|
|Title||Hydrogeology, land-surface subsidence, and documentation of the Gulf Coast Land Subsidence and Groundwater-Flow (GULF) model, southeast Texas, 1897–2018|
|Series title||Professional Paper|
|Publisher||U.S. Geological Survey|
|Publisher location||Reston, VA|
|Contributing office(s)||Oklahoma-Texas Water Science Center|
|Description||Report: xx, 407 p., 8 Appendixes; Data Release|
|Online Only (Y/N)||Y|
|Google Analytic Metrics||Metrics page|