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Scientific Investigations Report 2015–5042

Prepared in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Energy

Multilevel Groundwater Monitoring of Hydraulic Head and Temperature in the Eastern Snake River Plain Aquifer, Idaho National Laboratory, Idaho, 2011–13

By Brian V. Twining and Jason C. Fisher

Thumbnail of and link to report PDF (4.1 MB)Abstract

From 2011 to 2013, the U.S. Geological Survey’s Idaho National Laboratory (INL) Project Office, in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Energy, collected depth-discrete measurements of fluid pressure and temperature in 11 boreholes located in the eastern Snake River Plain aquifer. Each borehole was instrumented with a multilevel monitoring system (MLMS) consisting of a series of valved measurement ports, packer bladders, casing segments, and couplers.

Multilevel monitoring at the INL has been ongoing since 2006 and this report summarizes data collected from 2011 to 2013 in 11 multilevel monitoring wells. Hydraulic head (head) and groundwater temperature data were collected from 11 multilevel monitoring wells, including 177 hydraulically isolated depth intervals from 448.0 to 1,377.6 feet below land surface. One port (port 3) within borehole USGS 134 was not monitored because of a valve failure.

Head and temperature profiles reveal unique patterns for vertical examination of the aquifer’s complex basalt and sediment stratigraphy, proximity to aquifer recharge and discharge, and groundwater flow. These features contribute to some of the localized variability even though the general profile shape remained consistent over the period of record. Twenty-two major head inflections were described for 9 of 11 MLMS boreholes and almost always coincided with low‑permeability sediment layers and occasionally thick layers of dense basalt. However, the presence of a sediment layer or dense basalt layer was insufficient for identifying the location of a major head change within a borehole without knowing the true areal extent and relative transmissivity of the lithologic unit. Temperature profiles for boreholes completed within the Big Lost Trough indicate linear conductive trends; whereas, temperature profiles for boreholes completed within volcanic rift zones and near the southern boundary of the Idaho National Laboratory, indicate mostly convective heat transfer. Select boreholes along the southern boundary show a temperature reversal and cooler water deeper in the aquifer resulting from the vertical movement of groundwater.

Vertical head and temperature change were quantified for each of the 11 multilevel monitoring systems. Vertical head gradients defined for the major inflections in the head profiles were as high as 2.9 feet per foot. In general, fractured basalt zones displayed relatively small vertical head differences and show a high occurrence within volcanic rift zones. Poor connectivity between fractures and higher vertical gradients were generally attributed to sediment layers and layers of dense basalt, or both. Groundwater temperatures in all boreholes ranged from 10.8 to 16.3 °C.

Normalized mean head values were analyzed for all 11 multilevel monitoring wells for the period of record (2007–13). The mean head values suggest a moderately positive correlation among all boreholes and generally reflect regional fluctuations in water levels in response to seasonal climatic changes. Boreholes within volcanic rift zones and near the southern boundary (USGS 103, USGS 105, USGS 108, USGS 132, USGS 135, USGS 137A) display a temporal correlation that is strongly positive. Boreholes in the Big Lost Trough display some variations in temporal correlations that may result from proximity to the mountain front to the northwest and episodic flow in the Big Lost River drainage system. For example, during June 2012, boreholes MIDDLE 2050A and MIDDLE 2051 showed head buildup within the upper zones when compared to the June 2010 profile event, which correlates to years when surface water was reported for the Big Lost River several months preceding the measurement period. With the exception of borehole USGS 134, temporal correlation between MLMS wells completed within the Big Lost Trough is generally positive. Temporal correlation for borehole USGS 134 shows the least agreement with other MLMS boreholes located within the Big Lost Trough; however, borehole USGS 134 is close to the mountain front where tributary valley subsurface inflow is suspected.

First posted April 2, 2015

For additional information, contact:
Director, Idaho Water Science Center
U.S. Geological Survey
230 Collins Road
Boise, Idaho 83702

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Suggested citation:

Twining, B.V., and Fisher, J.C., 2015, Multilevel groundwater monitoring of hydraulic head and temperature in the eastern Snake River Plain aquifer, Idaho National Laboratory, Idaho, 2011–13: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2015–5042 (DOE/ID-22235), 49 p.,

ISSN 2328-0328 (online)




Methods and Quality Assurance

Hydraulic Head and Temperature Measurements


References Cited


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