The Influence of Long Term Climate Change on Net Infiltration at Yucca Mountain, Nevada

by Alan L. Flint, U. S. Geological Survey, Mercury, United States,
Lorraine E. Flint, U. S. Geological Survey, Mercury, United States,
Joseph A. Hevesi, U. S. Geological Survey, Mercury, United States,

Abstract: Net infiltration and recharge at Yucca Mountain, Nevada, a potential site for a high level nuclear waste repository, are determined both by the rock properties and past and future changes in climate. A 1-dimensional model was constructed to represent a borehole being drilled through the unsaturated zone. The rock properties were matched to the lithologies expected to be encountered in the borehole. As current paleoclimate theory assumes that 18O increases with wetter and cooler global climates, a past climate scenario, built on depletion of 18O from ocean sediments was used as a basis for climate change over the past 700,000 years. The climate change was simulated by assigning net infiltration values as a linear function of 8O. Assuming the rock properties, lithologies and climate scenarios are correct, simulations indicated that Yucca Mountain is not in steady state equilibrium at the surface (<75 meters) when compared to measured data, but that the system could be at steady state conditions at depths of >250 meters. Based on the cyclic climate inputs, the near surface is currently in a long term drying trend (for the last 3,000 years) yet recharge into the water table is continuing to occur at an average rate equivalent to the average input rate of the climate model, indicating that conditions at depth are damped out over very long time periods. The Paintbrush Tuff nonwelded units, positioned between the Tiva Canyon and Topopah Spring welded Tuff Members, do not appear to act as capillary barrier and therefore would not perch water. The low porosity vitric caprock and basal vitrophyre of the Topopah Spring Member, however, act as restrictive layers. The higher porosity rock directly above the caprock reduces the potential for the caprock to perch water leaving the basal vitrophyre as the most likely location for perched water to develop.

Subject Headings: Climate change | Radioactive wastes | Infiltration | Rock properties | Rocks | Hydrologic models | Boring | Nevada | North America | United States

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