Rock fractures are known to exist within the deep Critical Zone and are expected to influence groundwater flow, but there are limited data on their orientation and spatial arrangement and no general framework for systematically predicting their effects. Here, we explore fracture patterns within the Susquehanna-Shale Hills Critical Zone Observatory, and consider how they may be influenced by weathering, rock structure, and stress via field observations of variable fracture orientation within the site, with implications for the spatial variability of structural control on hydrologic processes. Based on field observations from 16-m deep boreholes and surface outcrop, we suggest that the appropriate structural model for the watershed is steeply dipping strata with meter- to decimeter-scale folds superimposed, including a superimposed fold at the mouth of the watershed that creates a short fold limb with gently dipping strata. These settings would produce an anisotropy in the hydraulic conductivity and perhaps also flow, especially within the context of the imposed stress field. Recently conducted 2-D numerical stress modeling indicates that the proxy for shear fracture declines more rapidly with depth beneath valleys than beneath ridgelines, which may
produce or enhance the spatial variability in permeability. Even if topographic stresses do not cause new fractures, they could activate and cause displacement on old fractures, making the rocks easier to erode and increasing the permeability, and potentially driving a positive feedback that enhances the growth of valley relief. Calculated stress fields are consistent with field observations, which show a rapid decline in fracture abundance with increasing depth below the valley floor, and predict a more gradual trend beneath ridgetops, leading to a more consistent (and lower) hydraulic conductivity with depth on the ridgetops when compared to the valley, where values are higher but more variable with depth. Hydraulic conductivity is a fundamental property controlling the zone of active flow within the watershed.
Singha, K., White, T., Perron, J., Chattopadhyay, P.B., Duffy, C. (2012): Fracture Patterns within the Shale Hills Critical Zone Observatory (Invited). AGU Annual Fall Conference Proceedings.
This Paper/Book acknowledges NSF CZO grant support.