Title page for ETD etd-12042006-151912

Document Type Doctoral Thesis
Author Vermaak, Jan Johannes Gerhardus
URN etd-12042006-151912
Document Title Geotechnical and hydrogeological characterization of residual soils in the vadose zone
Degree PhD (Engineering Geology)
Department Earth Sciences
Advisor Name Title
Prof A van Schalkwyk Committee Chair
  • hydrogeology South Africa
  • groundwater flow South Africa
Date 2000-04-01
Availability unrestricted
Groundwater is an important natural resource and ought to be protected. Groundwater recharge and contamination are two important aspects in groundwater management. Both these aspects apply to the vadose zone.

The research aimed to narrow the knowledge gap between practising geohydrologists and engineering geologists, both frequently involved in vadose zone investigations for geohydrological and engineering purposes respectively.

The vadose zone is the portion of the geological profile above the groundwater surface and is usually characterised by unsaturated conditions. Matrix forces counteract the force of gravitation to hold liquid in the porous medium and are reflected by hydraulic heads lower than atmospheric pressure (suction). The unique relationship between soil-water content and suction is presented by soil-water characteristic curves.

Flow of liquids is directly proportional to the hydraulic gradient and the hydraulic conductivity and is affected by the geometric properties of the pore channels. In unsaturated soils, flow is governed by both matrix and gravitational forces. Preferential flow is the process by which water and solutes move along preferred pathways through a porous medium.

Important hydrogeological properties, such as porosity, hydraulic conductivity and soil-water retention characteristics, can be estimated from geotechnical data. Unsaturated hydraulic conductivity can also be estimated from soil-water characteristic curves and saturated hydraulic conductivity.

The experimental procedures comprised analyses of existing hydrogeological data, laboratory tests and field experiments. The geotechnical data were used to predict important hydrogeological properties and these predictions were compared to experimentally derived hydrogeological properties. The effects of preferential flow and soil variability were also investigated.

Predictions of porosity, hydraulic conductivity and soil-water retention characteristics lack precision, owing mostly to the natural variability in hydrogeological properties and inherent errors of the empirical models. Accurate predictions of unsaturated hydraulic conductivity were based on experimentally derived saturated hydraulic conductivity and soil water characteristic data.

The study area is located in Midrand and is underlain by granitoid rocks that had been subjected to a number of geomorphologic events. The land system classification approach was used to delineate the hydrogeological units. The different hydrogeological characteristics can be attributed mainly to the position of the hydrogeological units in respect of the topographical setting, the geomorphologic history and the underlying geology. A conceptual hydrogeological model was constructed for each of the hydrogeological zones and its significance in respect of groundwater recharge and vulnerability discussed.

The research has shown that geohydrological properties can be estimated from geotechnical data with various degrees of accuracy. Predictions of hydraulic conductivity, soil water retention characteristics and porosity are not suitable for site-specific investigations, but it can be used during the feasibility phases. In cases where saturated hydraulic conductivity and soil-water retention characteristics have been experimentally derived, estimations of unsaturated hydraulic conductivity are adequate for site-specific investigations. The land system approach can be used to delineate areas of similar geohydrological characteristics and these can be used in the compilation of aquifer vulnerability and groundwater recharge maps.

2000, University of Pretoria. All rights reserved. The copyright in this work vests in the University of Pretoria. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, without the prior written permission of the University of Pretoria.

Please cite as follows:

Vermaak, JJG 2000, Geotechnical and hydrogeological characterisation of residual soils in the vadose zone , PhD thesis, University of Pretoria, Pretoria, viewed yymmdd < http://upetd.up.ac.za/thesis/available/etd-12042006-151912/ >


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