Determining hydraulic parameters of a karst aquifer using unique historical data from large-scale dewatering by deep level mining – a case study from South Africa
Although karst aquifers constitute some of the most important water resources worldwide, generally accepted methods for reliably characterising their hydraulic properties are still elusive. This paper aims at contributing to the discussion by a first-ever attempt to utilise various sets of unique historical data derived from draining a large dolomitic karst aquifer by deep-level gold mines in South Africa. In contrast to conventional pumping tests which only penetrate thick aquifers to a limited extent from surface, this draining took place at the very bottom of the aquifer offering the rare opportunity to capture its entire thickness of nearly a kilometre. The datasets have been treated as analogies to conventional pumping tests applying various types of analytical methods designed for porous media. In order to increase the robustness of the results and to account for specific local conditions a total of four different analytical methods were applied to calculate (horizontal) transmissivity and storage coefficients. The obtained values, in general, compare favourably to previous studies in the area and values reported in literature for similar aquifer types confirming earlier findings that Darcy-based methods can be successfully applied to karst aquifers if the scale of investigation is large enough. Apart from improving the understanding of local karst hydrology the present study also aimed at retrieving and preserving valuable and unique historical datasets that otherwise would have been lost for scientific evaluation and the proactive preparation for mine closure.
Keywords: karst, dewatering, deep level mining, porous medium analytical methods, transmissivity, storage coefficient, Far West Rand