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Andean geology

On-line version ISSN 0718-7106


AGUIRRE, Igor; MARINGUE, José; SANTIBANEZ, Isabel  and  YANEZ, Gonzalo. The role of the geophysical exploration in deep aquifers in semi-urban and rural environments in Andean forearc basins, study case in the aquifer of Ñuble river, Central Valley of Chile. AndGeo [online]. 2022, vol.49, n.1, pp.18-54. ISSN 0718-7106.

The hydric resource coming from groundwater has a strategic nature at global scale, within a context of overpopulation and over exploitation of the resource and climate change. Chile doesn’t scape to it, where climate models predict a drought for most of the country, including partially, the agriculture region of the Central Valley between Santiago and Puerto Montt. The adaption process to global climatic change demands the exploration new sources of supply of this resource, being strategic the one coming from aquifers. To date in Chile, the knowledge of these resources is limited to depths below 200 m in each aquifer. However, in the Central Valley between Santiago and Chiloé, the geophysical evidences allow to infer the existence of a thick volcano-sedimentary basin growing in thickness southward well above 500 m, with good potential for occurrence of large groundwater resources. The characterization of deep aquifers, 200-1,000 m of depth, demands to have an affordable, non-invasive, and reliable, exploration tool able to be applied in semi-urban and rural environments, where the water resource need is higher. The geophysical methodologies meet these characteristics and have been applied in Chile and elsewhere as a tool for groundwater resources exploration. However, its application have not been described in Andean environments, of large population and/or agro-industrial activity. In consequence, the present work raises a methodological strategy for the characterization of groundwater resources, in particular for the detection of deep aquifers. We propose the application of a combination of complementary geophysical techniques, including electrical, electromagnetic, and gravimetric methods (to determine the aquifer geometry) along with complementary techniques, like magnetometry, to reduce interpretation ambiguity and, constrained by hydrogeological information and petrophysics of rocks and sediments of the basin and basement. Complementary, we include an analysis of the potential effects of cultural noise and its effects on geophysical observations, given the focus of exploration in semi-urban and rural places. With the aim to validate the proposed methodology we use as a case study the aquifer of Ñuble river, in the Ñuble region, Chile. This aquifer properly represents an Andean forearc environment in rural and semi-urban condition, and potentially hosting a deep seated aquifer. The results allow the characterization of an aquifer with hydrogeological potential between 50 and 300-500 depth, overlying a sedimentary basin of more than 1,000 m thickness. The application of the proposed methodology for the exploration of groundwater resources will provide, in consequence, the recognition of a vital relevance resource for the sustainability of Chile during the following decades.

Keywords : Climate change; Groundwater; Geophysical methods; Deep aquifers.

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