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William C. RASMUSSEN 0 )
Paper for presentation at the meeting ot the International Union of Geodesy and
Geophysics August 1963 Berkeley, California and for publication in the proceedings (2)


Just as there is no purely homogeneous aquifer, so there is no truly heterogeneous

one, and the difference is a matter of degree. The specific capacities of wells, and coe-
fficients of permeability and storage of aquifers are tabulated for heterogeneous rock
types in the United States. A wide range in aquifer capability is indicated and the
difficulty in isolating flow in fractured rocks from flow in cavernous, tubular, scoria-
ceous, and vesicular rocks, and even in well-cemented granular rocks, is manifest.
Attempts to reduce the statistics of the flow of water in heterogeneous rocks to
one or more simple mathematical formulas are doomed to failure. Special problems,
developed with detailed knowledge of the local geology and hydrology, will undoub-
tedly be solved with refined assumptions, partial differentials, complex coefficients,
and fractional exponents, but these will apply only to the situation outlined. No general
formula can be anticipated, and where a formula is evolved, it will be found that the
rocks approach homogeneity under the assumptions made.


Quoique il n'y ait pas de formations aquifères précisément homogènes, il n'y a en

même temps pas de formations aquifères qui sont vraiment hétérogènes, et la différence
est une question de degré. Les capacités spécifiques des puits, et les coefficients de
perméabilité et d'emmagasinage des formations aquifères, sont disposés en tables pour
les types des roches hétérogènes de États-Unis. Plusieurs ordres de capacité sont
indiques, et la difficulté d'isoler l'écoulement dans les roches fracturées de l'écoulement
dans les roches caverneuses, tabulaires, scoriacées, et vcsiculeuses, et aussi dans les
roches granulaires bien cimentées, est manifeste.
Des essaies pour réduire des statistiques de l'écoulement d'eau à travers des roches
hétérogènes à une formule simple ou même à plusieurs formules, sont condamnés à
échouer. Des problèmes spéciaux développés avec une connaissance détaillée de la
géologie et de l'hydrologie locales seront sans doute résolus avec des hypothèses
raffinées, des différentielles partiales, des coefficients complexes, et des exposants
fractionnaires, mais ces choses ne s'appliqueront qu'à une situation particulière. Là
où une formule est établie, on trouvera que les roches se rapprochent de l'homogé-
néité avec les hypothèses choisies. Conséquemmcnt, aucune formule générale n'est


1.1. Purpose and Acknowledgments

It is the purpose of this report to emphasize the complexity of heterogeneous
aquifers and to show the limitations of the data on permeability and other hydrologie
characteristics that restrict our knowledge today, and that will persist in limiting our
knowledge in the future.

C21) Geologist, U.S. Geological Survey, Newark, Del.

( ) Approved by the Director, U.S. Geological Survey.

This discussion is a byproduct of an investigation into the hydrology of nuclear
craters. In order to appraise the results of the crushing and fracturing which accom-
panies the detonation of a nuclear device, itwas desired to establish a base of know-
ledge on fractured rocks and heterogeneous aquifers. The investigation was supported
by the Atomic Energy Commission, and the U.S. Geological Survey, through the
Geologic and the Water Resources Divisions. The writer wishes to thank
O. M. Hackett, Chief, Ground Water Branch, and the District Engineers and Geolo-
gists of the Branch, for responses to a questionnaire which provided the basic data
for this report.

1.2. Heterogeneous Aquifers

Heterogeneous aquifers are water-bearing materials that conform to no single
system of water flow. Water movement occurs in more than one set of interstices so
that flow is turbulent in places, and laminar in others, and it may turn in many direc-
tions and follow devious paths.
Most hard brittle rocks form heterogeneous aquifers, and fracturing is a major
cause of heterogeneity. Crystalline or glassy igneous rocks, cemented or compacted
sedimentary rocks, and sheared metamorphic rocks, when invaded by water, form
heterogeneous aquifers. The processes of weathering, partial solution, and fracture,
create heterogeneity.
In contrast, the homogeneous aquifers are found more often in soft, granular
sedimentary rocks, such as sand and silt, friable sandstone, and friable tuff. The
process of sorting by the differential velocities of transport in a fluid medium create
homogeneity. Honeycomb limestones, volcanic scoria, and tubular basalts, also form
relatively homogeneous aquifers. The processes of extensive solution, and of extensive
fluid emission from lava, also create homogeneity.

1.3. Fracture . . •
Fracture means breakage. When a rock material breaks without substantial
displacement of the rock on opposite sides of the break, the breakage is called jointing.
When the breakage occurs along subparallel planes inherent in the packing arrange-
ment of the minerals or grains of the rock, it is called rock cleavage. When there is
displacement of the opposite sides of a break, the fracture is called a fault. Schistosity
as used in this paper is an intense form of fracturing, caused by high differential
pressure, which shears a weak rock into many thin slices. Brecciation is fracture into
angular fragments.
Figure 1 illustrates fracture patterns. Single set fracture consists of parallel planes,
such as flow planes, sheeting, tension joints, or normal step faults. Double-set fracture
involves two groups of planes; one group may be bedding planes which intersect the
true fracture planes. Multi-set fracture involves several planes, usually related to an
axis, such as the vertical axis of columnar jointing, or to an axial plane, such as a
thrust fault, which has planes of drag tension merging with the compressional sole.

1.4. Openings occurring with fracture

Figure 2 illustrates some of the openings that occur with fractures. In general
the effect of these openings is to complicate the movement of water and thus enhance
the development of heterogeneous aquifers.

1.4.1. Porosity and the Weathering Processes

In sandstones and silstones degrees of cementation and compaction may range
considerably within short distances, so that a rock may grade from a quartzite, with

Bedding plane joints Tension cracks Normal faults


Oblique sets of joints Tension joints intersecting

horizontal joints


Tension cracks

Orbital jointing in coarse-grained igneous rocks Columnar jointing in fine-grained Thrust fault, compression sole;
intrusive igneous rocks tension on apices of folds

Fig. 1 — Fracture patterns in rocks.


Vent Vesiculority
Fracture in Structures and openings in lava rock Collapse and solution openings
porous sandstone in carbonate rocks


Fault breccia Piedmont breccia Tuff breccio : ejectomenta

Fig. 2 — Openings associated with fracture in rocks.
no granular porosity, and flow entirely along fractures, to a friable sandstone in which
flow is controlled chiefly by the granular pore space.
Igneous and metamorphic rocks weather to sandy loam, silty loam, and clay
loam. In frigid zones this weathered zone is usually only a few feet deep. In temperate
zones it generally ranges from a few feet to several tens of feet, while in the tropics
the weathered zone may extend several hundred feet. The water-bearing properties
of weathered rocks simulate those of homogeneous aquifers where the weathered
zone has developed granular porosity and is thick. The rocks are heterogeneous
aquifers where the weathered mantle is thin and fractures dominate the flow regimen.
Weathering may occur at considerable depth along fracture planes, augmenting their
water-carrying capability.

1.4.2. Tunnels, Tubes, ana Vesicles in Volcanic Rocks

The Craters of the Moon National Monument in Idaho is a lava field of basalt
flows of recent geologic origin. Sheets and huge tongues of basalt rock extrude from
extinct volcanoes and fissures, as congealed lava. The explorer may enter tunnels in
these congealed lava tongues that extend for several hundred feet, and are high enough
to allow a man to stand, in places, and crouch and crawl in other places. There is no
doubt that these tunnels were formed by the extrusion of hot lava and gases during
the transition from the molten to solid state. In places the openings narrow to small
tubes : in other places the rock is a vesicular basalt.
Where these volcanic rocks are filled with water, they form complex heterogeneous
aquifers, and performance records on individual wells are difficult to interpret. How-
ever, discharge on a regional basis, or from a group of large capacity wells, may ap-
proach performance standards of homogeneous aquifers.

1.4.3. Caverns, Solution Slots, and Sinkholes in Carbonate and Other Soluble Rocks
In the Mammoth Cave area of Kentucky, in the area of Carlsbad Caverns in
New Mexico, in the Edwards Plateau of Texas, on the peninsula of Florida, in the
Great Valley of the Appalachian Mountains, and wherever limestone and dolomite
rocks are at or near the surface there arc found caves, solution slots, and sinkholes
in conjunction with a network of joints, and fractures. Aquifer performance tests on
well fields in these carbonate aquifers sometimes yield data that can be analyzed under
the assumptions of homogeneous aquifers. More often the graphs do not conform to
type curves of ground-water flow, and the presence of a heterogeneous aquifer system
is indicated. This is usually the situation in wells of small yield, where the flow is
predominantly from fractures, and solution openings arc limited.
Muskat (1937, p. 409-420; has discussed fluid flow in fractured limestones. The
assumptions he made are straightforward but the resultant mathematics derived is
involved and tenuous.


The hydraulic properties of heterogeneous aquifers are complex. Kotyakhov

(1960) has discussed the relation between fracture and permeability in rocks and
concluded by pointing out the contradictions in evaluations of the extent of fracturing.

2.1. Specific Capacities of Wells

Specific capacity is defined as the yield per unit drawdown, expressed usually
as gpm per foot of drawdown. For example, if a rock well yields 50 gpm with a draw-

down of 25 feet, the specific capacity is 2 gpm/H. The specific capacity declines so n;-
what as a function of pumping time.
Drillers have used the specific capacity of wells for many years as a rule-of-thumb
comparison of the performance of one well to another, and of the well to itself, over
given periods of development, and production. Ground-water geologists have related
specific capacities to producing formations. Engineers (Theis, and others, 1954)
have used specific capacity to estimate transmissibility, and geophysicists and geolo-
gists (Bennett and Patten, 1960) have used specific capacity to determine the hydraulics
of multiaquifer wells.
Although it is difficult to get interprétable results by applying the noncquilibrium
formula to tests performed in heterogeneous aquifers, the specific capacities of wells
in such aquifers are relatively easy to obtain. Moreover, a well will give the same ratio
of quantity lo drawdown for many repeated tesls, if they are of the same duration,
even though the aquifer in which it is drilled is heterogeneous. Here, then, is consis-
tency, and a basis for comparing one well to another.
Table 1 shows the range and average specific capacities of wells by type of frac-
tured rock in the United States. The average specific capacity of 2,150 wells is 0.74 gpm
per foot. The average producing thickness is 176 feet. Few wells are drilled deeper
than 300 feet, because in most places the number and width of fracture openings
decrease at greater depths, the additional water obtained by drilling deeper is small,
and the cost per foot for drilling deeper rises exhorbitantly.
The average specific capacity may be contrasted to that of the porous rocks for
which the writer estimates 10 gpm per foot (no grand range and average of sand and
gravel aquifers has been made, but the table on page 64 of Rasmussen, 1955, indicates
the averages for 8 unconsolidated formations). These, in turn may be contrasted to
the carbonate rocks (table 1 ) which have an average of 11 gpm per foot, and the almost
astronomical 1,660 gpm per foot of the cavernous basaltic rocks.
According to table 1 the tightest of the rock types is gneiss, which has an average
specific capacity of 0.06 gpm per foot. In contrast, one of the better water-producing
crystalline rocks is schist, with an average specific capacity of about 1.5 gpm per foot,
or 25 times as great as gneiss. The specific capacities of wells in sandstone, 1.11 gpm
per foot, are slightly higher than those in quartzite, 0.77 gpm per foot. Probably this
difference reflects the influence of pore permeability in the sandstone, for quartzite
has no pore permeability.
A precautionary comment is warranted in the use of table 1 : the data has been
assembled for successful wells. Well failures, which did not produce, or produced
yields too small to be used for the purpose for which the wells were drilled, arc aban-
doned, and no record is kept of them. Consequently the average specific capacity of
each rock type may be somewhat lower than that indicated for the successful wells.

2.2. Storage
The storage capacity of an aquifer depends upon the volume of water the aquifer
will release or absorb in ratio to the volume of rock from which it is derived. More
precisely, the coefficient of storage is the volume of water released from storage in
each column of the aquifer having a base one unit square and a height equal to the
saturated thickness of the aquifer when the piezometric surface is lowered one linear
unit. Because it is the ratio of a volume to a volume, the storage coefficient is dimension-
The median storage coefficient of 63 tests on the unweathered fractured rocks is
.00076, and the mean is .00433. The range is from .0000006 to .0300. If these were
granular rocks, the interpretation would be that the coefficients of storage indicated
artesian and leaky conditions. Fractured rocks, however, have a rigid aquifer structure,
and it is not likely that much reduction in the volume of the aquifer occurs with decline

Range and average specific capacity and producing thickness of successful wells in
fractured rocks in the United States

Specific Capacity Producing Thickness

Rock No. No.

Min. Av. Max. wells Min. Av. Max. wells

Gneiss .001 .06 5.3 131 9 122 300 131

Undifferentiated igneous
and metamorph ic rocks .003 .27 15 556 10 220 500 556
Arkosic sandstone, silt-
stone, and shale .001 .31 23 324 155 306 500 326
Shale .006 .43 0.7 77 17 110 600 93
Quartzite .004 .77 15.6 135 9 138 1500 135
Greenstone .005 .87 4.0 134 3! 101 402 134
Sandstone .1 1.11 27 174 30 134 777 186
Coarsegrained igneous
rocks (granite, diorite,
gabbro) .02 1.17 36 108 10 171 368 107
Schist .004 1.45 13 481 10 117 486 481
Tight finegrained igneous
rocks (rhyolite, basalt,
trachyte) .33 2.5 25 30 43 96 383 34

Grand rangeand average .001 .74 36 2150 9 176 1500 2183

Fractured rocks augmented •>y tubes, tunnels and:avities

Carbonate rocks .01 10.8 560 587 1 135 1650 593

Cavernous fine-grained 100 '. 1663 5700 10 80 347 1200 10
igneous rocks

in the piezometric surface. More likely the coefficient represents the actual amount
of dewatering of the aquifer, and indicates that storage in fractured aquifers is in
general I percent to 10 percent of the storage in typical granular aquifers.
The average coefficient of storage for 39 tests reported on weathered rocks is 0.14.
Coefficients of storage in carbonate rocks, in which some of the fractures have been
enlarged by solution, range from .000001 to 0.14, and have an average of .03, indicating
a dominance of enlarged openings capable of being dewatercd.
The average of only 5 tests on volcanic basalt is .044, slightly larger than that of
carbonate rocks, but the small sample reduces the significance of the comparison.
The contrast in maximum storage 0.19, for 5 tests in the open basalt to the maximum
0.14 for 173 tests in the carbonate rocks is significant, and more likely would be larger
than 0.19 if the sample were of similar magnitude.

2.3. Permeability

The permeability of a water-bearing material is its capacity to transmit water

under pressure. Permeability is thus a fundamental measure of the hydraulic properties
of an aquifer, and hence enables the comparison of one aquifer with another. In ideal
situations knowledge of permeability contributes to the calculation of perennial
yield of aquifers for various combinations of well locations, pumping rates, recharge
rates, and corresponding water levels.
Various formulas have been developed for determining coefficients of permeability
in the field. Most of these are based on discharging well methods (Wenzel, 1942) and
therefore are applicable to conditions of radial flow toward a well bore. One of the
most useful of these methods is the nonequilibrium formula which was derived by
Theis (1935) and may be simply written :
s W(u)

in which s is the drawdown in the discharging well or in a well influenced by a

point of discharge, Q is the quantity of water discharged in a unit of time, P is the
field coefficient of permeability, m is the aquifer thickness, and W(it) is the well func-
tion of u, an integral dependent upon time since discharge began, the distance of the
well from the discharge, and the storage capacity, permeability and saturated thickness
of the aquifer. Transmissibility, T, the product of permeability, P, and saturated
thickness, m, is customarily determined in test procedures.
The formula is based upon the following major assumptions (Wenzel, 1942, p. 87) :
(1) the water-bearing formation is homogeneous and isotropic, (2) it has an infinite
areal extent and (3) the discharge well penetrates the entire thickness of the formation.
Implied in the description of the formation as homogeneous and isotropic is that the
coefficient of permeability is constant throughout the formation and the saturated.
thickness is also constant.
These conditions are never encountered in nature: however, the formula has been
applied with considerable degree of success to a fairly wide variety of conditions, and
has been extended to limited boundary conditions by means of image-well theory
(summarized by Ferris, 1949). The formula is most successfully applied to artesian
sand and sandstone aquifers, to honeycomb limestones, to basalts with interconnected
vesicles, and to water-table or unconfined aquifers in which the decrease in saturated
thickness around the area of discharge is a minor fraction of the average saturated
thickness. By the use of the nonequilibrium formula very large coefficients of permea-
bility and storage have been determined for saturated cavernous rocks, and for open
basaltic flow rocks.
Pirverdyan and others (1959) attempted to formulate a theory of fluid flow in
heterogeneous cemented porous rocks. They obtained "sizable discrepancies between
computed and actual permeability values".

2.3.1. Well-field Tests

In the United States 244 well-field tests have been reported to the writer on hetero-
geneous aquifers. Of these 108 were on fractured rocks; 83 were on carbonate rocks
consisting of fractures and solution openings; 36 were on weathered crystalline rocks;
5 were on open volcanic rocks; and 12 were questionable because of leaky confining
beds, pore permeability, or boundaries.
The average coefficient of permeability of the 108 tests on fractured rocks was
20.7 gpd per sq.ft., from 102 wells which averaged 267 feet in producing thickness.
The average coefficient of permeability of 21 gpd per sq.ft. for the fractured rocks may

be compared to an average 195 gpd per sq.ft. for 83 tests on carbonate rocks, and
36 gpd per sq.ft. for 36 tests on weathered crystalline rock. The five tests on volcanic
rocks gave extremely large coefficients of permeability, ranging from 26 to 173,000 gpd
per sq.ft.

2.3.2. Estimation from Specific Capacities

Theis and others (1954) have derived formulas for estimating transmissibility
and hence permeability from specific capacity. Referring to the argument u of the
nonequilibrium formula, which in lower limit is
1.87 r2S
Tt '
it is found that when radial distance, r, is small and time, /, is a matter of several hours,
the lower limit of integration is small, and the formula can be integrated and written
with neglible error as
T =r p.m ^ 114.6ÖM - . 5 7 7 - In

in which In refers to logarithms to the base e.

Converting to logarithms to the base 10, and substituting the radius of the pumped
well as 1/2 foot, for a specific capacity test of 1/4 day (6 hours), or a radius of 1 foot
for a test of 1 day, the formula may be rearranged as follows :
Q -T
Specific capacity — s— = 66 -I- 264 log 1.87 SIT

For various values of the coefficient of storage, a set of curves (almost straight
lines) relating T to Q/s were prepared. Realistic values of 5 were chosen as 0.10,
0.01, .001 and .0001.
Thus from the specific capacities presented in table 1, it is possible to obtain the
apparent rock permeability, simply by determining the transmissibility and then divi-
ding it by the producing thickness, P = Tim. Values of permeability are presented in
table 2, which includes also the coefficients of permeability derived from the well-
field tests (about 5 percent of the total). For each specific capacity the maximum permea-
bility was calculated by assuming a storage coefficient of .0001, the minimum by assu-
ming a storage of 0.10, and the average by assuming a storage of .001. Moreover the
wells were assumed to have no entrance losses, nor unusual development around the
well bore. Thus the wells were assumed to be 100 percent efficient, an assumption which
is reasonable for unscreened rock wells.
Moreover, the derivation from the Theis formula assumes radial flow to the well
bore. If there is any appreciable 3-dimensional flow, for example, spherical flow into
the base of the open hole, the specific capacity, and the permeability derived from it,
will be less than for radial flow.
Table 2 is arrayed in order of increasing permeability. Among the fractured
heterogeneous aquifers, gneiss has the lowest apparent average coefficient of permea-
bility, 1.4 gpd per sq.ft. Schist, among fractured rocks not augmented by tubes,
tunnels and cavities, has the highest apparent average coefficient of permeability,
24.5 gpd per square foot. Coarse-grained igneous rocks, apparent permeability 8.9 gpd
per sq.ft., represent intermediate conditions. The average of almost 2,200 wells in
fractured rock is about 9.6 gpd per sq.ft. This is about equal to the average permeability
of a silt, or a clayey sand, among the porous media (Wenzel, 1942, p. 13).

Range and average permeability of fractured rucks in the United States
(Derived from producing wells)

Apparent coefficient
Producing of permeabilit) gpd No. of
thickness per square foot wells
Rock —

ft. Min. Average Max.

Gneiss 122 .001 1.4 56 131

Arkosic sandstone, siltstone, and
shale 306 .001 1.5 150 326
Undiffcrentiated igneous and met-
amorphic rocks 220 .002 1.8 397 556
Shale 110 .05 7.5 120 93
Quartzite 138 .004 7.9 55 135
Coarsegrained igneous rocks
(granite, diorite, gabbro) 171 .01 8.9 90 106
Sandstone 134 .007 10.8 115 182
Greenstone 101 .12 14.9 211 134
Tight finegrained igneous rocks
(rhyolite, trachyte, basalt) 96 1.3 20.3 275 37
Schist 117 .01 24.5 256 481

Grand range and average 176 .001 9.57 397 2181

Fractured rocks augmented by tubes, tunnels, anc cavities

Carbonate rocks 135 : .001 93 2400 513

Cavernous fine-grained igneous
rocks 347 2500 26500 173000 10


In summary, then, what are the hydrologie characteristics of heterogeneous

aquifers ? The specific capacities of individual wells, and the storage and permeability
of heterogeneous aquifers show a wide range in aquifer capability. The difficulty in
isolating flow in fractured rocks from flow in cavernous, tubular, scoriaceous, and
vesicular rocks, and even in well-cemented porous rocks is manifest.
Data obtained from well-field tests of heterogeneous aquifers do not yield to
conventional analysis of the type curves of ground-water flow. Only the specific
capacities of individual wells show a sufficiently reproducible characteristic for equal
periods of pumping, and the same initial producing thickness, to offer a semblance
of consistency.

The apparent permeability calculated for a sample of about 2,200 wells for an
average fractured rock with an average specific capacity of 0.74, and an average coeffi-
cient of storage of .001, is 9.6 gpd per sq.ft.
It has been said that heterogeneity is a matter of scale, that is, even a well sorted
massive granular rock is heterogeneous on a small scale and a complexly fractured
consolidated rock may be regarded as homogeneous if the scale is large enough.
A practical approach to the problem would be to define a heterogeneous aquifer as
one in which the drawdown and recovery of water levels do not plot as a function
of discharge rate, distance from the pumping well, and time since pumping began in a
manner approximating the nonequilibrium formula, granting partial penetration of
the aquifer, leaky aquicludes, and boundary conditions where they can be recognized.

BENNETT, G.D., and PATTEN, E.P., Jr., (1960) : Borehole geophysical methods for
analyzing specific capacity of multiaquifer wells : U.S. Geol. Survey Water-Supply
Paper 1539-A, 25 p.
FERRIS, J.G., (1949) : Ground water in Hydrology (by C O . Wisler and E. F. Brater) :
John Wiley and Sons, New York, p. 198-272.
KOTYAKHOV, F. I., (I960): The present contradictions in the evaluation of the extent
of fracturing in rocks : Neftyanoe Kftoz., Vol. 38, p. 55-59 (Assoc. Techn. Serv.,
Inc. trans. RJ-2876).
MUSKAT, Morris, (1937) : The flow of homogeneous fluids through porous media :
McGraw-Hill Book Co., New York, 763 p.
PIRVERDYAN, A.M., NIKITIN, P.I., and GUKASOV, N.A., (1959) : An attempt to for-
mulate a theory of the flow of fluid in nonhomogeneous porous media: (Assoc.
Techn. Serv., Inc. trans. RJ-2794), Izvest. Vysshikh Ucheb. Zaved., Neft i Gas.
Vol. 2, No. 12, p. 63-68.
RASMUSSEN, W.C., (1955) : Magnitude of the groundwaters of Delaware : Maryland-
Delaware Water and Sewage Assoc. Proc. 28th cont'., p. 53-66.
THEIS, C.V., (1935) : The relation between the lowering of the piezometric surface and
duration of discharge of a well using ground-water storage: Am. Geophys. Union
Trans., Vol. 16, p. 519-524.
THEIS, C.V., and others, (1954) : Estimating transmissibility from specific capacity :
U.S. Geol. Survey open-file rept., 11 p.
WENZEL, L. K., (1942) : Methods of determining permeability of water-bearing materials
with special reference to discharging-well methods : U.S. Geol. Survey Water-
Supply Paper 887, 192 p.


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