Exploring for the Future—Groundwater level interpretations for the McBride and Nulla basalt provinces: Upper Burdekin region, North Queensland
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This report presents key results of groundwater level interpretations from the Upper Burdekin Groundwater Project in North Queensland, conducted as part of Exploring for the Future (EFTF)—an eight year, $225 million Australian Government funded geoscience data and information acquisition program focused on better understanding the potential mineral, energy and groundwater resources across Australia.
The Upper Burdekin Groundwater Project is a collaborative study between Geoscience Australia and the Queensland Government. It focuses on basalt groundwater resources in two geographically separate areas: the Nulla Basalt Province (NBP) in the south and the McBride Basalt Province (MBP) in the north. This report interprets groundwater levels measured in both provinces by Geoscience Australia and the Queensland Government to provide recommendations for resource management.
The NBP and MBP basalt aquifers are heterogeneous, fractured, vesicular systems. Several lava flows are mapped at surface in both provinces, and the degree of hydraulic connectivity between these flows is unclear. Although there was some uncertainty due to monitoring well construction issues, barometric efficiency analyses from supporting project documents suggest that the basalts of the NBP and MBP were unconfined where monitored during the EFTF project. That finding generally matches observations presented here.
Longer term groundwater hydrographs suggest that groundwater levels have been declining in the NBP and MBP following major flooding in 2010-2011 related to one of the strongest La Niña events on record. Groundwater levels are yet to decline to pre-flood elevations in places. Importantly, these longer term hydrographs set the project in context: the EFTF monitoring period is only a small fraction of a much longer-functioning, dynamic groundwater system.
Nulla Basalt Province
The NBP is elongated east-west, and is situated entirely within the Burdekin River catchment. Volcanic vents in the west identify that area as the main extrusive centre. Regionally, groundwater migrates through the basalts of the NBP from the western high ground towards the Burdekin River in the east. Although lava flows of the NBP reach the Burdekin River, direct groundwater discharge in this area has not yet been proven. However, groundwater does discharge to various springs and surface watercourses in the NBP that are known tributaries of the Burdekin River.
Despite the presence of many registered extraction bores, no clear signs of pumping were observed in groundwater hydrographs from the NBP during the EFTF monitoring period. Water levels in many bores responded to major rainfall events, ranging from a simple change in declining hydrograph slope to a water level increase of ~6.8 m in the central west. While some responses could have been induced by loading, electrical conductivity loggers and the extent of water level rise showed that many were clearly caused by recharge. At nested monitoring locations, groundwater levels remained commensurate with downward flow potentials throughout the EFTF monitoring period.
McBride Basalt Province
The MBP is approximately circular in plan, with volcanic vents present in a north-northeast trending band through the province centre. Lava flows extend away from the high ground of the province centre towards lower ground near the edges. In part due to its geometry, the MBP is situated within four river catchments; only surface water landing in the east flows into the Burdekin River.
Regionally, groundwater migrates through the basalts of the MBP from the central high ground radially towards the edges. Direct groundwater discharge from the MBP basalts into the Burdekin River has been shown in this project. Similarly to the NBP, groundwater is also known to discharge to numerous springs and surface watercourses in the MBP.
Water levels in many bores responded to major rainfall events. Responses ranged from a change in declining hydrograph slope to a water level increase of ~6.8 m in the southeast. While some responses could have been induced by loading, the extent of water level rise showed that others were clearly caused by recharge. No nested monitoring locations were installed for the EFTF project, so vertical head gradients are currently unknown.
Although there are numerous registered extraction bores in the MBP, groundwater level response to pumping was only definitively identified in the east in bore RN12010016. However, several registered bores with high estimated yields have been installed in the northeast since EFTF fieldwork completion. It is possible that these higher yielding extraction bores may induce visible drawdown in monitoring bores in the future. Their high estimated yields may be associated with lava tubes; features not reported in the literature reviewed for this project for the NBP, but identified at surface and potentially in several Queensland Government bores drilled in the MBP.
Conclusions and recommendations
The Upper Burdekin Groundwater Project has provided abundant information on various aspects of the hydrogeology of the Nulla and McBride basalt provinces. General groundwater flow processes are understood at a regional scale for the EFTF monitoring period, but more detailed investigations and longer term monitoring are required to fully evaluate local conditions.
One of the main observations of this study are the long term groundwater level declines in both the NBP and MBP following the 2010-2011 La Niña-associated floods. Groundwater levels are yet to reduce to pre-flood elevations in places, showing that the EFTF monitoring period represents only a small fraction of a much longer-functioning, dynamic groundwater system. It is unclear what, if any, contribution groundwater extraction has made to regional water level declines.
Numerous correlations were assessed between groundwater hydrograph characteristics and potentially influencing factors, but the results were mostly inconclusive. There is uncertainty in hydraulic connectivity across lava flow boundaries and between intra-lava flow aquifers. Although interesting groundwater processes were identified at many bores, at the current bore spacing it is not generally possible to interpolate between locations with any certainty.
Knowledge gaps and suggestions for further investigation are recorded in Section 5 of the report. The gaps identified should assist planning of future work to inform:
- Further characterisation of groundwater resources.
- Protection of groundwater dependent ecosystems.
- Appropriate groundwater resource management.
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This technical reports presents an interpretation of the hydrogeology of the Nulla and McBride basalt provinces in the Upper Burdekin region of North Queensland based mostly upon groundwater levels, surface topography, rainfall, and supporting reports. It was developed as part of Geoscience Australia's Exploring for the Future program.
This technical report was created as part of Geoscience Australia's Exploring for the Future program. It includes an interpretation of groundwater levels in monitoring bores in the Nulla and McBride basalt provinces in the Upper Burdekin region of North Queensland.
Association Type - wasInformedBy
Exploring for the Future—Groundwater level data release for the McBride and Nulla basalt provinces: Upper Burdekin region, North Queensland
eCat Identifier - 135445,
UUID - 7340b3c8-a6c1-4835-bab5-1824606721ce
Association Type - wasInformedBy
Exploring for the Future—Barometric response function interpretations in the McBride and Nulla basalt provinces: Upper Burdekin region, North Queensland