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Étude hydrogéologique de l’aquifère transfrontalier Milk River (Canada-USA) : modèles géologique, conceptuel et numérique pour la gestion raisonnée de la ressource

Abstract : Since the beginning of the 20th century, groundwater from the Milk River Aquifer (MRA) has been an important water resource in southern Alberta (Canada) and northern Montana (USA). The intensive use of this resource under a semi-arid climate has locally led to important drops in waters levels, thus raising concerns on the MRA sustainability since the 1960’s. Previous MRA studies were limited by the national boundaries, thus preventing a full understanding of the aquifer dynamics. The objective of this thesis was to carry out a transboundary study of the MRA to define this regional groundwater resource within its natural boundaries. For this purpose, three cross-border models were developed: a geological model, a conceptual hydrogeological model and a numerical groundwater flow model. These developments were supported by focused field work on both sides of the Canada/USA border and a comprehensive review of previous studies. Furthermore, a first assessment of the historical exploitation levels of the MRA was done for southern Alberta.The 3D geological model (50,000 km2) continuously represents the MRA (Virgelle Member of the Milk River/Eagle Formation) and confining units through the international border. Development of this model required harmonization of various stratigraphic nomenclatures in the study area and the transboundary delineation of the MRA extent.The hydrogeological conceptual model of the MRA indicated two transboundary groundwater fluxes from Montana to Alberta. The Milk River intercepts most of the groundwater flux incoming from the south, thus leading to limited groundwater flow north of the Milk River. Isotopic analyses confirm that the MRA contains mostly fossil groundwater, with the exception of the recharge area located along the outcrop area of the aquifer. Areas within the MRA with a high hydraulic conductivity and low chloride concentrations correspond to preferential groundwater flowpaths. Discharge from the aquifer occurs as vertical leakage through the overlying confining units, especially along bedrock valleys.The numerical steady-state groundwater flow model of the aquifer system (26,000 km2) is a transposition of the geological and conceptual models, and it shows that the previously developed conceptual model is hydraulically plausible. The groundwater flow model provides a better understanding of the aquifer system by representing the dynamics of groundwater flow under pre-development conditions. Particle tracking indicates advective residence times of up to 750,000 years in the northern limit of the aquifer, which is lower than ages obtained from isotopic analyses (2 Ma).The area south of the Milk River benefits from all of the transboundary groundwater flux from Montana whereas north of the Milk River, only a portion of the recharge flux coming from the south is transmitted due to the interception of the Milk River.Groundwater budgets from both the conceptual and numerical models show that groundwater extraction far exceeds recharge north of the Milk River. A transient model would be required to determine how much water is derived from storage in the MRA and to assess the role of the confining units during pumping. Furthermore, as an internationally shared resource, a transboundary management of the MRA would be appropriate, especially in the area comprised between the recharge area in Montana and the Canadian reach of the Milk River.Together, these transboundary models of the MRA constitute a common international basis of scientific knowledge at the aquifer scale and could support further assessments of the best possible exploitation of the shared but limited resource.Future works could include the study of the effects of the gas fields located at the limits of the MRA as well as paleo-hydrogeological conditions relative to the geochemical evolution of groundwater.
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Marie-Amélie Pétré. Étude hydrogéologique de l’aquifère transfrontalier Milk River (Canada-USA) : modèles géologique, conceptuel et numérique pour la gestion raisonnée de la ressource. Sciences de la Terre. Université Paris sciences et lettres; Institut national de la recherche scientifique (Québec, Canada). Centre Eau, terre, environnement, 2016. Français. ⟨NNT : 2016PSLEM097⟩. ⟨tel-02388738⟩



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