Hydraulic Conductivity Tests in the Triaxial Stress State: Is Peat an Aquitard or an Aquifer?

Łukasz Dominik Kaczmarek, Maria Grodzka-Łukaszewska, Grzegorz Igor Sinicyn, Mateusz Grygoruk, Małgorzata Jastrzębska, Jan Szatyłowicz

The characteristics of peat’s are crucial for understanding natural processes and their suitable shaping through the management of water relations. This study focused on the results of one of the first hydraulic conductivity (k) laboratory tests of exemplary peat samples from the Biebrza Valley (a peatland of very high environmental importance) in relation to the stress state and hydraulic gradient. Further, the research was devoted to a specific test procedure of peat permeability as a key feature for landform development in wetlands. Detailed tests of dark brown/black samples were selected as the reference for the research investigations. Four long-term test series of water permeability were performed in a modified triaxial compression apparatus. In all selected hydraulic gradient variants (i = 5,10,25,40,55,85), the k values decreased from 6 × 10−8 m/s to 1.6 × 10−10 m/s with a stepwise increase in the effective confining pressures tested (10, 15, 30, 45, and 90 kPa). These results were related to the inherent soil features—a relatively high peat decomposition and external driver—confining pressure (radial stress) magnitude. Compared to the other Polish peat tests, the determined k values were at the lower end of their hydraulic conductivity range. The analysed organic soil is not a typical aquifer. Despite very high porosities (~88%) and a high organic matter content (81.1–89.4%) which is favourable for water accumulation, the characterized peat showed relatively low hydraulic conductivity values. Thus, this specific soil may differentiate the groundwater flow as it complicates strong contact with surface water.

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