Natural Resources, School of


First Advisor

Jesse Korus

Date of this Version

Fall 12-6-2019


Polashek, J. (2019). Improving Aquifer Characterization through Integration of Airborne Electromagnetics (AEM) and Well Hydrographs (master's thesis). University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Lincoln, Nebraska.


A THESIS Presented to the Faculty of The Graduate College at the University of Nebraska In Partial Fulfillment of Requirements For the Degree of Master of Science, Major: Natural Resource Sciences, Under the Supervision of Professor Jesse Korus. Lincoln, Nebraska: November, 2019

Copyright 2019 Jacqueline Polashek


The objective of this study is to evaluate methods of hydrostratigraphic modeling using geophysics and well hydrographs at the eastern edge of the High Plains aquifer (HPA) in Platte and Colfax counties within Nebraska, USA. The HPA is very heterogeneous in the study area, being hosted by architecturally complex glacial sediments and having many irregular hydraulic boundaries. Further, the HPA exhibits local variations between unconfined and confined conditions. Pumping in such bounded aquifers can be unsustainable because of cost increases and lost agricultural productivity. Moreover, the large drawdowns typical of confined aquifers can contribute to well interference during heavy pumping. Mapping the HPA accurately at small (10’s of km2 ) to medium (100’s of km2 ) scales is vital to sustainable management. AEM modeling and well hydrograph interpretation methods were used to characterize the aquifer in the study area. A 2016 airborne electromagnetic (AEM) survey mapped the electrical resistivity of subsurface strata to depths of 300 m. This data was used in the present study to create 3D hydrostratigraphic models using cognitive-layer modeling and voxel-based geostatistical modeling approaches, both with their own advantages and disadvantages. Water-level hydrographs from piezometers near irrigated fields provide the basis for aquifer characterization at each site and for assessing the accuracy of the two AEM modeling approaches, which are applied commonly in Nebraska and elsewhere. The temporal pattern of water-level drawdown indicated possible boundaries and confinement. The existence of background displacement, size of displacement, and responses of nearby wells led to aquifer interpretations. Little correlation existed between the hydrograph interpretations and both of the modeling approaches, but the voxel model did show boundaries near many of the irrigation wells with bounded hydrograph signatures. Overall, the simple modeling approaches failed to adequately convert resistivity to accurate interpretations of subsurface stratigraphy, rendering both types of hydrostratigraphic models largely invalid here. Nevertheless, the results of this study lead to important future work recommendations: (1) modeling and quantifying uncertainty using more sophisticated methods, (2) applying different modeling approaches in different areas to fit hydrologic data, and (3) using hydrograph data and pumping tests to validate the results of hydrostratigraphic modeling.

Advisor: Jesse Korus