EGU24-8617, updated on 08 Mar 2024
EGU General Assembly 2024
© Author(s) 2024. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

What can we learn from pyrite about the hydrogeology of argillaceous formations?

Marie Bonitz1,2, Theresa Hennig1, Anja Schleicher1, Christof Kusebauch1, David Jaeggi3, and Michael Kühn1,2
Marie Bonitz et al.
  • 1GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences, Potsdam, Germany
  • 2Institute of Geosciences, University of Potsdam, Potsdam, Germany
  • 3Federal Office of Topography swisstopo, Wabern, Switzerland

Argillaceous rock formations provide favourable properties to act as geological barriers for the disposal of high-level radioactive waste. Opalinus Clay is the chosen host rock in Switzerland and is also being considered in Germany. Pyrite is an ubiquitous mineral found in most argillaceous rock formations, and is also present in the Opalinus Clay and its adjacent units. For the long-term integrity of the disposal site, temporally and spatially stable geochemical conditions are essential. Pyrite might be one essential indicator how the sediment formation is influenced by surrounding aquifers. The appearance and composition of pyrite has been used to investigate different geological processes, such as depositional and diagenetic settings, paleoredox conditions and enrichment processes. The geochemical and mineralogical changes in rock formations provide information about processes in the past, and thus enable an assessment for the future. In this context the detailed analysis of pyrite might be a useful tool.

In May 2023, two boreholes were drilled (15 and 25 m deep) in the Mont Terri underground laboratory to investigate the water-bearing members of the Staffelegg Formation (Toarcian-Sinemurian) underlying the Opalinus Clay (Toarcian). The focus was hereby on the transition zones between the permeable and non-permeable rocks to detect alteration reactions and mobilisation processes. In addition to the analysis of the bulk mineralogy and geochemistry, pathways of groundwater and fracture zones have been investigated by analysing thick sections with X-ray and microscopic methods.

Two groundwater paths have been identified in the Staffelegg Formation with fracture zones and their fillings. Calcite and barite are distinguishable and represent two generations, revealing a change of the groundwater composition with supersaturation at different points in time. Therefore, the hydrogeological system experienced at least two events of advective transport. The analysis of pyrite addresses the question to which extent these events have altered and infiltrated the formations.

Pyrite has been formed diagenetically and potentially syngenetically and is present in varying morphologies: μm- to cm-sized euhedral crystals, framboids and nodules. The size and morphology of diagenetic pyrites provide information about the transport processes in the sediment. Euhedral crystals are found in diffusion dominated systems. Accumulations of microcrystals reflect conditions providing an initial nucleation burst, but further crystal growth is limited by restricted supply of Fe and S as it occurs in diffusion-limited regimes with minor advection. Nodules can form in gently advective or stagnant systems with good nutrient supply. The types of pyrite close to fractures and transition zones is used to characterize the predominant transport process at this position.

Diagenetic carbonates and sulphide or sulphate minerals control the concentration of major cations, and redox reactions. Therefore, they provide information about the succession of processes from deposition, to diagenesis, mobilisation and alteration. Their analysis has the potential to assess the long-term integrity of the Opalinus Clay as a host rock and the surrounding formations. The gained understanding of the hydrogeological influence on the geochemical conditions is to be transferred to other potential disposal sites in argillaceous formations.

How to cite: Bonitz, M., Hennig, T., Schleicher, A., Kusebauch, C., Jaeggi, D., and Kühn, M.: What can we learn from pyrite about the hydrogeology of argillaceous formations?, EGU General Assembly 2024, Vienna, Austria, 14–19 Apr 2024, EGU24-8617,, 2024.