The physical scale modelling of braided alluvial architecture and estimation of subsurface permeability

D. J. Moreton, P. J. Ashworth, J. L. Best

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The quantitative modelling of fluvial reservoirs, especially in the stages of enhanced oil recovery, requires detailed three-dimensional data at both the scale of the channel belt and within-channel. Although studies from core, analogue outcrop and modern environments may partially meet these needs, they often cannot provide detail on the smaller-scale (i.e. channel-scale) heterogeneity, frequently suffer from limited three-dimensional exposure and cannot be used to examine the influence of different variables on the process-deposit relationship. Physical modelling offers a complementary technique that can address many of these quantitative requirements and holds great future potential for integration with reservoir modelling. Physical modelling provides the potential to upscale results and derive reservoir information on three-dimensional facies geometry, connectivity and permeability. This paper describes the development and use of physical modelling, which employs generic Froude-scaling principles, in an experimental basin that permits aggradation in order to model the morphology and subsurface depositional stratigraphy of coarse-grained braided rivers. An example is presented of a 1:50 scale model based on the braided Ashburton River, Canterbury Plains, New Zealand and the adjacent late Quaternary braided alluvium exposed in the coastal cliffs. Critically, a full, bimodal grain size distribution (20% sand and 80% gravel) was used to replicate the prototype, which allows the realistic reproduction of the surface morphology and importantly permits grain size sorting during deposition. Uncertainties associated with the compression of time, sediment mass balance and the hydrodynamics of the finest particle sizes do not appear to affect the reproducibility of stratigraphy between experimental and natural environments. Sectioning of the preserved sedimentary sequence in the physical model allows quantification of the geometry, shape, spatial distribution and internal sedimentary structure of the coarse- and fine-grained facies. A six-fold facies scheme is proposed for the model braided alluvium and a direct link is established between the grain size distribution and facies type: this allows permeability to be estimated for each facies, which can be mapped onto two-dimensional vertical cross-sections of the preserved stratigraphy. Results demonstrate the dominance of four facies based on permeability that range over three orders of magnitude in hydraulic conductivity. Quantification of such variability, and linkage to both vertical proportion curves for facies distribution and connectivity presents significant advantages over other methodologies and offers great potential for the modelling of heterogeneous braided river sediments at the within channel-belt scale. This paper outlines how physical models may be used to develop high-resolution, geologically-accurate, object-based reservoir simulation models.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)265-285
Number of pages21
JournalBasin Research
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2002
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geology


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