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Summary of the Hydrology of the Floridan Aquifer System In Florida and In Parts of Georgia, South Carolina, and Alabama

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- Geologic Setting
- Floridan Aquifer System
Hydraulic Properties of the Aquifer System
Regional Flow System
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By Richard H. Johnson and Peter W. Bush
Professional Paper 1403-A

FLORIDAN AQUIFER SYSTEM

DEFINITIONS AND HYDROGEOLOGIC TERMINOLOGY

The Floridan aquifer system is a sequence of carbonate rocks mostly ranging in age from Paleocene to early Miocene that are hydraulically connected in varying degrees. This carbonate sequence includes units of very high to low permeability that form a regional flow system. The existence of this flow system was first identified in peninsular Florida by Stringfield (1936), who referred to the carbonate units as the "principal artesian formations." Later Warren (1944) described an extension of this flow system in south Georgia and applied the term "principal artesian aquifer" to the carbonate units involved. Stringfield (1953, 1966) also applied the term "principal artesian aquifer" to these rocks. Parker (in Parker and others, 1955) noted the hydrologic and lithologic similarities of the Tertiary carbonate formations in southeast Florida, concluded that they represented a single hydrologic unit, and named that unit the "Floridan aquifer." Table 1 shows the geologic formations and ages of units included by Parker and Stringfield in their aquifer definitions.

Table 1. Terminology applied to the Floridan aquifer system
Series/
Stage
Parker and Others
(1955)
Stringfield
(1966)
Miller
(1982b, 1982d)
Miller
(1986)
Formations1 Aquifer Formations1 Aquifer Formations1 Aquifers Formations1 Aquifers
Miocene
Hawthorn
Formation
Hawthorn
Formation
Hawthorn
Hawthorn
Where
permeable
Principal

artesian

aquifer

Tampa
Limestone
Floridan

aquifer

Tampa
Limestone
Tampa
Limestone
Where
permeable
Tampa
Limestone
Where
permeable
Oligocene
Suwannee
Limestone
Suwannee
Limestone
Suwannee
Limestone
Tertiary

limestone

aquifer

system

Suwannee
Limestone
Floridan

aquifer

system

E
o
c
e
n
e
Upper
Ocala
Limestone
Ocala
Limestone
Ocala
Limestone
Ocala
Limestone
Middle
Avon Park
Limestone

Lake City
Limestone

Avon Park
Limestone

Lake City
Limestone

Avon Park
Limestone

Lake City
Limestone

Avon Park
Formation
Lower
Oldsmar
Limestone
Oldsmar
Limestone
Oldsmar
Formation
Paleocene
Cedar Keys
Limestone
Cedar Keys
Formation
Cedar Keys
Limestone
Cedar Keys
Formation
1 Names apply only to peninsular Florida and southeast Georgia except for Ocala Limestone and Hawthorn Formation.

The term "Floridan aquifer" is entrenched in the Florida ground-water literature and is widely used in national and international hydrologic publications. However, Stringfield's term "principal artesian aquifer" generally has been used in hydrologic reports from Georgia and South Carolina.

More recently Miller (1982a, b, c, d, e) provided the first detailed regional definition of the aquifer system, presenting maps of the top, base, and thickness of the system and its major hydrologic components. The term "Tertiary limestone aquifer system" was used in interim reports of this study by Bush (1982), Johnston and others (1980 and 1981), Miller (1982a, b, c, d, and e), and Sprinkle (1982a, b, c, and d). This term was used because it combined the age of the rocks and their general lithology into the name of the aquifer system.

At a later stage in the study described in the Professional Paper 1403 series, the term "Floridan aquifer system" was proposed for use throughout the four-State extent of the aquifer system, and the term was thus used throughout these Professional Papers. The current widespread usage of "Floridan" argues against proposing any new term. Because distinct, regionally mappable hydrogeologic units occur within the Floridan, the term "aquifer system" is preferred to simply "aquifer." Usage of "system" follows Poland and others (1972, p. 2) who stated that an aquifer system "***comprises two or more permeable beds separated at least locally by aquitards that impede ground-water movement but do not greatly affect the regional hydraulic continuity of the system." This definition describes the Floridan aquifer system throughout most of its area of occurrence.

The Floridan aquifer system is defined as a vertically continuous sequence of carbonate rocks of generally high permeability that are of Tertiary age, that are hydraulically connected in varying degrees, and whose permeability is generally several orders of magnitude greater than that of those rocks that bound the system above and below. As shown in table 1, the Floridan includes units of Late Paleocene to Early Miocene age. Locally in southeast Georgia, the Floridan includes carbonate rocks of Late Cretaceous age (not shown in table 1). Professional Paper 1403-B presents a detailed geologic description of the Floridan, its component aquifers and confining units, and their relation to stratigraphic units.

The top of the Floridan aquifer system represents the top of highly permeable carbonate rock that is overlain by low-permeability material--either clastic or carbonate rocks. Throughout much of the area, this upper confining unit consists largely of argillaceous material of the Miocene Hawthorn Formation (table 1). Similarly the base of the Floridan is that level below which there is no high-permeability rock. Generally the underlying low-permeability rocks are either fine-grained clastic materials or bedded anhydrite. These sharp permeability contrasts at the top and base of the Floridan commonly occur within a formation or a time-stratigraphic unit as described by Miller (1986).

AQUIFERS AND CONFINING UNITS

The Floridan aquifer system generally consists of an Upper Floridan aquifer and a Lower Floridan aquifer, separated by less-permeable beds of highly variable properties termed the middle confining unit (Miller,1986, p. B53). In parts of north Florida and southwest Georgia, there is little permeability contrast within the aquifer system. Thus in these areas the Floridan is effectively one continuous aquifer. The upper and lower aquifers are defined on the basis of permeability, and their boundaries locally do not coincide with those of either time-stratigraphic or rock-stratigraphic units. The relations among the various aquifers and confining units and the stratigraphic units that form them are shown on plate 1, a fence diagram modified from Miller (1986, p1. 30). A series of structure contour maps and isopach maps for the aquifers as well as the seven principal stratigraphic units that make up the Floridan aquifer system and its contiguous confining units is presented in Professional Paper 1403-B. These maps and associated cross sections were prepared by Miller (1986) based on geophysical logs, lithologic descriptions of cores and cuttings, and faunal data for the stratigraphic units, plus hydraulic-head and aquifer-test data for the hydrogeologic units.

generalized fence diagram showing relation of geologic units to aquifers and confining units of the Floridan aquifer system
Plate 1. Generalized fence diagram showing relation of geologic units to aquifers and confining units of the Floridan aquifer system. [larger version]

The fence diagram shows the Floridan gradually thickening from a featheredge at the outcrop area of Alabama-Georgia-South Carolina to more than 3,000 ft in southwest Florida. Its maximum thickness is about 3,500 ft in the Manatee-Sarasota County area of southwest Florida. In and directly downdip from much of the outcrop area, the Floridan consists of only one permeable unit. Further downdip in coastal Georgia and much of Florida, the Upper and Lower Floridan aquifers become prominent hydrogeologic units where they are separated by less-permeable rocks.

Overlying much of the Floridan aquifer system are low-permeability clastic rocks that are termed the upper confining unit. The lithology, thickness, and integrity of this confining unit has a controlling effect on the development of permeability in the Upper Floridan and the ground-water flow in the Floridan locally. (See later sections on transmissivity and regional ground-water flow.)

Plate 2 shows where the Upper Floridan is unconfined, semiconfined, or confined. Actually the Upper Floridan rarely crops out, and there is generally either a thin surficial sand aquifer or clayey residuum overlying the Upper Floridan. Sinkholes are common in the unconfined and semiconfined areas and provide hydraulic connection between the land surface and the Upper Floridan. In the semiconfined and confined areas, the upper confining unit is mostly the middle Miocene Hawthorn Formation, which consists of inter-bedded sand and clay that are locally phosphatic and contain carbonate beds. In southwest Florida, the carbonate beds locally form aquifers. Professional Papers 1403--E and 1403--F discuss these local aquifers in detail.

map showing occurrence of unconfined, semiconfined, and confined conditions and potentiometric surface (1980) of the upper floridan aquifer
Plate 2. Occurrence of unconfined, semiconfined, and confined conditions and potentiometric surface (1980) of the Upper Floridan aquifer. [larger version]

There are two important surficial aquifers overlying the upper confining unit locally: (1) the fluvial sand-and-gravel aquifer in the westernmost Florida panhandle and adjacent Alabama and (2) the very productive Biscayne aquifer (limestone and sandy limestone) of southeast peninsular Florida. Both of these aquifers occur in areas where water in the Floridan is saline; hence they are important sources of freshwater.

The Upper Floridan aquifer forms one of the world's great sources of ground water. This highly permeable unit consists principally of three carbonate units: the Suwannee Limestone (Oligocene), the Ocala Limestone (upper Eocene), and the upper part of the Avon Park Formation (middle Eocene). Detailed local descriptions of the geology and hydraulic properties of the Upper Floridan are provided in many reports listed in the references and especially in the summary by Stringfield (1966). The hydraulic properties section of this report discusses the large variation in transmissivity (as many as three orders of magnitude) within the Upper Floridan. Professional Paper 1403-B discusses the geologic reasons for these variations.

Within the Upper Floridan aquifer (and the Lower Floridan where investigated) there are commonly a few highly permeable zones separated by carbonate rock whose permeability may be slightly less or much less than that of the high-permeability zones. Many local studies of the Floridan have documented these permeability contrasts, generally by use of current-meter traverses in uncased wells. For example, Wait and Gregg (1973) observed that wells tapping the Upper Floridan in the Brunswick, Ga., area obtained about 70 percent of their water from (approximately) the upper 100 ft of the Ocala Limestone and about 30 percent from a zone near the base of the Ocala. Separating the two zones is about 200 ft of less-permeable carbonate rock. Leve (1966) described permeable zones of soft limestone and dolomite and less-permeable zones of hard massive dolomite in the Upper Floridan of northeast Florida.

The Upper and Lower Floridan aquifers are separated by a sequence of low-permeability carbonate rock of mostly middle Eocene age. This sequence, termed the middle confining unit, varies greatly in lithology, ranging from dense gypsiferous limestone in south-central Georgia to soft chalky limestone in the coastal strip from South Carolina to the Florida Keys. Seven subregional units have been identified and mapped as part of the middle confining unit (see detailed descriptions in Professional Paper 1403-B). Much of the middle confining unit consists of rock formerly termed Lake City Limestone but referred to here as the lower part of the Avon Park Formation (table 1).

The Lower Floridan aquifer is comparatively less known geologically and hydraulically than the Upper Floridan. Much of the Lower Floridan contains saline water. For this reason and because the Upper Floridan is so productive, there is little incentive to drill into the deeper Lower Floridan in most areas. The Lower Floridan consists largely of middle Eocene to Upper Paleocene carbonate beds, but locally in southeast Georgia also includes uppermost Cretaceous carbonate beds. There are two important permeable units within the Lower Floridan: (1) a cavernous unit of extremely high permeability in south Florida known as the Boulder zone and (2) a partly cavernous permeable unit in northeast Florida and southeast coastal Georgia herein termed the Fernandina permeable zone. These units are further described in Professional Papers 1403-G and 1403-D, respectively.

Table 2 summarizes the geographic occurrence of aquifers and confining units within the Floridan aquifer system and shows the hydrogeologic nomenclature used in each Professional Paper. The units given in the table are hydraulic equivalents intended for use in describing and simulating the regional flow system. No stratigraphic equivalency or thickness connotation is intended in this table. For example, the Upper Floridan aquifer in the western Florida panhandle consists principally of the Suwannee (Oligocene) Formation. However, in central Florida the Ocala and Avon Park Formations constitute much of the high-permeability rock in the Upper Floridan.

Table 2. Aquifers and confining units of the Floridan aquifer system
Professional
Paper 1403
Chapter
A,B,C,I H D E F G
Regional
summaries
Florida
panhandle
Southwest Georgia
Northwest
Florida
South Carolina
Southeast
Georgia
North-
east
Florida
East-
central
Florida
West-
central
Florida
South-
west
Florida
South-
east
Florida
 
UPPER CONFINING UNIT

FLORIDAN

AQUIFER

SYSTEM

UPPER FLORIDAN AQUIFER

Middle
confining
unit
Middle
semiconfining
unit
Middle
semiconfining
unit
Middle
confining
unit
LOWER FLORIDAN AQUIFER
  Boulder zone
  Fernandina
permeable
zone
 
 
LOWER CONFINING UNIT

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