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Hydrogeologic Framework of the Floridan Aquifer System in Florida and in Parts of Georgia, Alabama, and South Carolina


James A. Miller
Professional Paper 1403-B


The Floridan aquifer system of the Southeastern United States is comprised of a thick sequence of carbonate rocks that are mostly of Paleocene to early Miocene age and that are hydraulically connected in varying degrees. The aquifer system consists of a single vertically continuous permeable unit updip and of two major permeable zones (the Upper and Lower Floridan aquifers) separated by one of seven middle confining units downdip. Neither the boundaries of the aquifer system or of its component high- and low-permeability zones necessarily conform to either formation boundaries or time-stratigraphic breaks.

The rocks that make up the Floridan aquifer system, its upper and lower confining units, and a surficial aquifer have been separated into several chronostratigraphic units. The external and internal geometry of these stratigraphic units is presented on a series of structure contour and isopach maps and by a series of geohydrologic cross sections and a fence diagram. Paleocene through middle Eocene units consist of an updip clastic facies and a downdip carbonate bank facies, that extends progressively farther north and east in progressively younger units. Upper Eocene and Oligocene strata are predominantly carbonate rocks throughout the study area. Miocene and younger strata are mostly clastic rocks.

Subsurface data show that some modifications in current stratigraphic nomenclature are necessary. First, the middle Eocene Lake City Limestone cannot be distinguished lithologically or faunally from the overlying middle Eocene Avon Park "Limestone." Accordingly, it is proposed that the term Lake City be abandoned and the term Avon Park Formation be applied to the entire middle Eocene carbonate section of peninsular Florida and southeastern Georgia. A reference well section in Levy County, Fla., is proposed for the expanded Avon Park Formation. The Avon Park is called a "formation" more properly than a "limestone" because the unit contains rock types other than limestone. Second, like the Avon Park, the lower Eocene Oldsmar and Paleocene Cedar Keys "Limestones" of peninsular Florida practically everywhere contain rock types other than limestone. It is therefore proposed that these units be referred to more accurately as Oldsmar Formation and Cedar Keys Formation.

The uppermost hydrologic unit in the study area is a surficial aquifer that can be divided into (1) a fluvial sand-and-gravel aquifer in southwestern Alabama and westernmost panhandle Florida, (2) limestone and sandy limestone of the Biscayne aquifer in southeastern peninsular Florida, and (3) a thin blanket of terrace and fluvial sands elsewhere. The surficial aquifer is underlain by a thick sequence of fine clastic rocks and low-permeability carbonate rocks, most of which are part of the middle Miocene Hawthorn Formation and all of which form the upper confining unit of the Floridan aquifer system. In places, the upper confining unit has been removed by erosion or is breached by sinkholes. Water in the Floridan aquifer system thus occurs under unconfined, semiconfined, or fully confined conditions, depending upon the presence, thickness, and integrity of the upper confining unit.

Within the Floridan aquifer system, seven low permeability zones of subregional extent split the aquifer system in most places into an Upper and Lower Floridan aquifer. The Upper Floridan aquifer, which consists of all or parts of rocks of Oligocene age, late Eocene age, and the upper half of rocks of middle Eocene age, is highly permeable. The middle confining units that underlie the Upper Floridan are mostly of middle Eocene age but may be as young as Oligocene or as old as early Eocene. Where no middle confining unit exists, the entire aquifer system is comprised of permeable rocks and for hydrologic discussions is treated as the Upper Floridan aquifer.

The Lower Floridan aquifer contains a cavernous high-permeability horizon in the lower part of the early Eocene of southern Florida that is called the Boulder Zone. A second permeable unit that is cavernous in part, herein called the Fernandina permeable zone, occurs in the lower part of the Lower Floridan in northeastern Florida and southeastern Georgia. Both these permeable zones are overlain by confining units comprised of micritic limestone. The confining unit that overlies the Boulder Zone is of subregional extent and is mapped as a separate middle confining unit within the Lower Floridan.

Major structural features such as the Southeast and Southwest Georgia embayments, the South Florida basin, the Gulf Coast geosyncline, and the Peninsular arch have had a major effect on the thickness and type of sediment deposited in the eastern gulf coast. The effects of smaller structures are also evident. For example, the Gilbertown-Pickens-Pollard fault system in Alabama locally forms the updip limit of the Floridan aquifer system. The series of grabens that comprise the Gulf Trough of central Georgia serves as a low-permeability barrier to ground-water flow there. These Gulf Trough faults have downdropped low-permeability rocks opposite permeable limestones to create a damming effect that severely retards ground-water movement across the fault system. Their effect can be seen on potentiometric surface maps of the aquifer system. Other small-displacement faults in peninsular Florida do not appear to affect the regional flow system because there is no apparent change in the permeability of the rocks that have been juxtaposed by fault movement.

Variations in permeability within the Floridan aquifer system result from a combination of original depositional conditions, digenesis, large- and small-scale structural features, and dissolution of carbonate rocks or evaporite deposits. Local permeability variations are accordingly more complex than the generalized regional portrayal presented in this report.

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