The Narrabri and Gunnedah Formations, used to describe the valley-filling sedimentary sequences in portions of the Murray-Darling Basin, have never been formally defined. The hydrogeological evidence for naming these formations is reviewed in the context of modern sedimentary models. Are we using the right architectural model?
Hundreds of lithological logs from the Murrumbidgee, Namoi, and Gwydir catchments are used to examine the evolution of each alluvial aquifer. For each depth interval, the catchment-wide proportions of coarse (gravel, sand) and fine (silt, clay) sediments is determined. Sediment size distributions are then examined in the context of past climates and the conceptual inland fluvial model for distributive fluvial systems. Vertical hydraulic connectivity is examined using new hydrogeochemical data and nested groundwater hydrograph sets.
All systems show the core features of aggradational distributive fluvial systems. The valley-filling sequences for all catchments examined transitioned from high energy wet environments at depth, dominated by sand and gravel deposits, through to the modern-day low-energy silt and clay dominated depositional environments. Gravel and sand deposits dominate in the proximal portion of the catchment, and low energy silt and clay deposits dominate in the distal portions. The apparent existence of the Narrabri and Gunnedah Formations is due to changing sediment grain size proportion and channel fill sand connectivity. Both the facies and hydrograph analyses show that semi-confining layers are only local. Extensive hydrogeochemical data from the Namoi catchment show continuity of mixing between basement and surface inflows.
All catchments have many sedimentary architectural features consistent with the distributive fluvial system model, and reflect changing climate throughout the Neogene and Quaternary. Use of the Narrabri and Gunnedah Formation nomenclature, which has been incorporated into the National Aquifer Framework, is not supported by either the sedimentological, hydrograph or hydrogeochemical record.