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Hydrology and Earth System Sciences An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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© Author(s) 2018. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
© Author(s) 2018. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Research article 05 Nov 2018

Research article | 05 Nov 2018

Review status
This discussion paper is a preprint. A revision of the manuscript is under review for the journal Hydrology and Earth System Sciences (HESS).

Spatial and temporal variability of groundwater recharge in a sandstone aquifer in a semi-arid region

Ferdinando Manna1, Steven Murray2, Daron Abbey2, Paul Martin2,3, John Cherry1, and Beth Parker1 Ferdinando Manna et al.
  • 1G360 Institute for Groundwater Research, University of Guelph, Ontario, Canada
  • 2Matrix Solutions Inc., Guelph, Ontario, Canada
  • 3Aqua Insight Inc., Waterloo, Ontario, Canada

Abstract. With the aim to understand the spatial and temporal variability of groundwater recharge, a high-resolution, spatially-distributed numerical model (MIKE SHE) representing surface water and groundwater was used to simulate responses to precipitation in a 2.16 km2 upland catchment on fractured sandstone near Los Angeles, California. Exceptionally high temporal and spatial resolution was used for this catchment modeling: an hourly time-step, a 20 × 20 meter grid in the horizontal plane and 240 numerical layers distributed vertically within the thick vadose zone and in the upper part of the groundwater zone. The finest-practical spatial and temporal resolution were selected to accommodate the large degree of surface and subsurface variability of catchment features. Physical property values for the different lithologies were assigned based on previous on-site investigations whereas the parameters controlling streamflow and evapotranspiration were derived from literature information. The calibration of streamflow at the outfall and of transient and average hydraulic head provided confidence in the reasonableness of these input values and in the ability of the model to reproduce observed processes. Confidence in the calibrated model was enhanced by validation through, (i) comparison of simulated average recharge to estimates based on the applications of the chloride mass-balance method from data from the groundwater and vadose zones within and beyond the catchment (Manna et al., 2016; Manna et al., 2017) and, (ii) comparison of the water isotope signature (18O and 2H) in shallow groundwater to the variability of isotope signatures for precipitation events over an annual cycle. The average simulated recharge across the catchment for the period 1995–2014 is 16 mm y−1 (4 % of the average annual precipitation), which is consistent with previous estimates obtained by using the chloride mass balance method (4.2 % of the average precipitation). However, one of the most unexpected results was that local recharge was simulated to vary from 0 to > 1000 mm y−1 due to episodic precipitation and overland runoff effects. This recharge occurs episodically with the major flux events at the bottom of the evapotranspiration zone, as simulated by MIKE SHE and confirmed by the isotope signatures, occurring only at the end of the rainy season. This is the first study that combines MIKE SHE simulations with the analysis of water isotopes in groundwater and rainfall to determine the timing of recharge processes in semi-arid regions. The study advances the understanding of recharge and unsaturated flow processes in semi-arid regions and enhances our ability to predict the effects of surface and subsurface features on recharge rates. This is crucial in highly heterogeneous contaminated sites because different contaminant source areas have widely varying recharge and, hence, groundwater fluxes impacting their mobility.

Ferdinando Manna et al.
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Ferdinando Manna et al.
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