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Rainfall recharge thresholds in a subtropical climate determined using a regional cave drip water monitoring network

Baker, Andy, Berthelin, Romane, Cuthbert, Mark O., Treble, Pauline C., Hartmann, Andreas and KSS Cave Studies Team, the 2020. Rainfall recharge thresholds in a subtropical climate determined using a regional cave drip water monitoring network. Journal of Hydrology 587 , 125001. 10.1016/j.jhydrol.2020.125001

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Quantifying the combination of climatic and hydrological conditions required to generate groundwater recharge is challenging, yet of fundamental importance for groundwater resource management. Here we demonstrate a new unsaturated zone physical method of determining rainfall-recharge thresholds in karst using a regional cave drip water monitoring network. For limestones of the Upper and Lower Macleay Valley, eastern Australia, set in a subtropical climate, we observe thirty-one cave drip water recharge events over a five-year monitoring period. Comparison to antecedent precipitation demonstrates a median observed recharge threshold of 76 mm/week precipitation (Lower Macleay) and 79 mm/week precipitation (Upper Macleay), with lower precipitation thresholds (down to 30 mm/week) possible. We use a simple water budget model to quantify soil and epikarst water storage volumes and to test hypotheses of the hydrological controls. Modelled soil and epikarst water storage capacities of about 65 mm (Lower Macleay) and 80 mm (Upper Macleay) confirm a correspondence between observed weekly precipitation thresholds and soil and epikarst capacities. However, discrepancies between observed and simulated recharge events helps elucidate the likely recharge processes including focussed recharge bypassing the soil and epikarst store, overflow and drainage between multiple karst stores, and tree water use from depth. Our observed recharge thresholds and modelled soil and epikarst storage capacities are comparable to recharge thresholds estimated across a range of water-limited environments globally. The method is readily applicable to any karst region where drip loggers can be installed in a cave system in close proximity to surface climate data.

Item Type: Article
Date Type: Publication
Status: Published
Schools: Earth and Ocean Sciences
Publisher: Elsevier
ISSN: 0022-1694
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 20 May 2020
Date of Acceptance: 21 April 2020
Last Modified: 23 Apr 2021 02:05

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