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Characterizing groundwater-surface water interactions in idealized ephemeral stream systems

Quichimbo Miguitama, E. A., Singer, M. B. ORCID: and Cuthbert, M. O. ORCID: 2020. Characterizing groundwater-surface water interactions in idealized ephemeral stream systems. Hydrological Processes 34 (18) , pp. 3792-3806. 10.1002/hyp.13847

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Transmission losses from the beds of ephemeral streams are thought to be a widespread mechanism of groundwater recharge in arid and semi‐arid regions and support a range of dryland hydro‐ecology. Dryland areas cover ~40% of the Earth's land surface and groundwater resources are often the main source of freshwater. It is commonly assumed that where an unsaturated zone exists beneath a stream, the interaction between surface water and groundwater is unidirectional and that groundwater does not exert a significant feedback on transmission losses. To test this assumption, we conducted a series of numerical model experiments using idealized two‐dimensional channel‐transects to assess the sensitivity and degree of interaction between surface and groundwater for typical dryland ephemeral stream geometries, hydraulic properties and flow regimes. We broaden the use of the term “stream‐aquifer interactions” to refer not just to fluxes and water exchange but also to include the ways in which the stream and aquifer have a hydraulic effect on one another. Our results indicate that deep water tables, less frequent streamflow events, and/or highly permeable sediments tend to result in limited bi‐directional hydraulic interaction between the stream and the underlying groundwater which, in turn, results in high amounts of infiltration. With shallower initial depth to the water table, higher streamflow frequency, and/or lower bed permeability, greater “negative” hydraulic feedback from the groundwater occurs which in turn results in lower amounts of infiltration. Streambed losses eventually reach a constant rate as initial water table depths increase, but only at depths of 10s of metres in some of the cases studied. Our results highlight that bi‐directional stream‐aquifer hydraulic interactions in ephemeral streams may be more widespread than is commonly assumed. We conclude that groundwater and surface water should be considered as connected systems for water resource management unless there is clear evidence to the contrary.

Item Type: Article
Date Type: Publication
Status: Published
Schools: Biosciences
Earth and Environmental Sciences
Water Research Institute (WATER)
Publisher: Wiley
ISSN: 0885-6087
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 11 June 2020
Date of Acceptance: 9 June 2020
Last Modified: 04 May 2023 22:17

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