Biological Systems Engineering
Divergence and flow direction as indicators of subsurface heterogeneity and stage-dependent storage in alluvial floodplains
Date of this Version
Published in Hydrological Processes 28 (2014), pp. 1307–1317; doi: 10.1002/hyp.9674
Assuming homogeneity in alluvial aquifers is convenient, but limits our ability to accurately predict stream-aquifer interactions. Research is needed on (i) identifying the presence of focused, as opposed to diffuse, groundwater discharge/recharge to streams and (ii) the magnitude and role of large-scale bank and transient storage in alluvial floodplains relative to changes in stream stage. The objective of this research was to document and quantify the effect of stage-dependent aquifer heterogeneity and bank storage relative to changes in stream stage using groundwater flow divergence and direction. Monitoring was performed in alluvial floodplains adjacent to the Barren Fork Creek and Honey Creek in northeastern Oklahoma. Based on results from subsurface electrical resistivity mapping, observation wells were installed in high and low electrical resistivity subsoils. Water levels in the wells were recorded real time using pressure transducers (August to October 2009). Divergence was used to quantify heterogeneity (i.e. variation in hydraulic conductivity, porosity, and/or aquifer thickness), and flow direction was used to assess the potential for large-scale (100 m) bank or transient storage. Areas of localized heterogeneity appeared to act as divergence zones allowing stream water to quickly enter the groundwater system, or as flow convergence zones draining a large groundwater area. Maximum divergence or convergence occurred with maximum rates of change in flow rates or stream stage. Flow directions in the groundwater changed considerably between base and high flows, suggesting that the floodplains acted as largescale bank storage zones, rapidly storing and releasing water during passage of a storm hydrograph. During storm events at both sites, the average groundwater direction changed by at least 90° from the average groundwater direction during baseflow. Aquifer heterogeneity in floodplains yields hyporheic flows that are more responsive and spatially and temporally complex than would be expected compared to more common assumptions of homogeneity.
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