Increasing demand on groundwater resources motivates understanding of the controls on recharge dynamics so model predictions under current and future climate may improve. Here we address questions about the nonlinear behavior of flux variability in the vadose zone that may explain previously reported teleconnections between global-scale climate variability and fluctuations in groundwater levels. We use hundreds of HYDRUS-1D simulations in a sensitivity analysis approach to evaluate the damping depth of transient recharge over a range of periodic boundary conditions and vadose zone geometries and hydraulic parameters that are representative of aquifer systems of the conterminous United States (U.S). Although the models were parameterized based on U.S. aquifers, findings from this study are applicable elsewhere that have mean recharge rates between 3.65 and 730 mm yr–1. We find that mean infiltration flux, period of time varying infiltration, and hydraulic conductivity are statistically significant predictors of damping depth. The resulting framework explains why some periodic infiltration fluxes associated with climate variability dampen with depth in the vadose zone, resulting in steady-state recharge, while other periodic surface fluxes do not dampen with depth, resulting in transient recharge. We find that transient recharge in response to the climate variability patterns could be detected at the depths of water levels in most U.S. aquifers. Our findings indicate that the damping behavior of transient infiltration fluxes is linear across soil layers for a range of texture combinations. The implications are that relatively simple, homogeneous models of the vadose zone may provide reasonable estimates of the damping depth of climate-varying transient recharge in some complex, layered vadose zone profiles.
- Digital Object Identifier: 10.1016/j.jhydrol.2017.08.028
- Source: USGS Publications Warehouse (indexId: 70190510)