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Evaluating micrometeorological estimates of groundwater discharge from Great Basin desert playas

April 2, 2018

Groundwater availability studies in the arid southwestern United States traditionally have assumed that groundwater discharge by evapotranspiration (ETg) from desert playas is a significant component of the groundwater budget. However, desert playa ETg rates are poorly constrained by Bowen Ratio energy budget (BREB) and eddy-covariance (EC) micrometeorological measurement approaches. Best attempts by previous studies to constrain ETg from desert playas have resulted in ETg rates that are within the measurement error of micrometeorological approaches. This study uses numerical models to further constrain desert playa ETg rates that are within the measurement error of BREB and EC approaches, and to evaluate the effect of hydraulic properties and salinity-based groundwater-density contrasts on desert playa ETg rates. Numerical models simulated ETg rates from desert playas in Death Valley, California and Dixie Valley, Nevada. Results indicate that actual ETg rates from desert playas are significantly below the uncertainty thresholds of BREB- and EC-based micrometeorological measurements. Discharge from desert playas likely contributes less than 2 percent of total groundwater discharge from Dixie and Death Valleys, which suggests discharge from desert playas also is negligible in other basins. Simulation results also show that ETg from desert playas primarily is limited by differences in hydraulic properties between alluvial fan and playa sediments and, to a lesser extent, by salinity-based groundwater density contrasts.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2018
Title Evaluating micrometeorological estimates of groundwater discharge from Great Basin desert playas
DOI 10.1111/gwat.12647
Authors Tracie Jackson, Keith J. Halford, Philip M. Gardner, Amanda Garcia
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Ground Water
Series Number
Index ID 70198730
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Nevada Water Science Center