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Hydrogeologic characteristics of Hourglass and New Years Cave Lakes at Jewel Cave National Monument, South Dakota, from water-level and water-chemistry data, 2015–21

December 19, 2022

Jewel Cave National Monument is in the western Black Hills of South Dakota and contains an extensive cave network, including various subterranean water bodies (cave lakes) that are believed to represent the regionally important Madison aquifer. Recent investigations have sought to improve understanding of hydrogeologic characteristics of cave lakes in Jewel Cave. The U.S. Geological Survey, in cooperation with the National Park Service, collected water-level and water-chemistry data within and near Jewel Cave to better understand groundwater interactions in Jewel Cave and to evaluate recharge characteristics of cave lakes. Continuous water-level data were collected at two cave lakes (Hourglass and New Years Lakes) from 2018 to 2021, and discrete measurements were collected by National Park Service staff from 2015 to 2021. Water samples were collected from one stream, one rain collector, three springs, and two cave lakes. The approach for this study included comparing water-level data collected from two cave lakes to historical climate data and using multivariate statistical analyses to evaluate water samples collected during this study and from previous investigations. This study builds on interpretations from previous investigations that collected similar datasets and performed similar analyses.

Hydrographs of Hourglass and News Years Lakes from 2015 to 2021 demonstrated the variability of groundwater levels in Jewel Cave in response to dry and wet climate conditions. Hourglass Lake displayed small (up to 4.8 feet), gradual water-level changes, whereas New Years Lake displayed relatively large (up to at least 27.5 feet) and rapid water-level changes. Hourglass and New Years Lakes are about 0.4 mile apart at the land surface, and the water-level elevation between the lakes varied from 61 to 93.5 feet from 2016 to 2021. The proximity and relatively small elevation difference of Hourglass and New Years Lakes indicated different recharge sources and (or) mechanisms were responsible for hydrograph dissimilarities. Water-level changes at Hourglass Lake were similar to water-level changes at a well completed in the Madison aquifer about 9 miles south of Jewel Cave National Monument, which indicated Hourglass Lake may be recharged similar to the regional Madison aquifer along outcrops north of Jewel Cave. New Years Lake displayed almost no similarities to the well completed in the Madison aquifer—indicating a more direct connection to local recharge rather than solely from outcrops recharging the regional Madison aquifer.

Results from multivariate statistical analyses of water-chemistry data were used to evaluate recharge observations from water-level data. The water chemistry of Hourglass Lake indicated its water was chemically more similar to precipitation than other groundwater sites sampled. A conceptual karst recharge model indicated that the dominant recharge source to Hourglass Lake was diffuse allogenic recharge from vertical movement of infiltrated precipitation through vertical or near-vertical fractures that extend through the Minnelusa Formation and unsaturated zone of the Madison Limestone. The water chemistry of New Years Lake was chemically similar to Hell Canyon Creek about 0.2 mile from New Years Lake at the land surface. Streamflow loss zones (concentrated allogenic recharge) along Hell Canyon Creek have not been mapped, but their presence in the Jewel Cave area has been speculated by previous investigations. A fault observed in the cave ceiling above New Years Lake by National Park Service staff could provide a natural conduit for direct recharge from Hell Canyon Creek to New Years Lake if the fault is extensive. Additional water-chemistry and water-level data, as well as streamflow data upstream and downstream of the potential streamflow loss zone along Hell Canyon Creek, are needed to prove the presence of this loss zone and discern further correlations between streamflow and water levels in New Years Lake. Observations from previous investigations and this study indicated recharge to Jewel Cave is complex and occurs on various timescales that are affected temporally by precipitation patterns and spatially by hydrologic connection with the overlying Minnelusa aquifer of the Minnelusa Formation.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2022
Title Hydrogeologic characteristics of Hourglass and New Years Cave Lakes at Jewel Cave National Monument, South Dakota, from water-level and water-chemistry data, 2015–21
DOI 10.3133/sir20225108
Authors Colton J. Medler
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Scientific Investigations Report
Series Number 2022-5108
Index ID sir20225108
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Dakota Water Science Center