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Shallow and local or deep and regional? Inferring source groundwater characteristics across mainstem riverbank discharge faces

July 20, 2023

Riverbank groundwater discharge faces are spatially extensive areas of preferential seepage that are exposed to air at low river flow. Some conceptual hydrologic models indicate discharge faces represent the spatial convergence of highly variable age and length groundwater flowpaths, while others indicate greater consistency in source groundwater characteristics. Our detailed field investigation of preferential discharge points nested across mainstem riverbank discharge faces was accomplished by: (1) leveraging new temperature-based recursive estimation (extended Kalman Filter) modelling methodology to evaluate seasonal, diurnal, and event-driven groundwater flux patterns, (2) developing a multi-parameter toolkit based on readily measured attributes to classify the general source groundwater flowpath depth and flowpath length scale, and, (3) assessing whether preferential flow points across discharge faces tend to represent common or convergent groundwater sources. Five major groundwater discharge faces were mapped along the Farmington River, CT, United States using thermal infrared imagery. We then installed vertical temperature profilers directly into 39 preferential discharge points for 4.5 months to track vertical discharge flux patterns. Monthly water chemistry was also collected at the discharge points along with one spatial synoptic of stable isotopes of water and dissolved radon gas. We found pervasive evidence of shallow groundwater sources at the upstream discharge faces along a wide valley section with deep bedrock, as primarily evidenced by pronounced diurnal discharge flux patterns. Discharge flux seasonal trends and bank storage transitions during large river flow events provided further indication of shallow, local sources. In contrast, downstream discharge faces associated with near surface cross cutting bedrock exhibited deep and regional source flowpath characteristics such as more stable discharge patterns and temperatures. However, many neighbouring points across discharge faces had similar discharge flux patterns that differed in chloride and radon concentrations, indicating the additional effects of localized flowpath heterogeneity overprinting on larger scale flowpath characteristics.

Publication Year 2023
Title Shallow and local or deep and regional? Inferring source groundwater characteristics across mainstem riverbank discharge faces
DOI 10.1002/hyp.14939
Authors Adam Haynes, Martin Briggs, Eric Moore, Kevin Jackson, James Knighton, David Rey, Ashley Helton
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Hydrological Processes
Index ID 70247286
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization WMA - Observing Systems Division