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Time-lapse gravity data for monitoring and modeling artificial recharge through a thick unsaturated zone

October 31, 2016

Groundwater-level measurements in monitoring wells or piezometers are the most common, and often the only, hydrologic measurements made at artificial recharge facilities. Measurements of gravity change over time provide an additional source of information about changes in groundwater storage, infiltration, and for model calibration. We demonstrate that for an artificial recharge facility with a deep groundwater table, gravity data are more sensitive to movement of water through the unsaturated zone than are groundwater levels. Groundwater levels have a delayed response to infiltration, change in a similar manner at many potential monitoring locations, and are heavily influenced by high-frequency noise induced by pumping; in contrast, gravity changes start immediately at the onset of infiltration and are sensitive to water in the unsaturated zone. Continuous gravity data can determine infiltration rate, and the estimate is only minimally affected by uncertainty in water-content change. Gravity data are also useful for constraining parameters in a coupled groundwater-unsaturated zone model (Modflow-NWT model with the Unsaturated Zone Flow (UZF) package).