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Karst Groundwater in a Snowmelt-Dominated System; Tobin


The Role of Karst Groundwater in a Snowmelt-Dominated Hydrologic System: The Kaweah River, California, USA

CCC Rm 207, Denver, CO

Session 289

T53. Mountain Groundwater: Recent Advancements in the New Era of Climate Change and Resource Development
Wednesday, 30 October 2013: 1:00 PM-5:00 PM
Colorado Convention Center Room 207
Geological Society of America Abstracts with Programs. Vol. 45, No. 7, p.862

See overview of SSCZO activity at GSA 2013. Abstract in the GSA meeting program.

TOBIN, Benjamin W., Sierra Nevada Research Institute, University of California, Merced, Merced, CA 94353, and SCHWARTZ, Benjamin F., Department of Biology, Texas State University, 601 University Drive, San Marcos, TX 78666

By volume, most water leaving mountain rivers in the western United States is derived directly from snowmelt, but baseflow is often maintained by delayed release from other storage components; primarily groundwater in a variety of aquifer systems. Little work has been done to assess the role of karstic groundwater in these mountain systems. We addressed this knowledge gap by taking four approaches: 1) comparing seasonality of water chemistry from karst springs and river outlets, 2) comparing baseflow recessions of springs and rivers, 3) directly measuring the amount of water discharging from karst springs, and 4) conducting 3-component end-member mixing models to determine the relative contributions of karst and non-karst groundwater to river discharge in the Kaweah River and its five forks (North, Marble, Middle, East, and South), in the Sierra Nevada, California, USA.

The river and springs have statistically similar baseflow recession coefficients (F1, 63= 2.799, p= 0.099) and river waters in basins with significant karst are geochemically similar to the karst springs within each basin. The percentage of total discharge that is derived from karst groundwater varied between forks depending on the amount of karst present, and between years, depending on precipitation. Measured contributions by karst springs varied from 3.5% to 16% during high flow and 20% to 65% during baseflow between forks and 3.5% and 6% during high flow and 20% and 36% during baseflow between years for the entire river. Modeled results were comparable to direct measurements.
These results show that karst aquifers may be the single most important non-snow storage component in the Kaweah River basin: mapped karst represents just 1.4% of the surface area, but water stored in karst represents a much larger portion of river discharge during both high flow and baseflow conditions. This suggests that when karst aquifers are present in mountain systems, even as a spatially small component, they can be a large component of the hydrologic system and provide substantial water storage.

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