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Hydrology and Earth System Sciences/Hydrology and Earth System Science, 2009, Issue 13, p. 285-292
Mixing and transport of water in a karst catchment: a case study from precipitation via seepage to the spring

One of the best-known and largest karst areas in Germany, the Blautopf Catchment, offers unique access to waters of the unsaturated zone through a large cave system. It was investigated with stable isotopes (18O/16O and D/H ratios expressed in permille = ‰) in precipitation, seepageand groundwater as tracers for water flow, mixing, and storage. The precipitation showed a distinct seasonality with _18O values between −2.9 and −24.6‰ during summer and winter, respectively. However, the isotope signals in seepage water in the caves as well as the discharge were almost completely buffered and ranged around an average _18O value of −10‰. This value was also close to the long-term average value of local precipitation, −9.3‰. The homogeneous isotopic composition of the Blautopf Spring was unexpected, as its highly variable discharge (0.3 to 32m3 s−1) is typical for a fast responsive karst system. These isotopic similarities could be explained by nearly complete mixing of the water already in the vadose zone. The data set therefore presents a case study to narrow down zones of mixing in karst catchments. It also confirms the minor role of the fast conduit system in the water balance of the Blautopf Catchment.