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Featured article from geoscience journal

Journal of Hydrology, 2010, Vol 386, Issue 1, p. 55-66
Water exchange and pressure transfer between conduits and matrix and their influence on hydrodynamics of two karst aquifers with sinking streams

Karst aquifers are heterogeneous media where conduits usually drain water from lower permeability volumes (matrix and fractures). For more than a century, various approaches have used flood recession curves, which integrate all hydrodynamic processes in a karst aquifer, to infer physical properties of the movement and storage of groundwater. These investigations typically only consider flow to the conduits and thus have lacked quantitative observations of how pressure transfer and water exchange between matrix and conduit during flooding could influence recession curves.

We present analyses of simultaneous discharge and water level time series of two distinctly different karst systems, one with low porosity and permeability matrix rocks in southern France, and one with high porosity and permeability matrix rocks in north-central Florida (USA). We apply simple mathematical models of flood recession using time series representations of recharge, storage, and discharge processes in the karst aquifer. We show that karst spring hydrographs can be interpreted according to pressure transfer between two distinct components of the aquifer, conduit and matrix porosity, which induce two distinct responses at the spring. Water exchange between conduits and matrix porosity successively control the flow regime at the spring. This exchange is governed by hydraulic head differences between conduits and matrix, head gradients within conduits, and the contrast of permeability between conduits and matrix. These observations have consequences for physical interpretations of recession curves and modeling of karst spring flows, particularly for the relative magnitudes of base flow and quick flow from karst springs. Finally, these results suggest that similar analyses of recession curves can be applied to karst aquifers with distinct physical characteristics utilizing well and spring hydrograph data, but information must be known about the hydrodynamics and physical properties of the aquifer before the results can be correctly interpreted.