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Featured article from geoscience journal

Journal of Hydrology, 2009, Vol 376, Issue 3, p. 443-455
Geochemical and statistical evidence of recharge, mixing, and controls on spring discharge in an eogenetic karst aquifer

Information about sources of recharge, distributions of flow paths, and the extent of water–rock reactions in karst aquifers commonly result from monitoring spring chemistry and discharge. To investigate the relationship between spring characteristics and the complexities of karst aquifers, we couple variations in surface- and groundwater chemistry to physical conditions including river stage, precipitation, and  evapotranspiration (ET) within a sink-rise system through a 6-km portion of the Upper Floridan aquifer (UFA) in north-central Florida. Principal component analysis (PCA) of time series major-element compositions suggests that at least three sources of water affect spring discharge, including allogenic recharge into a swallet, diffuse recharge through a thin vadose zone, and water upwelling from deep within the aquifer. The deep-water source exerts the strongest influence on water chemistry by providing a majority of Na+, Mg2+, K+, Cl, and SO2 4 to the system. Anomalously high temperature at one of several monitoring wells reflects vertical flow of about 1 m/year. Mass-balance calculations suggest diffuse recharge and deep-water upwelling can provide up to 50% of the spring discharge; however, their contributions depend on head gradients between the conduit and surrounding aquifer matrix, which are influenced
by variations in precipitation, ET, and river stage. Our results indicate that upwelling from deep flow paths may provide significant contributions of water to spring discharge, and that monitoring only springs limits interpretations of karst systems by masking critical components of the aquifer, such as water sources and flow paths. These results also suggest the matrix in eogenetic aquifers is a major pathway for flow even in a system dominated by conduits.