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Volume 22, issue 12
Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 22, 6415-6434, 2018
https://doi.org/10.5194/hess-22-6415-2018
© Author(s) 2018. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 22, 6415-6434, 2018
https://doi.org/10.5194/hess-22-6415-2018
© Author(s) 2018. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Research article 10 Dec 2018

Research article | 10 Dec 2018

Redressing the balance: quantifying net intercatchment groundwater flows

Laurène Bouaziz1,2, Albrecht Weerts2,3, Jaap Schellekens4, Eric Sprokkereef5, Jasper Stam5, Hubert Savenije1, and Markus Hrachowitz1 Laurène Bouaziz et al.
  • 1Water Resources Section, Faculty of Civil Engineering and Geosciences, Delft University of Technology, P.O. Box 5048, 2600 GA Delft, the Netherlands
  • 2Department Catchment and Urban Hydrology, Deltares, Boussinesqweg 1, 2629 HV Delft, the Netherlands
  • 3Hydrology and Quantitative Water Management Group, Department of Environmental Sciences, Wageningen University, Wageningen, the Netherlands
  • 4VanderSat, Wilhelminastraat 43A, 2011 VK Haarlem, the Netherlands
  • 5Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management, Zuiderwagenplein 2, 8224 AD Lelystad, the Netherlands

Abstract. Intercatchment groundwater flows (IGFs), defined as groundwater flows across topographic divides, can occur as regional groundwater flows that bypass headwater streams and only drain into the channel further downstream or directly to the sea. However, groundwater flows can also be diverted to adjacent river basins due to geological features (e.g., faults, dipping beds and highly permeable conduits). Even though intercatchment groundwater flows can be a significant part of the water balance, they are often not considered in hydrological studies. Yet, assuming this process to be negligible may introduce misrepresentation of the natural system in hydrological models, for example in regions with complex geological features. The presence of limestone formations in France and Belgium potentially further exacerbates the importance of intercatchment groundwater flows, and thus brings into question the validity of neglecting intercatchment groundwater flows in the Meuse basin. To isolate and quantify the potential relevance of net intercatchment groundwater flows in this study, we propose a three-step approach that relies on the comparison and analysis of (1) observed water balance data within the Budyko framework, (2) results from a suite of different conceptual hydrological models and (3) remote-sensing-based estimates of actual evaporation. The data of 58 catchments in the Meuse basin provide evidence of the likely presence of significant net intercatchment groundwater flows occurring mainly in small headwater catchments underlain by fractured aquifers. The data suggest that the relative importance of net intercatchment groundwater flows is reduced at the scale of the Meuse basin, as regional groundwater flows are mostly expected to be self-contained in large basins. The analysis further suggests that net intercatchment groundwater flow processes vary over the year and that at the scale of the headwaters, net intercatchment groundwater flows can make up a relatively large proportion of the water balance (on average 10% of mean annual precipitation) and should be accounted for to prevent overestimating actual evaporation rates.

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We quantify net intercatchment groundwater flows in the Meuse basin in a complementary three-step approach through (1) water budget accounting, (2) testing a set of conceptual hydrological models and (3) evaluating against remote sensing actual evaporation data. We show that net intercatchment groundwater flows can make up as much as 25 % of mean annual precipitation in the headwaters and should therefore be accounted for in conceptual models to prevent overestimating actual evaporation rates.
We quantify net intercatchment groundwater flows in the Meuse basin in a complementary...
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