Evidence-based requirements for perceptualising intercatchment groundwater flow in hydrological models

Oldham, Louisa D.; Freer, Jim; Coxon, Gemma; Howden, Nicholas; Bloomfield, John P. ORCID:; Jackson, Christopher. 2023 Evidence-based requirements for perceptualising intercatchment groundwater flow in hydrological models. Hydrology and Earth System Sciences, 27 (3). 761-781.

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Groundwater-dominated catchments are often critical for nationally important water resources. Many conceptual rainfall–runoff models tend to degrade in their model performance in groundwater-dominated catchments, as they are rarely designed to simulate spatial groundwater behaviours or interactions with surface waters. Intercatchment groundwater flow is one such neglected variable. Efforts have been made to incorporate this process into existing models, but there is a need for improving our perceptual models of groundwater–surface water interactions prior to any model modifications. In this study, national meteorological, hydrological, hydrogeological, geological and artificial influence (characterising abstractions and return flows) datasets are used to infer a perceptual model of intercatchment groundwater flow (IGF) and how it varies across the river Thames, United Kingdom (UK). We characterise the water balance, presence of gaining/losing river reaches and intra-annual dynamics in 80 subcatchments of the river Thames, taking advantage of its wealth of data, densely gauged river network and geological variability. We show the prevalence of non-conservative river reaches across the study area, with heterogeneity both between, and within, geological units, giving rise to a complex distribution of recharge and discharge points along the river network. We infer where non-conservative reaches can be attributed to IGF and where other processes (e.g. surface water abstractions) are the likely cause. Through analysis of recorded reach length water balance data and hydrogeological perceptualisation, we conclude that outcrops of carbonate fractured aquifers (Chalk and Jurassic limestone) show evidence of IGF both from headwater to downstream reaches, and out-of-catchment via spring lines. We found variability across the study area, with more seasonality and variability in river catchments on Jurassic limestone outcrops compared to Chalk and Lower Greensand outcrops. Our results demonstrate the need for local investigation and hydrogeological perceptualisation within regional analysis, which we show to be achievable given relatively simple geological interpretation and data requirements. We support the inclusion of IGF fluxes within existing models to enable calibration improvements in groundwater-dominated catchments, but with geologically specific characteristics, and (when perceptually appropriate) connectivity between catchments.

Item Type: Publication - Article
Digital Object Identifier (DOI):
ISSN: 1607-7938
Additional Keywords: Groundwater, GroundwaterBGS
Date made live: 06 Mar 2023 15:37 +0 (UTC)

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