Groundwater recharge is diffuse in semi-arid African drylands: Evidence from highly instrumented observatories

Sorensen, James P.R.; Gahi, Narcisse Z.; Guug, Samuel; Verhoef, Anne; Koïta, Mahamadou; Sandwidi, Wennegouda J.P.; Agyekum, William A.; Okrah, Collins; Darling, W. George; Lawson, Fabrice M.A.; MacDonald, Alan M. ORCID:; Vouillamoz, Jean-Michel; Macdonald, David M.J.. 2024 Groundwater recharge is diffuse in semi-arid African drylands: Evidence from highly instrumented observatories. Journal of Hydrology, 636, 131227.

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We use two comprehensively instrumented field observatories to understand groundwater recharge processes in African drylands. The observatories are located on crystalline basement geology in semi-arid parts of Ghana and Burkina Faso, aridity indices 0.43 and 0.29, respectively, and we report 2017–2019 observations. Groundwater recharge was quantified by inverse water table fluctuation models using specific yield estimates derived from magnetic resonance soundings. Evidence for recharge drivers and mechanisms comes from high resolution meteorological observations, soil moisture (logged hourly and weekly along hillslope transects), overland flow plots, river stage, and stable isotopes of O and H in rainfall events and groundwater. Groundwater recharge varied between 87 and 175 mm/y, i.e. 7–15 % of annual rainfall. Rainfall was twice the volume of water lost via actual evapotranspiration across the four peak months (Jun-Sep) of the monsoon. This seasonal water surplus of ∼ 350 mm/y is not characterised by the annual scale of the aridity index. Overland flow was rare and soil moisture deficits were overcome at all monitoring locations. Large rainfall events only produced appreciable recharge when the antecedent soil moisture was close to field capacity, yet always produced large responses in river stage. Stable isotopes of O and H in groundwater indicate no evidence of evapotranspiration prior to infiltration and their composition is akin to depleted isotopic rainfall at the monsoon peak. Stable isotopes indicate recharge season timing and not a relationship between intense rainfall and groundwater recharge. We contend that the mechanism for groundwater recharge is predominantly diffuse in these semi-arid African settings.

Item Type: Publication - Article
Digital Object Identifier (DOI):
ISSN: 00221694
Additional Keywords: GroundwaterBGS, IGRD
Date made live: 03 May 2024 12:28 +0 (UTC)

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