Delineating controls on hydrologic variability and water geochemistry in central Texas
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There is a strong concern about how water resources will be affected by future climate change. Investigation of how a hydrologic system might respond to climate change, however, requires a detailed understanding of the controls on and factors that might affect that system. The research presented in this dissertation focuses on improving the understanding of the Barton Springs segment of the Edwards aquifer in central Texas. The first three chapters of this dissertation present research investigating spatial and temporal controls on groundwater geochemistry. The fourth chapter focuses on characterizing and understanding the controls on long-term hydrologic variability by reconstructing past climate from a speleothem (cave mineral deposit) collected from a central Texas cave. On spatial scales, Edwards aquifer groundwater geochemistry is influenced by water-rock interaction (calcite and dolomite recrystallization, gypsum dissolution, and calcite precipitation) and mixing between fresh groundwater and saline groundwater. On temporal scales, variation in groundwater geochemistry is dictated by the extent to which fresh groundwater mixes with recharging stream water. The degree of mixing is sensitive to changes in climate conditions (i.e., more mixing under wetter conditions) and type of flow path (i.e., conduit or diffuse) that dominantly supplies a given site. The geochemistry of stream water, which provides the majority of recharge to the aquifer, is degrading over time and indirectly controlled by anthropogenic sources under both wet and dry conditions. Climate reconstructed from a speleothem suggests that central Texas moisture conditions were relatively constant from the mid to late Holocene (0 to 7 ka), except for an extended dry interval from 0.5 to 1.5 ka. Speleothem δ18O values spike during this dry interval, suggesting that decreases in Pacific-derived moisture or decreased tropical storm activity might have been coincident with the prolonged dry interval. This research has improved understanding of the natural variability of and controls on physical and geochemical components of hydrologic system in central Texas.