Intra-meander groundwater-surface water interactions in a losing experimental stream

Nowinski, John David
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Groundwater-surface water interactions between streams and shallow alluvial aquifers can significantly affect their thermal and chemical regimes and thus are critical for effective management of water resources and riparian ecosystems. Of particular significance is the hyporheic zone, an area delineated by subsurface flow paths that begin and end in surface water bodies. Although detailed work has examined hyporheic flow in the vertical dimension, some studies have suggested that the drop in a stream’s elevation as it flows downstream can laterally extend the hyporheic zone. This study examines intra-meander hyporheic flow using extensive field measurements in a full-scale experimental stream-aquifer system. Synoptic head measurements from 2008 and 2009 and a lithium tracer test were conducted to determine the extent and nature of hyporheic flow within the meander. Permeability was measured and sediment cores were analyzed from 2008 to 2009 to assess aquifer properties. Finally, transient head and temperature measurements were collected during flooding events to assess the sensitivity of intra-meander hyporheic flow and temperature to stream discharge. Results verify that hyporheic flow through meanders occurs, but show that it is sensitive to whether a stream is gaining or losing water to the subsurface overall. In addition, permeability and core grain size results indicate moderate heterogeneity in permeability can occur in aquifers composed of relatively uniform sediment. Results also demonstrate that permeability in alluvial aquifers can evolve through time. Such evolution may be driven by groundwater flow, which transports fine particles from areas where porosity and permeability are relatively high and deposits them where they are relatively low, thus creating a positive feedback loop. Finally, measurements during flooding indicate that steady-state hyporheic flow and the thermal regime within the aquifer are largely insensitive to stream discharge. Together, these results expand upon previous field studies of intra-meander hyporheic flow and verify previous modeling work, although they demonstrate a level of complexity within these systems that should be considered in future work.