This study uses numerical simulations to define the salient controls on regional groundwater flow in 3-D mountainous terrain by systematically varying topographic and hydrogeologic variables. Topography for idealized multiple-basin mountainous terrain is derived from geomatic data and literature values. Water table elevation, controlled by the ratio of recharge to hydraulic conductivity, largely controls the distribution of recharged water into local, regional, and perpendicular flow systems, perpendicular flow being perpendicular to the regional topographic gradient. Both the relative (%) and absolute (m 3/d) values of regional flow and perpendicular flow are examined. The relationship between regional flow and water table elevation is highly nonlinear. With lower water table elevations, relative and absolute regional flow dramatically increase and decrease, respectively, as the water table is lowered further. However, for higher water table elevations above the top of the headwater stream, changes in water table elevation have little effect on regional flow. Local flow predominates in high water table configurations, with regional and perpendicular flow <15% and <10%, respectively, of total recharge in the models tested. Both the relative and the maximum absolute regional flow are directly controlled by the degree of incision of the mountain drainage network; the elevation of mountain ridges is considerably less important. The percentage of the headwater stream with perennial streamflow is a potentially powerful indicator of regional flow in all water table configurations and may be a good indicator of the susceptibility of mountain groundwater systems to increased aridity. Copyright 2008 by the American Geophysical Union.
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Regional groundwater flow in mountainous terrain: Three-dimensional simulations of topographic and hydrogeologic controls