Simulations of ground-water flow in a generic aquifer system were made to characterize the topology of ground-water flow in the stream subsystem and to evaluate its relation to deeper ground-water flow. The flow models are patterned after hydraulic characteristics of aquifers of the Atlantic Coastal Plain and are based on numerical solutions to three-dimensional, steady-state, unconfined flow. The models were used to evaluate the effects of aquifer horizontal-to-vertical hydraulic conductivity ratios, aquifer thickness, and areal recharge rates on flow in the stream subsystem. A particle tracker was used to determine flow paths in a stream subsystem, to establish the relation between ground-water seepage to points along a simulated stream and its source area of flow, and to determine ground-water residence time in stream subsystems. In a geometrically simple aquifer system with accretion, the source area of flow to streams resembles an elongated ellipse that tapers in the downgradient direction. Increased recharge causes an expansion of the stream subsystem. The source area of flow to the stream expands predominantly toward the stream headwaters. Baseflow gain is also increased along the reach of the stream. A thin aquifer restricts ground-water flow and causes the source area of flow to expand near stream headwaters and also shifts the start-of-flow to the drainage basin divide. Increased aquifer anisotropy causes a lateral expansion of the source area of flow to streams. Ground-water seepage to the stream channel originates both from near- and far-recharge locations. The range in the lengths of flow paths that terminate at a point on a stream increase in the downstream direction. Consequently, the age distribution of ground water that seeps into the stream is skewed progressively older with distance downstream. Base flow ia an integration of ground water with varying age and potentially different water quality, depending on the source within the drainage basin. The quantitative results presented indicate that this integration can have a wide and complex residence time range and source distribution.
Additional publication details
Patterns and age distribution of ground-water flow to streams