As populations grow in and climates and desert bedrock aquifers are increasingly targeted for future development, understanding and quantifying the spatial variability of net infiltration becomes critically important for accurately inventorying water resources and mapping contamination vulnerability. This paper presents a conceptual model of net infiltration to desert sandstone and then develops an empirical equation for its spatial quantification at the watershed scale using linear least squares inversion methods for evaluating controlling parameters (independent variables) based on estimated net infiltration rates (dependent variables). Net infiltration rates used for this regression analysis were calculated from environmental tracers in boreholes and more than 3000 linear meters of vadose zone excavations in an upland basin in southwestern Utah underlain by Navajo sandstone. Soil coarseness, distance to upgradient outcrop, and topographic slope were shown to be the primary physical parameters controlling the spatial variability of net infiltration. Although the method should be transferable to other desert sandstone settings for determining the relative spatial distribution of net infiltration, further study is needed to evaluate the effects of other potential parameters such as slope aspect, outcrop parameters, and climate on absolute net infiltration rates. Copyright 2007 by the American Geophysical Union.
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Controls on the variability of net infiltration to desert sandstone