Groundwater flux estimation in streams: A thermal equilibrium approach

Journal of Hydrology
By: , and 



Stream and groundwater interactions play an essential role in regulating flow, temperature, and water quality for stream ecosystems. Temperature gradients have been used to quantify vertical water movement in the streambed since the 1960s, but advancements in thermal methods are still possible. Seepage runs are a method commonly used to quantify exchange rates through a series of streamflow measurements but can be labor and time intensive. The objective of this study was to develop and evaluate a thermal equilibrium method as a technique for quantifying groundwater flux using monitored stream water temperature at a single point and readily available hydrological and atmospheric data. Our primary assumption was that stream water temperature at the monitored point was at thermal equilibrium with the combination of all heat transfer processes, including mixing with groundwater. By expanding the monitored stream point into a hypothetical, horizontal one-dimensional thermal modeling domain, we were able to simulate the thermal equilibrium achieved with known atmospheric variables at the point and quantify unknown groundwater flux by calibrating the model to the resulting temperature signature. Stream water temperatures were monitored at single points at nine streams in the Ozark Highland ecoregion and five reaches of the Kiamichi River to estimate groundwater fluxes using the thermal equilibrium method. When validated by comparison with seepage runs performed at the same time and reach, estimates from the two methods agreed with each other with an R2 of 0.94, a root mean squared error (RMSE) of 0.08 (m/d) and a Nash–Sutcliffe efficiency (NSE) of 0.93. In conclusion, the thermal equilibrium method was a suitable technique for quantifying groundwater flux with minimal cost and simple field installation given that suitable atmospheric and hydrological data were readily available.

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Groundwater flux estimation in streams: A thermal equilibrium approach
Series title Journal of Hydrology
DOI 10.1016/j.jhydrol.2018.04.001
Volume 561
Year Published 2018
Language English
Publisher Elsevier
Contributing office(s) Coop Res Unit Atlanta
Description 11 p.
First page 822
Last page 832
Country United States
State Oklahoma
Other Geospatial Kiamichi River, Ozark Highland Ecoregin
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