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Vadose Zone Journal Abstract - Original Research

A Screening Tool for Delineating Subregions of Steady Recharge within Groundwater Models

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This article in VZJ

  1. Vol. 13 No. 6
    Received: Oct 23, 2013
    Published: May 27, 2014

    * Corresponding author(s): jdickins@usgs.gov
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  1. Jesse E. Dickinson ab,
  2. T.P.A. Ferréb,
  3. Mark Bakkerc and
  4. Becky Cromptonb
  1. a U.S. Geological Survey, Arizona Water Science Center, Tucson, AZ 85719
    b University of Arizona, Dep. of Hydrology and Water Resources, Tucson, AZ 85721
    c Delft Univ. of Technology, Water Resources Section, Faculty of Civil Engineering and Geosciences, 2600 GA Delft, the Netherlands


We present a screening tool for identifying areas in watershed-scale groundwater models where recharge may be simplified as steady state. Nomograms indicate the amount that a variable infiltration is damped with depth for different soils, fluxes, and periods of flux variation. We evaluate the nomograms by comparisons to numerical results from HYDRUS-1D and identify areas of Central Valley, California, where periodic infiltration may become steady recharge.

We have developed a screening method for simplifying groundwater models by delineating areas within the domain that can be represented using steady-state groundwater recharge. The screening method is based on an analytical solution for the damping of sinusoidal infiltration variations in homogeneous soils in the vadose zone. The damping depth is defined as the depth at which the flux variation damps to 5% of the variation at the land surface. Groundwater recharge may be considered steady where the damping depth is above the depth of the water table. The analytical solution approximates the vadose zone diffusivity as constant, and we evaluated when this approximation is reasonable. We evaluated the analytical solution through comparison of the damping depth computed by the analytic solution with the damping depth simulated by a numerical model that allows variable diffusivity. This comparison showed that the screening method conservatively identifies areas of steady recharge and is more accurate when water content and diffusivity are nearly constant. Nomograms of the damping factor (the ratio of the flux amplitude at any depth to the amplitude at the land surface) and the damping depth were constructed for clay and sand for periodic variations between 1 and 365 d and flux means and amplitudes from nearly 0 to 1 × 10−3 m d−1. We applied the screening tool to Central Valley, California, to identify areas of steady recharge. A MATLAB script was developed to compute the damping factor for any soil and any sinusoidal flux variation.

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