Assessing residence times of hyporheic ground water in two alluvial flood plains of the Southern Alps using water temperature and tracers
Abstract. Water temperature can be used as a tracer for the interaction between river water and groundwater, interpreting time shifts in temperature signals as retarded travel times. The water temperature fluctuates on different time scales, the most pronounced of which are the seasonal and diurnal ones. While seasonal fluctuations can be found in any type of shallow groundwater, high-frequency components are more typical for freshly infiltrated river water, or hyporheic groundwater, and are thus better suited for evaluating the travel time of the youngest groundwater component in alluvial aquifer systems. We present temperature time series collected at two sites in the alpine floodplain aquifers of the Brenno river in Southern Switzerland. At the first site, we determine apparent travel times of temperature for both the seasonal and high-frequency components of the temperature signals in several wells. The seasonal signal appears to travel more slowly, indicating a mixture of older and younger groundwater components, which is confirmed by sulphate measurements. The travel times of the high-frequency component qualitatively agree with the groundwater age derived from radon concentrations, which exclusively reflects young water components. Directly after minor floods, the amplitude of temperature fluctuations in an observation well nearby the river is the highest. Within a week, the riverbed is being clogged, leading to stronger attenuation of the temperature fluctuations in the observation well. At the second site, very fast infiltration to depths of 1.9 m under the riverbed could be inferred from the time shift of the diurnal temperature signal.