Articles | Volume 16, issue 10
Research article
30 Oct 2012
Research article |  | 30 Oct 2012

Simulation of saturated and unsaturated flow in karst systems at catchment scale using a double continuum approach

J. Kordilla, M. Sauter, T. Reimann, and T. Geyer

Abstract. The objective of this work is the simulation of saturated and unsaturated flow in a karstified aquifer using a double continuum approach. The HydroGeoSphere code (Therrien et al., 2006) is employed to simulate spring discharge with the Richards equations and van Genuchten parameters to represent flow in the (1) fractured matrix and (2) conduit continuum coupled by a linear exchange term. Rapid vertical small-scale flow processes in the unsaturated conduit continuum are accounted for by applying recharge boundary conditions at the bottom of the saturated model domain. An extensive sensitivity analysis is performed on single parameters as well as parameter combinations. The transient hydraulic response of the karst spring is strongly controlled by the matrix porosity as well as the van Genuchten parameters of the unsaturated matrix, which determine the head dependent inter-continuum water transfer when the conduits are draining the matrix. Sensitivities of parameter combinations partially reveal a non-linear dependence over the parameter space. This can be observed for parameters not belonging to the same continuum as well as combinations, which involve the exchange parameter, showing that results of the double continuum model may depict a certain degree of ambiguity. The application of van Genuchten parameters for simulation of unsaturated flow in karst systems is critically discussed.