Articles | Volume 17, issue 7
Research article
09 Jul 2013
Research article |  | 09 Jul 2013

Gaining and losing stream reaches have opposite hydraulic conductivity distribution patterns

X. Chen, W. Dong, G. Ou, Z. Wang, and C. Liu

Abstract. In gaining streams, groundwater seeps out into the streams. In losing streams, stream water moves into groundwater systems. The flow moving through the streambed sediments under these two types of hydrologic conditions is generally in opposite directions (upward vs. downward). The two opposite flow mechanisms affect the pore size and fine particle content of streambeds. Thus it is very likely that the opposite flow conditions affect the streambed hydraulic conductivity. However, comparisons of the hydraulic conductivity (K) of streambeds for losing and gaining streams are not well documented. In this study, we examined the K distribution patterns of sediments below the channel surface or stream banks for the Platte River and its tributaries in Nebraska, USA. Two contrasting vertical distribution patterns were observed from the test sites. In gaining reaches, hydraulic conductivity of the streambed decreased with the depth of the sediment cores. In losing reaches, hydraulic conductivity increased with the depth of the sediment cores. These contrasting patterns in the two types of streams were mostly attributed to flow directions during stream water and groundwater exchanges. In losing reaches, downward movement of water brought fine particle into the otherwise coarse sediment matrix, partially silting the pores. For gaining reaches, upward flow winnowed fine particles, increasing the pore spacing in the top parts of streambeds, leading to higher hydraulic conductivity in shallower parts of streambeds. These flux directions can impact K values to depths of greater than 5 m. At each study site, in situ permeameter tests were conducted to measure the K values of the shallow streambed layer. Statistical analyses indicated that K values from the sites of losing reaches were significantly different from the K values from the sites of gaining reaches.