Articles | Volume 17, issue 12
Research article
04 Dec 2013
Research article |  | 04 Dec 2013

Analysis of groundwater drought building on the standardised precipitation index approach

J. P. Bloomfield and B. P. Marchant

Abstract. A new index for standardising groundwater level time series and characterising groundwater droughts, the Standardised Groundwater level Index (SGI), is described. The SGI builds on the Standardised Precipitation Index (SPI) to account for differences in the form and characteristics of groundwater level and precipitation time series. The SGI is estimated using a non-parametric normal scores transform of groundwater level data for each calendar month. These monthly estimates are then merged to form a continuous index. The SGI has been calculated for 14 relatively long, up to 103 yr, groundwater level hydrographs from a variety of aquifers and compared with SPI for the same sites. The relationship between SGI and SPI is site specific and the SPI accumulation period which leads to the strongest correlation between SGI and SPI, qmax, varies between sites. However, there is a consistent positive linear correlation between a measure of the range of significant autocorrelation in the SGI series, mmax, and qmax across all sites. Given this correlation between SGI mmax and SPI qmax, and given that periods of low values of SGI can be shown to coincide with previously independently documented droughts, SGI is taken to be a robust and meaningful index of groundwater drought. The maximum length of groundwater droughts defined by SGI is an increasing function of mmax, meaning that relatively long groundwater droughts are generally more prevalent at sites where SGI has a relatively long autocorrelation range. Based on correlations between mmax, average unsaturated zone thickness and aquifer hydraulic diffusivity, the source of autocorrelation in SGI is inferred to be dependent on dominant aquifer flow and storage characteristics. For fractured aquifers, such as the Cretaceous Chalk, autocorrelation in SGI is inferred to be primarily related to autocorrelation in the recharge time series, while in granular aquifers, such as the Permo–Triassic sandstones, autocorrelation in SGI is inferred to be primarily a function of intrinsic saturated flow and storage properties of aquifer. These results highlight the need to take into account the hydrogeological context of groundwater monitoring sites when designing and interpreting data from groundwater drought monitoring networks.