Articles | Volume 18, issue 11
Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 18, 4437–4452, 2014
Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 18, 4437–4452, 2014

Research article 06 Nov 2014

Research article | 06 Nov 2014

Hydrogeology of an Alpine rockfall aquifer system and its role in flood attenuation and maintaining baseflow

U. Lauber1, P. Kotyla2, D. Morche3, and N. Goldscheider1 U. Lauber et al.
  • 1Institute of Applied Geosciences, Division of Hydrogeology, Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), Kaiserstr. 12, 76131 Karlsruhe, Germany
  • 2Chair of Hydrogeology, Technische Universität München (TUM), Arcisstr. 21, 80333 Munich, Germany
  • 3Institute for Geosciences and Geography, Martin-Luther-University, 06099 Halle, Germany

Abstract. The frequency and intensity of extreme hydrological events in Alpine regions is projected to increase with climate change. The goal of this study is to better understand the functioning of aquifers composed of complex alluvial and rockfall deposits in Alpine valleys and to quantify the role of these natural storage spaces in flood attenuation and baseflow maintenance. Geomorphological and hydrogeological mapping, tracer tests, and continuous flow measurements were conducted in the Reintal (German Alps), where runoff from a karst spring infiltrates a series of postglacial alluvial/rockfall aquifers. During high-flow conditions, groundwater velocities of 30 m h−1 were determined along 500 m; hydrograph analyses revealed short lag times (5 h) between discharge peaks upstream and downstream from the aquifer series; the maximum discharge ratio downstream (22) and the peak recession coefficient (0.196 d−1) are low compared with other Alpine catchments. During low-flow conditions, the underground flow path length increased to 2 km and groundwater velocities decreased to 13 m h−1. Downstream hydrographs revealed a delayed discharge response after 101 h and peaks damped by a factor of 1.5. These results indicate that alluvial/rockfall aquifers might play an important role in the flow regime and attenuation of floods in Alpine regions.