Articles | Volume 18, issue 11
Research article
06 Nov 2014
Research article |  | 06 Nov 2014

Observed groundwater temperature response to recent climate change

K. Menberg, P. Blum, B. L. Kurylyk, and P. Bayer

Abstract. Climate change is known to have a considerable influence on many components of the hydrological cycle. Yet, the implications for groundwater temperature, as an important driver for groundwater quality, thermal use and storage, are not yet comprehensively understood. Furthermore, few studies have examined the implications of climate-change-induced groundwater temperature rise for groundwater-dependent ecosystems. Here, we examine the coupling of atmospheric and groundwater warming by employing stochastic and deterministic models. Firstly, several decades of temperature time series are statistically analyzed with regard to climate regime shifts (CRSs) in the long-term mean. The observed increases in shallow groundwater temperatures can be associated with preceding positive shifts in regional surface air temperatures, which are in turn linked to global air temperature changes. The temperature data are also analyzed with an analytical solution to the conduction–advection heat transfer equation to investigate how subsurface heat transfer processes control the propagation of the surface temperature signals into the subsurface. In three of the four monitoring wells, the predicted groundwater temperature increases driven by the regime shifts at the surface boundary condition generally concur with the observed groundwater temperature trends. Due to complex interactions at the ground surface and the heat capacity of the unsaturated zone, the thermal signals from distinct changes in air temperature are damped and delayed in the subsurface, causing a more gradual increase in groundwater temperatures. These signals can have a significant impact on large-scale groundwater temperatures in shallow and economically important aquifers. These findings demonstrate that shallow groundwater temperatures have responded rapidly to recent climate change and thus provide insight into the vulnerability of aquifers and groundwater-dependent ecosystems to future climate change.