Estimation of deep infiltration in unsaturated limestone environments using cave lidar and drip count data
- 1Connected Waters Initiative Research Centre, UNSW Australia, Sydney, Australia
- 2Institute of Earth Surface Dynamics, University of Lausanne, Lausanne, Switzerland
- 3Institute for Environmental Research, Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation, Lucas Heights, Sydney, Australia
- 4Department of Parks and Wildlife, Busselton, WA, Australia
Abstract. Limestone aeolianites constitute karstic aquifers covering much of the western and southern Australian coastal fringe. They are a key groundwater resource for a range of industries such as winery and tourism, and provide important ecosystem services such as habitat for stygofauna. Moreover, recharge estimation is important for understanding the water cycle, for contaminant transport, for water management, and for stalagmite-based paleoclimate reconstructions. Caves offer a natural inception point to observe both the long-term groundwater recharge and the preferential movement of water through the unsaturated zone of such limestone. With the availability of automated drip rate logging systems and remote sensing techniques, it is now possible to deploy the combination of these methods for larger-scale studies of infiltration processes within a cave. In this study, we utilize a spatial survey of automated cave drip monitoring in two large chambers of Golgotha Cave, south-western Western Australia (SWWA), with the aim of better understanding infiltration water movement and the relationship between infiltration, stalactite morphology, and unsaturated zone recharge. By applying morphological analysis of ceiling features from Terrestrial LiDAR (T-LiDAR) data, coupled with drip time series and climate data from 2012 to 2014, we demonstrate the nature of the relationships between infiltration through fractures in the limestone and unsaturated zone recharge. Similarities between drip rate time series are interpreted in terms of flow patterns, cave chamber morphology, and lithology. Moreover, we develop a new technique to estimate recharge in large-scale caves, engaging flow classification to determine the cave ceiling area covered by each flow category and drip data for the entire observation period, to calculate the total volume of cave discharge. This new technique can be applied to other cave sites to identify highly focussed areas of recharge and can help to better estimate the total recharge volume.