Solar-forced diurnal regulation of cave drip rates via phreatophyte evapotranspiration
- 1Connected Waters Initiative Research Centre, UNSW Australia, Kensington NSW 2052, Australia
- 2Water Research Laboratory, School of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Manly Vale NSW 2093, Australia
- 3School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Birmingham, Birmingham, B15 2TT, UK
- 4School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences, UNSW Australia, Kensington NSW 2052, Australia
Abstract. We present results of a detailed study of drip rate variations at 12 drip discharge sites in Glory Hole Cave, New South Wales, Australia. Our novel time series analysis, using the wavelet synchrosqueezed transform, reveals pronounced oscillations at daily and sub-daily frequencies occurring in 8 out of the 12 monitored sites. These oscillations were not spatially or temporally homogenous, with different drip sites exhibiting such behaviour at different times of year in different parts of the cave. We test several hypotheses for the cause of the oscillations, including variations in pressure gradients between karst and cave due to cave breathing effects or atmospheric and earth tides, variations in hydraulic conductivity due to changes in viscosity of water with daily temperature oscillations, and solar-driven daily cycles of vegetative (phreatophytic) transpiration. We conclude that the only hypothesis consistent with the data and hydrologic theory is that daily oscillations are caused by solar-driven pumping by phreatophytic trees which are abundant at the site. The daily oscillations are not continuous and occur sporadically in short bursts (2–14 days) throughout the year due to non-linear modification of the solar signal via complex karst architecture. This is the first indirect observation leading to the hypothesis of tree water use in cave drip water. It has important implications for karst hydrology in regards to developing a new protocol to determine the relative importance of trends in drip rate, such as diurnal oscillations, and how these trends change over timescales of weeks to years. This information can also be used to infer karst architecture. This study demonstrates the importance of vegetation on recharge dynamics, information that will inform both process-based karst models and empirical estimation approaches. Our findings support a growing body of research exploring the impact of trees on speleothem paleoclimate proxies.