Articles | Volume 21, issue 1
Research article
25 Jan 2017
Research article |  | 25 Jan 2017

Towards a simple representation of chalk hydrology in land surface modelling

Mostaquimur Rahman and Rafael Rosolem

Abstract. Modelling and monitoring of hydrological processes in the unsaturated zone of chalk, a porous medium with fractures, is important to optimize water resource assessment and management practices in the United Kingdom (UK). However, incorporating the processes governing water movement through a chalk unsaturated zone in a numerical model is complicated mainly due to the fractured nature of chalk that creates high-velocity preferential flow paths in the subsurface. In general, flow through a chalk unsaturated zone is simulated using the dual-porosity concept, which often involves calibration of a relatively large number of model parameters, potentially undermining applications to large regions. In this study, a simplified parameterization, namely the Bulk Conductivity (BC) model, is proposed for simulating hydrology in a chalk unsaturated zone. This new parameterization introduces only two additional parameters (namely the macroporosity factor and the soil wetness threshold parameter for fracture flow activation) and uses the saturated hydraulic conductivity from the chalk matrix. The BC model is implemented in the Joint UK Land Environment Simulator (JULES) and applied to a study area encompassing the Kennet catchment in the southern UK. This parameterization is further calibrated at the point scale using soil moisture profile observations. The performance of the calibrated BC model in JULES is assessed and compared against the performance of both the default JULES parameterization and the uncalibrated version of the BC model implemented in JULES. Finally, the model performance at the catchment scale is evaluated against independent data sets (e.g. runoff and latent heat flux). The results demonstrate that the inclusion of the BC model in JULES improves simulated land surface mass and energy fluxes over the chalk-dominated Kennet catchment. Therefore, the simple approach described in this study may be used to incorporate the flow processes through a chalk unsaturated zone in large-scale land surface modelling applications.

Short summary
Modelling water flow through chalk (a fine-grained porous medium traversed by fractures) is important for optimizing water resource management practices in the UK. However, efficient simulations of water movement through chalk are difficult due to the porous nature of chalk, creating high-velocity preferential flow paths. This paper describes a novel approach to representing chalk hydrology in land surface modelling for large-scale applications.