Articles | Volume 21, issue 10
Research article
06 Oct 2017
Research article |  | 06 Oct 2017

Identifying, characterizing and predicting spatial patterns of lacustrine groundwater discharge

Christina Tecklenburg and Theresa Blume

Abstract. Lacustrine groundwater discharge (LGD) can significantly affect lake water balances and lake water quality. However, quantifying LGD and its spatial patterns is challenging because of the large spatial extent of the aquifer–lake interface and pronounced spatial variability. This is the first experimental study to specifically study these larger-scale patterns with sufficient spatial resolution to systematically investigate how landscape and local characteristics affect the spatial variability in LGD. We measured vertical temperature profiles around a 0.49 km2 lake in northeastern Germany with a needle thermistor, which has the advantage of allowing for rapid (manual) measurements and thus, when used in a survey, high spatial coverage and resolution. Groundwater inflow rates were then estimated using the heat transport equation. These near-shore temperature profiles were complemented with sediment temperature measurements with a fibre-optic cable along six transects from shoreline to shoreline and radon measurements of lake water samples to qualitatively identify LGD patterns in the offshore part of the lake. As the hydrogeology of the catchment is sufficiently homogeneous (sandy sediments of a glacial outwash plain; no bedrock control) to avoid patterns being dominated by geological discontinuities, we were able to test the common assumptions that spatial patterns of LGD are mainly controlled by sediment characteristics and the groundwater flow field. We also tested the assumption that topographic gradients can be used as a proxy for gradients of the groundwater flow field. Thanks to the extensive data set, these tests could be carried out in a nested design, considering both small- and large-scale variability in LGD. We found that LGD was concentrated in the near-shore area, but alongshore variability was high, with specific regions of higher rates and higher spatial variability. Median inflow rates were 44 L m−2 d−1 with maximum rates in certain locations going up to 169 L m−2 d−1. Offshore LGD was negligible except for two local hotspots on steep steps in the lake bed topography. Large-scale groundwater inflow patterns were correlated with topography and the groundwater flow field, whereas small-scale patterns correlated with grain size distributions of the lake sediment. These findings confirm results and assumptions of theoretical and modelling studies more systematically than was previously possible with coarser sampling designs. However, we also found that a significant fraction of the variance in LGD could not be explained by these controls alone and that additional processes need to be considered. While regression models using these controls as explanatory variables had limited power to predict LGD rates, the results nevertheless encourage the use of topographic indices and sediment heterogeneity as an aid for targeted campaigns in future studies of groundwater discharge to lakes.

Short summary
We characterized groundwater–lake exchange patterns and identified their controls based on extensive field measurements. Our measurement design bridges the gap between the detailed local characterisation and low resolution regional investigations. Results indicated strong spatial variability in groundwater inflow rates: large scale inflow patterns correlated with topography and the groundwater flow field and small scale patterns correlated with grainsize distributions of the lake sediment.