Articles | Volume 3, issue 4
31 Dec 1999
31 Dec 1999

Water flow pathways and the water balance within a head-water catchment containing a dambo: inferences drawn from hydrochemical investigations

M. P. McCartney and C. Neal

Abstract. Dambos, seasonally saturated wetlands, are widespread in headwater catchments in sub-Saharan Africa. It is widely believed that they play an important role in regional hydrology but, despite research conducted over the last 25 years, their hydrological functions remain poorly understood. To improve conceptualisation of hydrological flow paths and investigate the water balance of a small Zimbabwean catchment containing a single dambo, measurements of alkalinity and chloride in different water types within the catchment have been used as chemical markers. The temporal variation in alkalinity is consistent with the premise that all stream water, including the prolonged dry season recession, is derived predominantly from shallow sources. The proposition that dry season recession flows are maintained by water travelling at depth within the underlying saprolite is not substantiated. There is evidence that a low permeability clay lens, commonly present in many dambos, acts as a barrier for vertical water exchange. However, the highly heterogeneous chemical composition of different waters precludes quantitative hydrograph split-ting using end member mixing analysis. Calculation of the chloride mass-balance confirms that, after rainfall, evaporation is the largest component of the catchment water budget. The study provides improved understanding of the hydrological functioning of dambos. Such understanding is essential for the development and implementation of sustainable management strategies for this landform.