Articles | Volume 7, issue 1
28 Feb 2003
28 Feb 2003

Applying MODFLOW to wet grassland in-field habitats: a casestudy from the Pevensey Levels, UK

R. B. Bradford and M. C. Acreman

Abstract. Historical drainage improvements have created complex hydrological regimes in many low-lying, wet coastal grassland areas. The manipulation of ditch water levels is a common management technique to maintain important in-stream and in-field habitats in such areas. However, in wet grasslands with low soil conductivities the water table in the centre of each field is not closely coupled to variations in ditch stage. Consequently rainfall and evaporation have a greater influence on the depth to water table and water table fluctuations within each field. In-field micro-topographic variations also lead to subtle variations in the hydrological regime and depth to water table that create a mosaic of different wetness conditions and habitats. The depth, duration, timing and frequency of flooding from accumulated rainfall, surface water and standing groundwater also influence the availability of suitable in-field habitats. Land drainage models are often used for studies of wet grasslands, but tend to be more complex and require more field variables than saturated zone models. This paper applies a 3D groundwater flow model, MODFLOW, to simulate groundwater levels within a single field in a wet coastal grassland underlain by a low permeability sequence and located in the central part of Pevensey Levels, Sussex, UK. At this scale, the influence of vertical leakage and regional groundwater flow within the deeper, more permeable part of the sequence is likely to be small. Whilst available data were not sufficient to attempt a full calibration, it was found that the sequence could be represented as a single, unconfined sequence having uniform hydraulic properties. The model also confirmed that evaporation and rainfall are the dominant components of the water balance. Provided certain information requirements are met, a distributed groundwater model, such as MODFLOW, can benefit situations where greater hydrological detail in space and time is required to represent complex and subtle changes influencing the in-field habitats in wet grasslands with low permeability soils.

Keywords: wetlands, hydrology,groundwater, MODFLOW