23 Sep 2021

23 Sep 2021

Review status: this preprint is currently under review for the journal HESS.

Implications of variations in stream specific conductivity for estimating baseflow using chemical mass balance and calibrated hydrograph techniques

Ian Cartwright Ian Cartwright
  • School of Earth, Atmosphere and Environment, Monash University, Clayton, Vic. 3800, Australia

Abstract. Baseflow to rivers comprises regional groundwater and lower salinity intermediate water stores such as interflow, soil water, and bank return flows. Chemical mass balance (CMB) calculations based on the specific conductivity (SC) of rivers potentially estimates the groundwater contribution to baseflow. This study discusses the application of the CMB approach in rivers from southeast Australia and assesses the feasibility of calibrating recursive digital filters (RDF) and sliding minima (SM) techniques based on streamflow data to estimate groundwater inflows. The common strategy of assigning the SC of groundwater inflows based on the highest annual river SC may not always be valid due to the long-term presence of lower salinity intermediate waters. Rather, using the river SC from low flow periods during drought years may be more realistic. If that is the case, the estimated groundwater inflows may be lower than expected, which has implications for assessing contaminant transport and the impacts of near-river groundwater extraction. Probably due to long-term variations in the proportion of groundwater in baseflow, the RDF and SM techniques cannot generally be calibrated using the CMB results to estimate annual baseflow proportions. Thus, it is not possible to extend the estimates of groundwater inflows using those methods, although in some catchments reasonable estimates of groundwater inflows can be made from annual streamflows. Short-term variations in the composition of baseflow also leads to baseflow estimates made using the CMB method being far more irregular than expected. This study illustrates that estimating baseflow, especially groundwater inflows, is not straightforward.

Ian Cartwright

Status: open (until 21 Nov 2021)

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Ian Cartwright


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Short summary
Using specific conductivity (SC) to estimate groundwater inflow to rivers is complicated by bank return waters, interflow, and flows off floodplains contributing to baseflow in all but the driest years. Using the maximum SC of the river in dry years to estimate the SC of groundwater produces the best baseflow vs streamflow trends. The variable composition of baseflow hinders calibration of hydrograph-based techniques to estimate groundwater inflows.