The new Mountain Front Hydrological Observatory, Maules Creek, NSW

Posted 25 November 2013

Automated camera shot at East Lynne during a flow event in Middle Creek. The solar powered huts in the foreground house auto samplers and data loggers for borehole and in-creek monitoring.

Installation of a new Mountain Front Hydrological Observatory (MFHO), funded under the Groundwater Education and Infrastructure Fund (GEIF), has recently been completed in the Maules Creek catchment in northern NSW.

Installed by staff from UNSW, the Connected Waters Initiative Research Centre (CWI) and Marie Curie Fellow Dr Mark Cuthbert from Birmingham University, UK, the MFHO is designed to enable a better understanding of the interactions between surface water and groundwater in a semi-arid region where ephemeral streams are the main source of groundwater recharge. 

Rainfall run off from the steep Nandewar Mountains is focussed at the mountain front into a series of ephemeral creeks which leak into the underlying aquifer used extensively for cotton irrigation.

The new facility includes nested piezometers installed at various depths within boreholes located at different distances from the mountain front and from Middle Creek, an ephemeral tributary of Maules Creek. All the piezometers are equipped with data loggers to automatically record the groundwater levels and, in some places, also the groundwater chemistry.

A weather station has been installed alongside soil moisture probes for monitoring the background weather conditions and for estimating direct groundwater recharge by rain away from the creeks. The weather station automatically streams data back to UNSW.

Probes have been installed to monitor borehole and creek water levels and water chemistry as well take water samples throughout flow events for subsequent laboratory analysis. A series of water level recorders and temperature probes have also been installed in the creek bed along a 10 km reach of the creek. Using heat as a tracer, these will enable the timing of the wetting and drying of the creek bed, as well as the rates of water exchange between the creek and the underlying alluvial aquifer, to be determined.

The timing, rates and climate conditions which control the amount of recharge in these types of environments are notoriously hard to estimate and there is only a small number of field sites around the world which enable the hydrology of such systems to be studied in such detail.  It is hoped that the data from the Maules Creek MFHO will enable better estimates to be made of how groundwater resources are renewed and how climate change might affect water availability in an already water-stressed area.

Much of the infrastructure is telemetered and the data can be viewed online at the Namoi Groundwater Data Portal.

For further information or if you are interested in collaborating in research using this infrastructure please contact Martin Andersen at CWI: m.andersen@unsw.edu.au.

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