2014 research at the Wellington NCRIS groundwater infrastructure sites

Posted 7 January 2015

Part of the fractured rock borefield at the UNSW Wellington Field Station.

A number of advances in our understanding of the timing and rate of unsaturated zone infiltration were made during 2014, thanks to the NCRIS infrastructure at Wellington in central-west NSW.

Wellington is part of the national groundwater infrastructure network, funded by the Australian Federal Government and managed by the Connected Waters Initiative Research Centre (CWI).

At Wellington, infrastructure is installed in three contrasting geologies, and long-term monitoring of groundwater level and climate is helping researchers improve their understanding of groundwater processes. At Baldry, long-term groundwater monitoring is occurring in a fractured-rock granite system. At Wellington Caves, groundwater level and unsaturated zone water flux are being monitored in a karstified, fractured limestone system. At the UNSW Wellington field station, groundwater level and water quality is being monitored in fractured rock metasedimentary and alluvial systems.

With sites established in 2010-2013, several years of groundwater level, water quality and climate data are now available to researchers. Data can be visualized and downloaded from http://groundwater.anu.edu.au.

In 2014, researchers published the following international peer-reviewed papers based on the NCRIS Wellington sites:

  • Peter Graham and co-workers used the borefield at the UNSW Wellington field station to understand the impact of long-duration high-volume dam releases on groundwater level and quality. The borefield, partly situated in the alluvial aquifer of the Macquarie River, was used to understand the effect of long-duration dam releases from Burrengdong Dam on river-aquifer interactions.  The research is published in the Hydrogeology Journal.
  • Mark Cuthbert and co-workers used a dense network of automated loggers that has been installed within Cathedral Cave at the Wellington Caves sites. Four years of continuous data of water flux in the unsaturated zone of this limestone was used to understand the water isotope composition of this infiltration water. Subsurface evaporation was demonstrated to determine the water isotope composition, with lighter isotopes of hydrogen and oxygen preferentially evaporating  and leaving an isotopically heavy infiltration water. The results were published in the journal Earth and Planetary Science Letters and audio slides are available here.
  • Hoori Ajami and co-workers have devised a new method that increases the efficiency of modelling surface water - groundwater interactions. An approach has been developed to reduce the computational burden of the spin-up procedure by using a combination of model simulations and an empirical depth-to-water table function. This approach was tested on two contrasting catchments, one being the Baldry long-term monitoring site. The paper was published in Hydrology and Earth System Science and is open access and available for download at: http://www.hydrol-earth-syst-sci.net/18/5169/2014/

2)	Four years of infiltration water measurements at ~30m depth at Cathedral Cave, Wellington
Four years of infiltration water measurements at ~30m depth at Cathedral Cave, Wellington.

At Wellington Caves, the NCRIS infrastructure has improved our understanding of the timing and rate of unsaturated zone infiltration. This in turn has allowed researchers to understand ancillary experiments to probe other hydrogeological and environmental processes. In particular, part of the Cathedral Cave monitoring site has undergone artificial rainfall experiments (see here). Mark Cuthbert and co-workers used these experiment to investigate the cooling of infiltration waters within the unsaturated zone due to evaporation, and  Helen Rutlidge and co-workers investigated the organic and inorganic chemistry of the infiltration waters. The results are published in the journals Scientific Reports (open access at http://www.nature.com/srep/2014/140604/srep05162/full/srep05162.html ) and Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta respectively.

References

Ajami, H., Evans J.P., McCabe, M.F. and Stisen, S., 2014. Technical Note: Reducing the spin-up time of integrated surface water–groundwater models. Hydrology and Earth System Science, 18, 5169-5179.

Cuthbert, M.O., Baker, A., Jex, C.N., Graham, P.W., Treble, P., Andersen, M.S and Acworth, R.I., 2014 Drip water isotopes in semi-arid karst: implications for speleothem paleoclimatology. Earth and Planetary Science Letters, 395, 194-204.

Cuthbert, M.O., Rau, G.C., Andersen, M.S., Roshan, H., Rutlidge, H., Marjo, C.E., Markowska, M., Jex, C.N., Graham, P.W., Mariethoz, G., Acworth, R.I., Baker, A. 2014. Evaporative cooling of speleothems. Scientific Reports, 4, Article number: 5162

Graham, P.W., Andersen, M.S., McCabe, M.F., Ajami, H., Baker, A. and Acworth, R.I., 2014. To what extent do long-duration high-volume dam releases influence river–aquifer interactions? A case study in New South Wales, Australia. Hydrogeology Journal, doi: 10.1007/s10040-014-1212-3

Rutlidge, H., Baker, A., Marjo, C.E., Andersen, M.S., Graham, P., Cuthbert, M.O., Rau, G.C., Roshan, H., Markowska, M., Mariethoz, G., Jex, C.N., 2014. Dripwater organic matter and trace element geochemistry in a semi-arid karst environment: implications for speleothem paleoclimatology. Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta, 135, 217-230.

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