Quantifying groundwater recharge is a fundamental part of groundwater resource assessment and management, and is requisite to determining the safe yield of an aquifer. Natural groundwater recharge in arid and semi-arid regions comprises several mechanisms: in-place, mountain-front, and mountain-block recharge. A field study was undertaken in a high-plain basin in the Altiplano region of northern Chile to quantify the magnitude of in-place and mountain-front recharge. Water fluxes corresponding to both recharge mechanisms were calculated using heat as a natural tracer. To quantify in-place recharge, time-series temperature data in cased boreholes were collected, and the annual fluctuation at multiple depths analyzed to infer the water flux through the unsaturated zone. To quantify mountain-front recharge, time-series temperature data were collected in perennial and ephemeral stream channels. Streambed thermographs were analyzed to determine the onset and duration of flow in ephemeral channels, and the vertical water fluxes into both perennial and ephemeral channels. The point flux estimates in streambeds and the unsaturated zone were upscaled to channel and basin-floor areas to provide comparative estimates of the range of volumetric recharge rates corresponding to each recharge mechanism. The results of this study show that mountain-front recharge is substantially more important than in-place recharge in this basin. The results further demonstrate the worth of time-series subsurface temperature data to characterize both in-place and mountain-front recharge processes.
- Arid regions
- Groundwater recharge
- Groundwater/surface-water relations
- Heat transport
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Water Science and Technology
- Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)