Hydrogeology of an Alpine rockfall aquifer system and its role in flood attenuation and maintaining baseflow
The frequency and intensity of extreme hydrological events in Alpine regions is projected to increase with climate change. The goal of this study is to better understand the functioning of aquifers composed of complex alluvial and rockfall deposits in Alpine valleys and to quantify the role of these natural storage spaces in flood attenuation and baseflow maintenance. Geomorphological and hydrogeological mapping, tracer tests, and continuous flow measurements were conducted in the Reintal (German Alps), where runoff from a karst spring infiltrates a series of postglacial alluvial/rockfall aquifers. During high-flow conditions, groundwater velocities of 30 m h −1 were determined along 500 m; hydrograph analyses revealed short lag times (5 h) between discharge peaks upstream and downstream from the aquifer series; the maximum discharge ratio downstream (22) and the peak recession coefficient (0.196 d −1) are low compared with other Alpine catchments. During low-flow conditions, the underground flow path length increased to 2 km and groundwater velocities decreased to 13 m h −1. Downstream hydrographs revealed a delayed discharge response after 101 h and peaks damped by a factor of 1.5. These results indicate that alluvial/rockfall aquifers might play an important role in the flow regime and attenuation of floods in Alpine regions.