On the use of spring baseflow recession for a more accurate parameterization of aquifer transit time distribution functions
Baseflow recession analysis and groundwater dating have up to now developed as two distinct branches of hydrogeology and have been used to solve entirely different problems. We show that by combining two classical models, namely the Boussinesq equation describing spring baseflow recession, and the exponential piston-flow model used in groundwater dating studies, the parameters describing the transit time distribution of an aquifer can be in some cases estimated to a far more accurate degree than with the latter alone. Under the assumption that the aquifer basis is sub-horizontal, the mean transit time of water in the saturated zone can be estimated from spring baseflow recession. This provides an independent estimate of groundwater transit time that can refine those obtained from tritium measurements. The approach is illustrated in a case study predicting atrazine concentration trend in a series of springs draining the fractured-rock aquifer known as the Luxembourg Sandstone. A transport model calibrated on tritium measurements alone predicted different times to trend reversal following the nationwide ban on atrazine in 2005 with different rates of decrease. For some of the springs, the actual time of trend reversal and the rate of change agreed extremely well with the model calibrated using both tritium measurements and the recession of spring discharge during the dry season. The agreement between predicted and observed values was however poorer for the springs displaying the most gentle recessions, possibly indicating a stronger influence of continuous groundwater recharge during the summer months.