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  1. Abstract

    Groundwater transit time distributions (TTDs) describe the spectrum of flow‐weighted apparent ages of groundwater from aquifer recharge to discharge. Regional‐scale TTDs in stream baseflow are often estimated from numerical models with limited calibration from groundwater sampling and suggest much younger groundwater discharge than has been observed by discrete age‐dating techniques. We investigate both local and regional‐scale groundwater TTDs in the Upper Middle Loup watershed (5,440 km2) overlying the High Plains Aquifer in the Nebraska Sand Hills, USA. We determined flow‐weighted apparent ages of groundwater discharging through the streambed at 88 discrete points along a 99 km groundwater‐dominated stream segment using3H, noble gases,14C, and groundwater flux measurements at the point‐scale (<7.6 cm diameter). Points were organized in transects across the stream width (3–10 points per transect) and transects were clustered in five sampling areas (10–610 m in stream length) located at increasing distances along the stream. Groundwater apparent ages ranged from 0 to 8,200 years and the mean groundwater transit time along the 99 km stream is >3,000 years. TTDs from upstream sampling areas were best fit by distributions with a narrow range of apparent ages, but when older groundwater from downstream sampling areas is included, the regional TTD is scale dependent and the distribution is better described by a gamma model (α ≈ 0.4) which accommodates large fractions of millennial‐aged groundwater. Observations indicate: (a) TTDs can exhibit spatial variability within a watershed and (b) watersheds can discharge larger fractions of old groundwater (>1,000 years) than commonly assumed.

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  2. Abstract

    We utilized 251 measurements from a recently developed automated seepage meter (ASM) in streambeds in the Nebraska Sand Hills, USA to investigate the small‐scale spatial variability of groundwater seepage flux (q) and the ability of the ASM to estimate mean q at larger scales. Small‐scale spatial variability of q was analyzed in five dense arrays, each covering an area of 13.5–28.0 m2(169 total point measurements). Streambed vertical hydraulic conductivity (K) was also measured. Results provided: (a) high‐resolution contour plots of q and K, (b) anisotropic semi‐variograms demonstrating greater correlation scales of q and K along the stream length than across the stream width, and (c) the number of rows of points (perpendicular to streamflow) needed to represent the groundwater flux of areas up to 28.0 m2. The findings suggest that representative streambed measurements are best conducted perpendicular to streamflow to accommodate larger seepage flux heterogeneity in this direction and minimize sampling redundancy. To investigate the ASM's ability to produce accurate mean q at larger scales, seepage meters were deployed in four stream reaches (170–890 m), arranged in three to six transects (three to eight points each) per reach across the channel. In each reach, the mean seepage flux from ASMs was compared to the seepage flux from bromide tracer dilution. Agreement between the two methods indicates the viability of a modest number of seepage meter measurements to determine the overall groundwater flux to the stream and can guide sampling for solutes and environmental tracers.

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  3. Abstract

    We describe a new automatic seepage meter for use in soft bottom streams and lakes. The meter utilizes a thin‐walled tube that is inserted into the streambed or lakebed. A hole in the side of the tube is fitted with an electric valve. Prior to the test, the valve is open and the water level inside the tube is the same as the water level outside the tube. The test starts with closure of the valve, and the water level inside the tube changes as it moves toward the equilibrium hydraulic head that exists at the bottom of the tube. The time rate of change of the water level immediately after the valve closes is a direct measure of the seepage rate (q). The meter utilizes a precision linear actuator and a conductance circuit to sense the water level to a precision of about ±0.1 mm. The meter can also provide an estimate of vertical hydraulic conductivity (Kv) if data are collected for a characteristic time. The detection limit forqdepends on the vertical hydraulic head gradient. ForKv = 1 m/day,qof about 2 mm/day can be measured. Results from a laboratory sand tank show excellent agreement between measured and trueq, and results from a field site are similar to values from calculations based on independent measurements ofKvand vertical head gradients. The meter can provide rapid (30 min)qmeasurements for both gaining and losing systems and complements other methods for quantifying surface water groundwater interactions.

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