Seasonality of Groundwater Recharge in the Basin and Range Province, Western North America
AuthorNeff, Kirstin Lynn
Normalized difference vegetation index
Normalized seasonal wetness index
Stable water isotopes
Basin and Range
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PublisherThe University of Arizona.
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AbstractAlluvial groundwater systems are an important source of water for communities and biodiverse riparian corridors throughout the arid and semi-arid Basin and Range Geological Province of western North America. These aquifers and their attendant desert streams have been depleted to support a growing population, while projected climate change could lead to more extreme episodes of drought and precipitation in the future. The only source of replenishment to these aquifers is recharge. This dissertation builds upon previous work to characterize and quantify recharge in arid and semi-arid basins by characterizing the intra-annual seasonality of recharge across the Basin and Range Province, and considering how climate change might impact recharge seasonality and volume, as well as fragile riparian corridors that depend on these hydrologic processes. First, the seasonality of recharge in a basin in the sparsely-studied southern extent of the Basin and Range Province is determined using stable water isotopes of seasonal precipitation and groundwater, and geochemical signatures of groundwater and surface water. In northwestern Mexico in the southern reaches of the Basin and Range, recharge is dominated by winter precipitation (69% ± 42%) and occurs primarily in the uplands. Second, isotopically-based estimates of seasonal recharge fractions in basins across the region are compared to identify patterns in recharge seasonality, and used to evaluate a simple water budget-based model for estimating recharge seasonality, the normalized seasonal wetness index (NSWI). Winter precipitation makes up the majority of annual recharge throughout the region, and North American Monsoon (NAM) precipitation has a disproportionately weak impact on recharge. The NSWI does well in estimating recharge seasonality for basins in the northern Basin and Range, but less so in basins that experience NAM precipitation. Third, the seasonal variation in riparian and non-riparian vegetation greenness, represented by the normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI), is characterized in several of the study basins and climatic and hydrologic controls are identified. Temperature was the most significant driver of vegetation greenness, but precipitation and recharge seasonality played a significant role in some basins at some elevations. Major contributions of this work include a better understanding of recharge in a monsoon-dominated basin, the characterization of recharge seasonality at a regional scale, evaluation of an estimation method for recharge seasonality, and an interpretation of the interaction of seasonal hydrologic processes, vegetation dynamics, and climate change.
Degree ProgramGraduate College