Aquifer response to surface water transience in disconnected streams

Margaret Shanafield, Peter G. Cook, Philip Brunner, James McCallum, Craig T. Simmons

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Citations (Scopus)


Existing analytical solutions to determine aquifer response to a change in stream stage are inappropriate where an unsaturated zone exists beneath the stream, as in the case of disconnected stream-aquifer systems. A better understanding of the relationship between aquifer response and transient stream stage in disconnected systems is therefore required, as this would also aid in the field determination of the status of connection between the stream and aquifer. We use a numerical model to examine transient stream stage and the corresponding water table response. Beneath disconnected streams, the magnitude of head change in the water table level is a balance between the cumulative infiltration during a flow event and the rate at which the water can disperse laterally. Increases in wave duration, stream width, and streambed permeability result in greater infiltrated water volume and therefore a higher peak response at the water table. Conversely, higher aquifer transmissivity and aquifer hydraulic conductivity allow the water to move laterally away from the stream faster, resulting in a smaller head change below the stream. Lower unsaturated storage results in a greater and faster aquifer response because the unsaturated zone can fill more quickly. Under some combinations of parameters, the magnitude of the disconnected head response is more than seven times greater than the change in stream stage driving streambed infiltration; an effect which can never occur beneath a connected stream. The results of this sensitivity analysis are compared to field data from a river in eastern Australia to determine periods of disconnection. Where the change in aquifer head is greater than the change in stream stage, disconnection between the stream and aquifer can be determined.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberW11510
JournalWater Resources Research
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - 26 Nov 2012
Externally publishedYes


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