Groundwater seepage controls salinity in a hydrologically terminal basin of semi-arid northwest Australia

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    © 2016 Elsevier B.V.
    Very small groundwater outflows have the potential to significantly impact the hydrochemistry and salt accumulation processes of notionally terminal basins in arid environments. However, this limited groundwater outflow can be very difficult to quantify using classical water budget calculations due to large uncertainties in estimates of evaporation and evapotranspiration rates from the surface of dry lake beds. In this study, we used a dimensionless time evaporation model to estimate the range of groundwater outflow required to maintain salinity levels observed at the Fortescue Marsh (FM), one of the largest wetlands of semi-arid northwest Australia (~1100 km2). The groundwater outflow from aquifers underlying the FM to the Lower Fortescue catchment is constrained by an extremely low hydraulic gradient of 300 g/L) after ~45 ka. We calculated that only a very small seepage of ~2G L/yr (~0.03% of the FM water volume) is sufficient to maintain current salinity conditions. The minimum time required to develop the current hydrochemical groundwater composition under the FM ranges from ~60 to ~165 ka. We conclude that a dimensionless time evaporation model versus inflow over outflow ratio model is likely more suitable than classical water budget calculations for determining outflow from large saline lakes and to estimate groundwater seepage from hydrologically terminal basins.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)627-636
    Number of pages10
    JournalJournal of Hydrology
    Early online date14 Sept 2016
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2016


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