A novel approach for estimating karst groundwater recharge in mountainous regions and its application in Switzerland

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A pragmatic and simple approach for estimating the groundwater recharge of karst aquifers in mountainous regions by extrapolation of the hydrological regimes of gauged and well-documented systems is presented. Specific discharge rates are derived using annual precipitation and spring measurements by taking into account catchment size and elevation, which are assumed to be the dominant factors. Reference sites with high data reliability are used for calibration and regional extrapolation. This is performed with normalized values employing spatial precipitation deviations and correlation with the elevation of the catchment areas. A tiered step procedure provides minimum and maximum normalized gradients for the relationship between recharge quantity and elevation for karst regions. The normalized recharge can therefore be obtained and extrapolated for any location using the spatial precipitation variability to provide an estimate of annual groundwater recharge.


The approach was applied to Switzerland (approximately 7500 km2 of karst terrain situated between 200 and over 4000 m a.s.l.) using annual precipitation data from meteorological stations for the years 2000 to 2011. Results show that the average recharge rates of different Swiss karst domains range from 20 to 46 L/km2s, which corresponds to an infiltration ratio between 0.6 and 0.9 of total precipitation. Despite uncertainties inherent in the approach, these results provide a benchmark for renewable karst groundwater resources in Switzerland of about 8.4 km3/year. The approach can be applied to any other mountainous karst region, that is, where a clear relationship between elevation, precipitation and recharge can be assumed. Copyright © 2015 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

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