Distinguishing and estimating recharge to karst springs in snow and glacier dominated mountainous basins of the western Himalaya, India
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Recharge assessment is a challenge in snow and glacier dominated Himalayan basins. Quantification of recharge to karst springs in these complex geological environments is important both for hydrologic understanding and for effective water resource management. We used spring hydrographs and environmental tracers (isotopes and solutes) to distinguish and estimate the sources of spring water and to identify the flow paths of the recharging waters in three mountainous basins of the western Himalaya. The karst springs are perennial with high discharge amplitudes. The results indicate that ambient temperature has a strong influence on the hydrological behavior of the springs. Although the spring flow is dominantly controlled by the melting of snow and/or glaciers, rain events produce sharp spikes in spring hydrographs. The facies patterns in springs within the Bringi basin (Ca-HCO 3 ) and the Liddar basin (Ca-HCO 3 and Ca-Mg-HCO 3 ) suggest flow dominantly through limestone and dolomite. Higher concentrations of SO 4 2âˆ’ and Na + in warm springs of the Kuthar basin indicate flow through carbonate, silicate and other rocks. The isotopic composition (Î´ 18 O, Î´ 2 H) of precipitation, snowpacks, glacier melt and karst springs show wide variation both in space and time, and are strongly influenced by the basin relief and meteorology. The tracer-based two- and three-component mixing models suggest that the snowmelt dominantly contributes to the spring flow (55â€“96%), followed by glacier melt (5â€“36%) and rain (4â€“34%). Based on tracer tests with good recovery rates, springs are dominantly recharged through point sources rather than by diffuse infiltration. Changes in the timing, form, and amount of winter precipitation substantially affect the timing and magnitude of spring discharge during the rest of the year.
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