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Macropores as preferential flow paths in meander bends

Authors

  • Garrett T. Menichino,

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, VA, United States
    • Correspondence to: Garrett T. Menichino, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Virginia Tech, 200 Patton Hall, Blacksburg, VA 24061, United States.

      E-mail: gtm8w@vt.edu

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  • Adam S. Ward,

    1. Department of Geoscience, University of Iowa, Iowa City, IA, United States
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  • Erich T. Hester

    1. Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, VA, United States
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Abstract

Macropores are subsurface connected void spaces caused by processes such as fracture of soils, micro-erosion, and fauna burrows. They are common near streams (e.g. hyporheic and riparian zones) and may act as preferential flow paths between surface and groundwaters, affecting hydrologic and biogeochemical processes. We tested the hydrologic function of macropores by constructing an artificial macropore within the saturated zone of a meander bend (open macropore, ‘OM’) and later filling its upstream end (partially filled macropore, ‘PFM’). For each treatment, we injected saline tracer at an upgradient monitoring well within the meander and monitored downgradient hydraulics and tracer transport. Pressure transducers in monitoring wells indicated hydraulic gradients within the meander were 32% higher perpendicular to and 6% higher parallel to the macropore for the OM than for the PFM. Additionally, hydraulic conductivities measured via falling head tests were 29 to 550 times higher along the macropore than in nearby sediment. We used electrical conductivity probes in wells and electrical resistivity imaging to track solute transport. Transport velocities through the meander were on average 9 and 21% higher (per temporal moment analysis and observed tracer peak, respectively) for the OM than for the PFM. Furthermore, temporal moments of tracer breakthrough analysis indicated downgradient longitudinal dispersion and breakthrough tracer curve tailing were on average 234% and 182% higher for the OM, respectively. This suggests the OM enabled solute transport at overall shorter timescales than the matrix but also increased tailing. Our results demonstrate the importance of macropores to meander bend hydrology and solute transport. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

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