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Geologic and hydrologic settings for development of freshwater lenses in arid lands



Satellite observations were used to test the validity of previously identified favourable conditions for the formation of freshwater lenses, identify additional potential occurrences, and model modern potential recharge in the Raudhatain Watershed (3696) in northern Kuwait. Favourable conditions include infrequent yet intensive precipitation events, drainage depressions to collect the limited runoff, and presence of conditions (e.g. high infiltration capacity) that promote groundwater recharge and preservation (e.g. underlying saline aquifer) of infiltrating groundwater as freshwater lenses floating over saline aquifer water due to differences in density. Specifically, the following field and satellite-based observations were noted for the Raudhatain Watershed: (1) Over ~30 precipitation events were identified from the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission precipitation data (1998–2009); (2) slope is gentle (2 m/km), and the surface is largely (80%) covered by alluvial deposits with high infiltration capacities (up to 9 m/day); (3) no flows and long-term ponding were reported at the watershed outlet or detected from Landsat thematic mapper images; (4) infiltration is high based on increases in soil moisture content (from an advanced microwave scanning radiometer) and vegetation index following large precipitation events; and (5) freshwater lenses that overlie highly saline [total dissolved solids (TDS): >35 000] unconfined aquifers underlying the watershed are absent in the southern regions, where infiltrating fresh water mixes with the less saline groundwater (TDS: <10 000). Twenty potential locations (size: 1 to 75 km2) for freshwater lens development were identified in northern Kuwait, and continuous rainfall–runoff models (Soil Water and Assessment Tool) were applied to provide a first-order estimation of the average annual recharge in the watershed (127 × 106 m3) and freshwater lenses (8.17 × 106 m3). Results demonstrate the settings for enhanced opportunities for groundwater recharge, outline the amounts of and preservation conditions for the groundwater feeding the freshwater lenses, and highlight potential applications and locations of freshwater lenses in similar settings elsewhere in the Arabian Peninsula and beyond. Copyright © 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.