Drip flow variations under a stalactite of the Père Noël cave (Belgium). Evidence of seasonal variations and air pressure constraints


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January 1998


The study of drip rate and seepage water electrical conductivity (hereafter called conductivity) under one stalactite in the Père Noël cave (Belgium), with data produced from an automatic station since 1991, demonstrates several previously unobserved features: (1) measurement of drop volume shows that, for 94% of the time series, drop volume is constant (=0.14 ml), but when discharge exceeds 48.2 drips min−1, drop volume decreases, probably because of secondary drop formation; (2) the interannual drip rate variation is correlated to the annual water excess and its correlant, rainfall (R2=0.98; exponential model); this result introduces a new improvement in the understanding of the previously investigated relationships between stalagmite annual laminae thickness and mean annual rainfall; (3) the drip rate shows a well marked seasonality: it increases abruptly in late fall or early winter and decreases slowly during spring, summer and fall. Increased discharge is accompanied by an increase in conductivity, which suggests that the flushed water is more mineralized and was stored in the karst aquifer for several months; (4) superimposed on these seasonal variations, there are two kinds of flow regimes which are driven by the atmospheric pressure: (i) a “wiggles regime”, whose duration is 1–7 days in length and which is inversely proportional to the air pressure wiggles; it is explained by either a “shut-off faucet” process due to the rock formation stress, or to a change in the two-phases flow component proportions (air/water); (ii) an “unstable regime” characterized by abrupt switches (<2 h) or oscillations with variable periodicities, from a few minutes to a few hours. These occur when the drip rate reaches a threshold (i.e. 240 drops 10 min−1); the chaotic behaviour of this phenomenon is discussed.


Stalactite, Karst Hydrology, Seasonal Variations, Speleothem

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Journal of Hydrology, Vol. 211, no. 1-4 (1998).