Functioning of a Karst Aquifer from S Spain Under Highly Variable Climate Conditions, Deduced from Hydrochemical Records

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Environmental Earth Sciences


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Over a period of three hydrological years during which precipitation was highly variable, measurements of discharge, electrical conductivity, temperature and chemical components of the water at the Cañamero spring (southern Spain) were taken in order to characterise the hydrogeological functioning of the karst aquifer that it drains. The results obtained from analysis of the frequency distribution of electrical conductivity data revealed histograms with a plurimodal morphology (up to 5 modes) and a range of variation that increased with greater pluviometry during the study period. The discharge from this spring increased sharply a few days after major rainfall episodes and, when the discharge reached a value of approximately 3.73 m3/s, an overflow spring started to function. During high-water periods, there were sudden and large falls in EC, temperature and all the chemical components dissolved in the water. This high variability reflects the predominance of groundwater flow through karst drains, a typical feature of conduit flow systems. The considerable hydrochemical heterogeneity observed is caused by the mobilisation of important volumes of recharge waters from shallow areas of the aquifer (soil, epikarst) towards the discharge point, with greater participation of the unsaturated zone during high-water conditions, and a more active role played by the saturated zone during low-water conditions. In karst systems such as the one drained by the Cañamero spring, it is important to monitor several responses (hydrodynamic, hydrothermal, hydrochemical, etc.), with an appropriate sampling frequency and under different hydrometeorological conditions, in order to achieve an adequate hydrological characterisation. This is fundamental for planning, management and protection of groundwater in karst aquifers.


Hydrogeology, Hydrochemistry, Karst aquifer, Hydrochemical heterogeneity, South Spain

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