Snow impact on groundwater recharge in Table Mountain Group aquifer systems with a case study of the Kommissiekraal River catchment South Africa

15 Nov 2013

Snowmelt in the mountainous areas of the Table Mountain Group (TMG) in South Africa is believed to be one of sources of groundwater recharge in some winter seasons. This paper provides a scientific assessment of snow impact on groundwater recharge in Table Mountain Group Aquifer Systems for the first time. Snowfall periodically occurs on the highest mountain ranges of about 1 000 to 1 200 m above mean sea level (a.m.s.l) in the TMG area. Snow over the mountainous catchments is often observed on the gentle side of the slope, which is substantially affected by wind and vegetation. Based on climatic analysis, recharge processes and Landsat 7 Enhanced Thematic Mapper (ETM) images, the recharge areas influenced by snowmelt in the TMG are identified as those catchments that are located above 1 000 m a.m.s.l. Physical processes within the snowpack are very complex involving mass and energy balances as well as heat and mass transport. Snowmelt rate was calculated using a variable degree-day melt factor determined as a function of snowpack density and vegetation cover. The hourly snowmelt rates estimated with different new snow density models. Groundwater recharge from snowmelt is affected by snowmelt mechanisms and local recharge conditions. The recharge rate is constrained by characteristics of the fractures rather than snowmelt rate. Recharge is also discounted due to prevailing interflow occurring in favourite geomorphological locations. This hypothesis is confirmed by an infiltration experiment in which up to 13.6% of the infiltrating water can recharge the aquifer.