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01.09.2014 | Thematic Issue | Ausgabe 5/2014 Open Access

Environmental Earth Sciences 5/2014

Threshold behavior of karst aquifers: the example of the Lurbach karst system (Austria)

Zeitschrift:
Environmental Earth Sciences > Ausgabe 5/2014
Autoren:
S. Birk, T. Wagner, C. Mayaud

Abstract

Threshold behavior in hydrological systems generally involves a qualitative change of a single process, the system response or the functioning of the system. Different types of thresholds and their underlying controls are examined using the example of the Lurbach karst system (Austria). This karst system receives allogenic recharge from the sinking stream Lurbach, which under low-flow conditions only resurges at the Hammerbach spring. Yet, under medium- to high-flow conditions an overflow toward another spring, the Schmelzbach outlet occurs. Thresholds in physicochemical spring responses and their underlying controls are identified from the analysis of heat and solute transport processes in karst conduits. Applying this concept to the Hammerbach spring suggests that the threshold controlling the response of the spring water temperature was changed in the time period from 2006 to 2009 relative to the years before. At the same time, changes are observed in the behavior of the spring hydrograph and the discharge threshold at which the overflow to the Schmelzbach system is activated. All of these observations can be consistently explained by a decreased diameter of the conduit pathways within the indicated time period, presumably caused by the redistribution of sediments due to a flood event in 2005. Thus, thresholds in the physicochemical spring response were successfully employed to support the identification of a change in the functioning of the Lurbach karst system, which occurred possibly because a threshold related to the sediment transport within the karst conduits was crossed.

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