Unravelling geological controls on groundwater flow and surface water-groundwater interaction in mountain systems: A multi-disciplinary approach

Etienne Marti, Sarah Leray, Daniela Villela, José Maringue, Gonzalo Yáñez, Esteban Salazar, Fernando Poblete, José Jimenez, Gabriela Reyes, Guillermo Poblete, Zeidy Huamán, Ronny Figueroa, Jaime Araya Vargas, Jorge Sanhueza, Marjorie Muñoz, Reynaldo Charrier, Gabriel Fernández

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


Mountain water resources are considered to be the world's water towers. Still, despite their importance for downstream societies and ecosystems and their vulnerability to climate change, they remain poorly understood – It is the case in particular of mountain groundwater systems. Their complexity makes them difficult to conceptualize, while their remoteness makes them difficult to study, both observationally and instrumentally. Understanding mountain hydrogeological systems is mostly limited by the lack of characterization of the subsurface geologic framework and by the limited understanding of the role of geological structures on groundwater flow and on surface water-groundwater interaction. Removing methodological barriers is therefore a necessary step for improving the understanding of mountain hydrogeological systems. To tackle this problem, we develop a comprehensive multi-disciplinary approach to gain insights into the hydrogeological role of geological structures in ungauged mountain catchments. The methodology consists of several complementary methods: (1) geological mapping at multiple scales; (2) a geophysical study including on-ground Electrical Resistivity Tomography (ERT) and, gravimetry transects, and a UAV-based magnetic survey; (3) hydraulic data, including a 9 km long transect of streamflow measurements in the recession period, the long-term Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI), and varied hydric markers (e.g., a thermal spring and a puddle). The methodology is tested in the Parque Nacional del Río Clarillo, an ungauged catchment in the Andes Mountains (≈130 km2) that is illustrative of the complexity of mountain hydrosystems featuring fault zones, weathered zones, intrusive rocks, and volcano-sedimentary successions. An increase of approximately 50% in the streamflow is observed over a short distance of 1 km. Such a localized and significant increase in the baseflow is not related to any superficial supply and can only be explained by groundwater exfiltration. Based on the multiscale geological mapping and geophysical survey, a regional N-S fault and a secondary set of E-W local faults are identified in the vicinity of the resurgence area, which conjointly are likely to export groundwater from a neighbouring subcatchment up to the resurgence area. Downstream of the resurgence area, no significant change in the baseflow is observed, corresponding to the presence of an impermeable granitic pluton identified by the geological and geophysical mapping. Finally, a fractured zone in the Andean foothills is identified in the volcanic unit, which coincides with a perennial thermal spring, indicating upwelling flow and hydrogeological connectivity between the mountain block and the alluvial basin. The results strongly support the ability of the proposed methodology to identify geological structures that substantially impact the evolution of the baseflow through the catchment. The complementary multi-disciplinary methods are used innovatively to infer the link between geological and hydrogeological structures. The methodology does not aim to fully characterize the geological framework of the catchment but pragmatically focuses on hydrogeologically pertinent structures that may impact baseflow and consequently catchment management.

Original languageEnglish
Article number129786
JournalJournal of Hydrology
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2023


  • Fault zone
  • Groundwater-surface water interaction
  • Hydrogeophysics
  • Mountain aquifer
  • Structural geology
  • UAV-based magnetic

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Water Science and Technology


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