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Impact of transient groundwater storage on the discharge of Himalayan rivers



In the course of the transfer of precipitation into rivers, water is temporarily stored in reservoirs with different residence times1,2 such as soils, groundwater, snow and glaciers. In the central Himalaya, the water budget is thought to be primarily controlled by monsoon rainfall, snow and glacier melt3,4, and secondarily by evapotranspiration3. An additional contribution from deep groundwater5,6,7 has been deduced from the chemistry of Himalayan rivers6, but its importance in the annual water budget remains to be evaluated. Here we analyse records of daily precipitation and discharge within twelve catchments in Nepal over about 30 years. We observe annual hysteresis loops—that is, a time lag between precipitation and discharge—in both glaciated and unglaciated catchments and independent of the geological setting. We infer that water is stored temporarily in a reservoir with characteristic response time of about 45 days, suggesting a diffusivity typical of fractured basement aquifers8. We estimate this transient storage capacity at about 28 km3 for the three main Nepal catchments; snow and glacier melt contribute around 14 km3 yr−1, about 10% of the annual river discharge. We conclude that groundwater storage in a fractured basement influences significantly the Himalayan river discharge cycle.

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Figure 1: Hydrological setting of the Nepal Himalayas.
Figure 2: Precipitation–discharge (PQ) anticlockwise hysteresis plot.
Figure 3: 10-year (1997–2006) temporal variability of several hydrological compartments, Narayani basin.


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C.A. benefited from a three-year PhD scholarship awarded by the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD, D/08/42538) and from the double PhD program of the French–German University Saarbrücken (DFH/UFA). The authors would like to thank K. P. Sharma and his team from the Department of Hydrology and Meteorology of Nepal (DHM) for providing hydrological data and M. Dhakal from ICIMOD Nepal for sharing their additional information on dug-well measurements.

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C.A. acquired and analysed the data. L.L. and C.A. performed the hydrological modelling. All authors discussed the results and wrote the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Christoff Andermann.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Andermann, C., Longuevergne, L., Bonnet, S. et al. Impact of transient groundwater storage on the discharge of Himalayan rivers. Nature Geosci 5, 127–132 (2012).

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