Streambed flux measurement informed by distributed temperature sensing leads to a significantly different characterization of groundwater discharge

Troy E. Gilmore, Mason Johnson, Jesse Korus, Aaron Mittelstet, Marty A. Briggs, Vitaly Zlotnik, Sydney Corcoran

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Groundwater discharge though streambeds is often focused toward discrete zones, indicating that preliminary reconnaissance may be useful for capturing the full spectrum of groundwater discharge rates using point-scale quantitative methods. However, many direct-contact reconnaissance techniques can be time-consuming, and remote sensing (e.g., thermal infrared) typically does not penetrate the water column to locate submerged seepages. In this study, we tested whether dozens of groundwater discharge measurements made at "uninformed" (i.e., selected without knowledge on high-resolution temperature variations at the streambed) point locations along a reach would yield significantly different Darcy-based groundwater discharge rates when compared with "informed" measurements, focused at streambed thermal anomalies that were identified a priori using fiber-optic distributed temperature sensing (FO-DTS). A non-parametric U-test showed a significant difference between median discharge rates for uninformed (0.05 m·day-1; n = 30) and informed (0.17 m·day-1; n = 20) measurement locations. Mean values followed a similar pattern (0.12 versus 0.27 m·day-1), and frequency distributions for uninformed and informed measurements were also significantly different based on a Kolmogorov-Smirnov test. Results suggest that even using a quick "snapshot-in-time" field analysis of FO-DTS data can be useful in streambeds with groundwater discharge rates <0.2 m·day-1, a lower threshold than proposed in a previous study. Collectively, study results highlight that FO-DTS is a powerful technique for identifying higher-discharge zones in streambeds, but the pros and cons of informed and uninformed sampling depend in part on groundwater/surface water exchange study goals. For example, studies focused on measuring representative groundwater and solute fluxes may be biased if high-discharge locations are preferentially sampled. However, identification of high-discharge locations may complement more randomized sampling plans and lead to improvements in interpolating streambed fluxes and upscaling point measurements to the stream reach scale.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number2312
JournalWater (Switzerland)
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 1 2019


  • Distributed-temperature sensing
  • Groundwater discharge
  • Groundwater-surface water interaction
  • Hyporheic zone

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Water Science and Technology
  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Aquatic Science
  • Biochemistry


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