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Groundwater Circulation Within the Mountain Block: Combining Flow and Transport Models With Magnetotelluric Observations to Untangle Its Nested Nature

Publication Type
Journal Name
Water Resources Research
Publication Date
Page Numbers
1 to 25

Mountains are vital water sources for humans and ecosystems, continuously replenishing lowland aquifers through surface runoff and mountain recharge. Quantifying these fluxes and their relative importance is essential for sustainable water resource management. However, our mechanistic understanding of the flow and transport processes determining the connection between the mountain block and the basin aquifer remains limited. Traditional conceptualizations assume groundwater circulation within the mountain block is predominantly shallow. This view neglects the role of deep groundwater flowpaths significantly contributing to the water, solute, and energy budgets. Overcoming these limitations requires a holistic characterization of the multiscale nature of groundwater flow along the mountain-to-valley continuum. As a proof-of-concept, we use a coupled groundwater flow and transport model to design a series of numerical experiments that explore the role of geology, topography, and weathering rates in groundwater circulation and their resulting resistivity patterns. Our results show that accumulating solutes near stagnation zones create contrasting electrical resistivity patterns that separate local, intermediate, and regional flow cells, presenting a target for magnetotelluric observations. To demonstrate the sensitivity of magnetotelluric data to features in our resistivity models, we use the MARE2DEM electromagnetic modeling code to perform forward and inverse simulations. This study highlights the potential of magnetotelluric surveys to image the resistivity structure resulting from multiscale groundwater circulation through relatively impervious crystalline basement rocks in mountainous terrains. This capability could change our understanding of the critical zone, offering a holistic perspective that includes deep groundwater circulation and its role in conveying solutes and energy.