Geomorphic Controls on Aquifer Geometry in Northwestern India
Monday, 15 December 2014
The Indo-Gangetic foreland basin suffers from one of the highest rates of groundwater extraction in the world, especially in the Indian states of Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan. To understand the effects of this extraction on ground water levels, we must first understand the geometry and sedimentary architecture of the aquifer system, which in turn depend upon its geomorphic setting. We use satellite images and digital elevation models to map the geomorphology of the Sutlej and Yamuna river systems, while aquifer geometry is assessed using ~250 wells that extend to ~300 m depth in Punjab and Haryana. The Sutlej and Yamuna rivers have deposited large sedimentary fans at their outlets. Elongate downslope ridges on the fan surfaces form distributary networks that radiate from the Sutlej and Yamuna fan apices, and we interpret these ridges as paleochannel deposits associated with discrete fan lobes. Paleochannels picked out by soil moisture variations illustrate a complex late Quaternary history of channel avulsion and incision, probably associated with variations in monsoon intensity. Aquifer bodies on the Sutlej and Yamuna fans have a median thickness of 7 and 6 m, respectively, and follow a heavy-tailed distribution, probably because of stacked sand bodies. The percentage of aquifer material in individual lithologs decreases downstream, although the exponent on the thickness distribution remains the same, indicating that aquifer bodies decrease in number down fan but do not thin appreciably. Critically, the interfan area between the Sutlej and Yamuna fans has thinner aquifers and a lower proportion of aquifer material, despite its proximal location. Our data show that the Sutlej and Yamuna fan systems form the major aquifer systems in this area, and that their geomorphic setting therefore provides a first-order control on aquifer distribution and geometry. The large spatial heterogeneity of the system must be considered in any future aquifer management scheme.