You are on page 1of 8

Groundwater–Surface Water Interaction: Process Understanding, Conceptualization and Modelling 189

(Proceedings of Symposium HS1002 at IUGG2007, Perugia, July 2007). IAHS Publ. 321, 2008.

Surface water–groundwater interactions in a Yellow River

alluvial fan


1 Graduate School of Science and Technology, Chiba University, Chiba 263-8522, Japan
2 Faculty of Horticulture, Chiba University, Chiba 271-8510, Japan
3 Institute of Resources & Environment, Henan Polytechnic University, Jiaozuo 454000, China
4 Center for Agricultural Resources Research, Institute of Genetics and Developmental Biology,
Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), Shijiazhuang, 050021, China

Abstract To better understand the interactions between surface water and groundwater in a semi-arid
alluvial fan and to provide information for the effective management of the limited water resources, a
Yellow River alluvial fan was selected for a detailed study in March 2006. The compositions of stable
isotopes of water (δ18O and δD) show that the alluvial aquifer near the canal-bank feeds the canal and
contributes to the increase in TDS values along the canal. The data suggest that the shallow groundwater is
recharged by both precipitation and the Yellow River water in the canal by irrigation, and imply a complex
relationship between surface water and groundwater. The hydrochemical and isotopic signatures indicate
that the local shallow groundwater system is affected by irrigation inputs which use water from the Yellow
River. Furthermore, the shallow groundwater discharges into the canal through the freshening aquifer. The
influence of these waters increases progressively from the upper reaches of canal to the lower reaches. It
contributes considerably to the variations in the chemical composition of the local, shallow groundwater
system of the alluvial fan where water types range from Na-SO4 to Na-Ca-HCO3-SO4, and to Ca-Na-HCO3.
Key words surface water –groundwater interactions; alluvial fan; hydrochemistry and environmental isotopes

The interactions between groundwater and surface water are important for the effective
management of the limited groundwater resources. In recent years, groundwater and surface water
interactions have been extensively studied on headwater streams, lakes (Krabbenhoft et al., 1990;
Shaw & Prepas, 1990), rivers (Woessner, 2000; Lambs, 2004), wetlands (Woods et al., 2006),
riparian (Schilling et al., 2006), estuaries (Langevin et al., 2005), etc. Winter (1995) and
Sophocleous (2002) provided excellent reviews on these studies. However, few studies have paid
attention to the interactions between surface water and groundwater in semi-arid environments
(Lamontagne et al., 2005). Recently, groundwater in alluvial fans has generated more and more
interest amongst scientists as such aquifers are more vulnerable to contamination (Négrel et al.,
2003; Matter et al., 2006).
Since the late Pleistocene, a large number of palaeochannels have been formed on the North
China Plain as a result of the frequent route change of the Yellow River (Wu et al., 1996) (Fig. 1).
On the north side of the Yellow River, the alluvial plain is underlain by an intensive palaeochannel
system which runs NE or NNE and extends from the bank of the Yellow River to Xinxiang,
Neihuang, Xiajin, Dezhou, and the Bohai Sea (Fig. 1). The particle size of the deposits is smaller
than those of the other stage palaeochannels located at the piedmont alluvial fan and the sand layer
is thinner (3–5 m) (Wu et al., 1996).
The objectives of this study are to acquire insight information of the interactions between
groundwater–surface water in the Yellow River alluvial fan in the semi-arid and semi-humid
environment, and to evaluate the spatial distributions of groundwater chemistry as well as its
evolution in the study area.

The study area is located at Xinxiang city which is located 80 km north of Zhengzhou, China, and
bounded by the Weihe River to the north (Fig. 1). The climate is warm and monsoonal and annual
Copyright © 2008 IAHS Press
190 Fadong Li et al.

Fig. 1 Location of study area and the sampling sites of surface water and groundwater shown in the
inset. The regional groundwater flow direction is indicated by arrows.

rainfall ranges from 335 mm to 1168 mm, with an average of 573 mm (1951–2003). Characterized
by large temporal and spatial variations, more than 2/3 of annual rainfall occurs between July to
September. The contribution of snow to annual precipitation is negligible. The highest potential
evaporation, with an average of 1928 mm/year, is observed from May to June. The annual mean
temperature is 14°C, with maximum temperatures in June (27°C) and the minimum temperatures
in January (2.1°C). The topography is relatively flat with elevation from 77 to 70 m a.m.s.l.
In the 1960s, artificial canals, such as the Communistic Canal and the People’s Victory (PV)
Canal (Fig. 1), were constructed in the study area to meet the demands of developments in
agriculture and industry. The canals redirect water from the Yellow River to be used for
agricultural irrigation.
The Weihe River originates from the Taihang Mountains and flows across the centre of
Xinxiang. There is only one groundwater layer throughout the shallow aquifer. In general, the
shallow aquifer is characterized by freshwater overlaying older saline water. At about 25 ka BP,
Surface water–groundwater interactions in a Yellow River alluvial fan 191

the study area was controlled by marine sedimentation (Pan, 2006). A great deal of wastewater
drained from the increasing number of local factories over the past 30 years. Furthermore, consid-
erable amounts of (NH4)2SO4, the highest yielding of all nitrogen fertilizers during the 1980s in
China, was applied to boost the agricultural products. As a result, the shallow groundwaters are
affected by salinization and high sulphate levels. In 1984, for example, concentrations of SO4
varied from 200 to 600 mg/L in the study area (HGMRPDB & XWSO, 1987). Characteristic water
types in these shallow aquifers include Ca-Mg-HCO3-SO4 or Na-Ca-HCO3-SO4 type waters. From
1972 to 2003, the groundwater levels in the area decreased at a rate of 0.5 m/year.

Forty-five groundwater samples and 11 surface water samples were collected from private, factory
and observation wells in March 2006 (Fig. 1). Groundwater was pumped for five minutes prior to
sampling. Surface water was collected directly from the canal. Water table and well depths were
measured on site and prior to sampling using calibrated plastic tape. Electrical conductivity (EC) and
pH were measured by portable pH and EC meters (Compact meter, Horiba, Japan) on site.
Bicarbonate (as mg/ L of HCO3-) was measured by titration using 0.01 N H2SO4. All samples were
filtered through 0.45 μm cellulose acetate Millipore filter membranes before being analysed by ion
chromatography (Shimadzu, Japan). The analysis included major ions (Na+, K+, Ca2+, Mg2+, Cl-,
SO42-, NO3-) and the charge-balances error for each sample was within 5%. The total dissolved solid
(TDS) concentrations were calculated as the sum of major ions. All samples were analysed in the
Chiba University laboratories. In addition, three data sets (Feng & He, 1987; Zhang et al., 1995;
Chen et al., 2003) are cited within this study, including hydrochemistry and environmental tracers.
These samples were collected at Huayuankou near the division gate of the PV canal (Fig. 1).
The isotopic compositions of oxygen (18O) and deuterium (2H or D) were measured by mass
spectrometer (Delta-S, Theomoqt) at Chiba University. All samples were prepared by a modified
H2O-CO2 equilibration method (Epstein & Mayeda, 1953) and zinc-reduction method (Coleman et
al., 1982), respectively. Results of 18O and D were expressed in per mil unit as δ-notation relative
to Vienna Standard Mean Ocean Water (VSMOW) standard. The precisions for δ18O and δD were
0.1‰ and 1‰, respectively.


Hydrochemistry of surface water along flow direction
Figure 2 illustrates the variations in hydrochemistry of the surface water along flow, its direction
(S–N) in the form of a Durov diagram – an alternative to the commonly-used Piper diagram. In the
diagram, the concentrations of total cations and total anions are standardized to give proportions or
relative concentrations (rather than absolute concentrations) and plotted in ternary diagrams. The
data points are then projected onto a square grid. This gives more detailed hydrochemistry
information concerning water type, TDS and pH values of the individual samples. In all three
canals (West canal, PV canal, and East canal), TDS values increase in a downstream direction
towards the lower reaches. From 1960 to 2000 the Yellow River has displayed little water
chemistry variation and the dominant water type is Ca-HCO3 (Chen et al., 2003). Therefore, this is
considered as the background hydrochemical surface water composition for the past 40 years.
However, concentrations of SO4 and Cl significantly increase along the 46 km-long canal. In the
West canal, from sampling site 103 to 102, and 101, TDS increases from 0.85 to 1.16 and 1.37 g/L.
At the same time, the water type changes from Ca-Mg-HCO3-SO4 at 103 to Na-Mg-SO4 at 102 and
101 (Fig. 2(a)). In the PV canal, similar trends in hydrochemical concentrations were observed
between sampling sites 104 to 106, where the water types varied between Ca-Na-SO4-HCO3, Na-
Ca-SO4-HCO3, to Na-Ca-SO4. Figure 2(b) also shows that the proportion of Ca and HCO3 in the
canal water decreases whereas that of SO4 increases.
192 Fadong Li et al.




Fig. 2 Durov diagram including hydrochemistry, pH, and TDS in the Yellow River water (solid square),
surface water (open square), and groundwater (circle) for: (a) West canal, (b) PV canal, and (c) East canal.

In the East canal, site 93 was sampled from a non-flowing canal. The high concentrations of
NO3 indicate that anthropogenic inputs are important. Water types in this canal vary from Na-Ca-
HCO3-SO4 at site 93 to Na-HCO3 at site 119, and Na-SO4 at site 118 (Fig. 2(c)).
In general, the hydrochemical trends in surface water composition suggest that groundwater
discharge into the canals occurs in spring when the main crop, winter wheat, has not recovered the
Surface water–groundwater interactions in a Yellow River alluvial fan 193

growth after winter, and the groundwater levels are usually similar or higher than canal water
levels (Pan, 2006).

Environmental isotope evidences of surface water–groundwater interactions

The compositions of stable isotopes (18O and D) in water can vary due to evaporation, mixing with
water from different sources, as well as due to variations in the isotopic composition of
precipitation. The δ18O and δD values in groundwater and surface water can be used to identify
their interactions (e.g. Négrel et al., 2003). The δ18O and δD signature of the groundwaters and
surface waters in the study area are displayed in Fig. 3. It can be seen that most of the points are
distributed along or near the Local Meteoric Water Line (LMWL), which is based on the GNIP
Database (IAEA/WMO, 2004). The station is Zhengzhou is 80 km south of Xinxiang. This
suggests that precipitation is a main source of surface water in the study area. For the
groundwaters, the points which are on or under the regression curve (or evaporation line) suggest
that evaporation has lowered δD in the surface water prior to infiltration into groundwater.
Zhang et al. (1995) reported that the δ18O value of the Yellow River at Huayuankou was
–9.11‰ during the dry season. Su et al. (2004) determined stable isotope values for the same
station and reported δ18O values of –8.3‰ and –9.3‰ and δD values of –63‰ and –67‰ during
the rainy and the dry season in 2000, respectively. In the study area, the mean values of δ18O are
–8.74‰ in the surface water and –8.34‰ in the groundwaters. Mean values of δD in these waters
are –63.36‰ and –61.34‰, respectively. The slightly higher isotopic values to the right of the
LMWL suggest that the groundwater is partly recharged by evaporated precipitation (mainly in the
rainy season from July to September). The isotopic signature of these precipitation inputs δ18O can
be enriched from lower than –9‰ to higher than –8.5‰. Figure 3 also suggests that groundwater
discharges into the canal, as seen by the decrease in isotopic values in the surface water from
approx. –9‰ to –8.7‰ or higher.

Hydrochemical evidence of surface water–groundwater interactions

The TDS values in the three canals are presented in Fig. 2. From the upper to the lower reaches of
the canals, the TDS values increase gradually. This suggests inputs of high conductivity
groundwater into the canal. At the same time, aquifer freshening is observed in the groundwater,
probably due to surface water infiltration, which results in the variation of hydrochemistry from
Na-SO4 (background water type in the study area controlled by sediment mineralogy) to Ca-Na-
HCO3-SO4 (Fig. 4). Hence, it appears that the Yellow River water provides, to some extent, a
source of shallow groundwater recharge to the alluvial aquifer, especially during the crop growing
and slight rain period (from March to June).

δ O(per mil)
-12 -10 -8 -6 -4
LMWL -30
δD = 5.1789δ O - 18.022
δD(per mil)

R2 = 0.6712 -40



Fig. 3 Correlation between δ18O and δD in the groundwater (solid circle, solid line) and the surface
water (squares). Regression equation and correlation coefficient (R) are given for the groundwater. The
dashed line represents the Local Meteoric Water Line (LMWL).
194 Fadong Li et al.

Fig. 4 Piper diagram of groundwater (circle), surface water (open square), and the Yellow River water
(solid square).

Na( mg/ L)


Fr om Huayuankou t o I nl and of St udy Ar ea

Fig. 5 Variations in Na concentrations in the groundwaters (open circle) and surface water (solid circle)
along the PV canal.

Figure 5 show the variations in Na concentration in the Yellow River compared to

groundwater and surface water in the study area. The concentrations in the surface water show
little variation along the PV canal. However, Na concentrations in the groundwater increase
gradually from site 75 to 69. The data from 20 years ago indicate that Na concentrations were
relatively homogeneous from site 75 to 56 along the canal (HGMRPDB & XWSO, 1987). We
assume that the Na concentration at site 69 presents the natural background, which is not
influenced by the surface water in the canal, with respect to irrigation. In contrast, the decreases in
groundwater Na at sites 73, 74, and 75 compared to the background value are attributed to the
canal irrigation and consequent aquifer freshening. Moreover, Na is also transported out of the
study area with the drainage. Consequently, the local shallow groundwaters in the upper reaches,
such as at site 75, have lower Na concentrations than those of the lower reaches (site 69).
Furthermore, groundwaters at sites 64, 56, and 57 may also be impacted by the interaction
with/infiltrations from the Weihe River in the north of study area resulting in aquifer freshening.
Surface water–groundwater interactions in a Yellow River alluvial fan 195

Fig. 6 Conceptual diagram of surface water–groundwater interactions.

The hydrochemistry and environmental isotope data indicate that 45-year irrigation with canal
water from the Yellow River has resulted in freshening of the shallow groundwater aquifer in the
study area. It was found that surface water infiltration of irrigation water as well as recharge from
evaporated precipitation into the aquifer cause the water type of local shallow groundwater to
evolve from Na-SO4 type (natural background) to Na-Ca-HCO3-SO4-type and Ca-Na-HCO3-type.
At the same time, major ions in the surface water increase downstream suggesting that shallow
groundwater discharges into the canals, especially during spring. A conceptual model of the
observed interactions is illustrated in Fig. 6.
Assuming that the transferred water and the water in the PV canal have similar physical and
chemical properties, the freshening front in the shallow groundwater can be estimated to advance
at a rate of 200 m/year. This means that it will take, at least, another 45 years to change the
groundwater composition in the entire study area from Na-SO4 water type to Ca-Na-HCO3 water

Acknowledgements This work has been supported by the Grant-in-Aid for Scientific Research of
the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (19310004). We are very grateful to the
anonymous reviewers’ comments, which greatly improved the manuscript.

Chen, J., He, D. & Cui, S. (2003) The response of river water quality and quantity to the development of irrigated agriculture in
the last 4 decades in the Yellow River Basin, China. Water Resour. Res. 39(3), 1047, doi:1010.1029/2001WR001234.
Coleman, M. L., Shepherd, T. J., Durham, J. J., Rouse, J. E. & Moore, G. R. (1982) Reduction of water with zinc for hydrogen
isotope analysis. Analytical Chemistry 54(6), 993–995.
Epstein, S. & Mayeda, T. (1953) Variation of 18O content of waters from natural sources. Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta
4(5), 213–224.
Feng, Y. & He, C.-C. (1987) Study of the relationship between storm rainfall and flood based on analysis of the “83. 7” flood at
Ankang in the Han River basin. J. Hydrol. 96(1–4), 355–363.
HGMRPDB & XWSO (1987) Evaluation of shallow groundwater in Xinxiang and its prediction, Henan Geology and Mineral
Resources Prospecting and Developing Bureau. Xinxiang Water-Saving Office, Xinxiang, Henan, China.
IAEA/WMO (2004), Global Network of Isotopes in Precipitation. The GNIP Database. Accessible at:
Krabbenhoft, D. P., Bowser, C. J., Anderson, M. P. & Valley, J. W. (1990) Estimating groundwater exchange with lakes, 1. The
stable isotope mass balance method. Water Resour. Res. 26(10), 2445–2453.
Lambs, L. (2004) Interactions between groundwater and surface water at river banks and the confluence of rivers. J. Hydrol.
288(3–4), 312–326.
Lamontagne, S., Leaney, F. W. & Herczeg, A. L. (2005) Groundwater-surface water interactions in a large semi-arid
floodplain: Implications for salinity management. Hydrol. Processes 19(16), 3063–3080.
Langevin, C., Swain, E. & Wolfert, M. (2005) Simulation of integrated surface–water/ground-water flow and salinity for a
coastal wetland and adjacent estuary. J. Hydrol. 314(1–4), 212–234.
Matter, J. M., Waber, H. N., Loew, S. & Matter, A. (2006) Recharge areas and geochemical evolution of groundwater in an
alluvial aquifer system in the Sultanate of Oman. Hydrogeo. J. 14(1–2), 203–224.
Négrel, P., Petelet-Giraud, E., Barbier, J. & Gautier, E. (2003) Surface water-groundwater interactions in an alluvial plain:
Chemical and isotopic systematics. J. Hydrol. 277(3–4), 248–267.
Pan, G. (2006) Environmental hydrogeology and water resources conservation in Xinxiang. Henan Polytechnic University,
Jiaozuo, China.
Schilling, K. E., Li, Z. & Zhang, Y. K. (2006) Groundwater-surface water interaction in the riparian zone of an incised channel,
Walnut Creek, Iowa. J. Hydrol. 327(1–2), 140–150.
196 Fadong Li et al.

Shaw, R. D. & Prepas, E. E. (1990) Groundwater-lake interactions: I. Accuracy of seepage meter estimates of lake seepage.
J. Hydrol. 119(1–4), 105–120.
Sophocleous, M. (2002) Interactions between groundwater and surface water: The state of the science. Hydrogeo. J. 10(1),
Su, X., Lin, X., Liao, Z. & Wang, J. (2004) The main factors affecting isotopes of Yellow River Water in China. Water Int.
29(4), 475–482.
Winter, T. C. (1995) Recent advances in understanding the interaction of groundwater and surface water. Rev. Geophys.
33(SUPPL. 2), 985–994.
Woessner, W. W. (2000) Stream and fluvial plain ground water interactions: rescaling hydrogeologic thought. Ground Water,
38(3), 423–429.
Woods, S. W., MacDonald, L. H. & Westbrook, C. J. (2006) Hydrologic interactions between an alluvial fan and a slope
wetland in the central Rocky Mountains, USA. Wetlands 26(1), 230–243.
Wu, C., Xu, Q., Zhang, X. & Ma, Y. (1996) Palaeochannels on the North China Plain: types and distributions. Geomorphology,
18(1), 5–14.
Zhang, J., Huang, W. W., Letolle, R. & Jusserand, C. (1995) Major element chemistry of the Huanghe (Yellow River), China -
Weathering processes and chemical fluxes. J. Hydrol., 168(1–4), 173–203.