Unsaturated zone flow processes and aquifer response time in the Chalk Aquifer, Brighton, South East England

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The Chalk aquifer is one of the main sources of water in South East England. The unsaturated zone in the aquifer plays an
important role controlling the time and magnitude of recharge and is major pathway for contaminant transport to the water table.
A range of previous work has addressed flow processes in the Chalk unsaturated zone, but physical understanding is still incomplete.
Here we present the results of a study on flow mechanism in the Chalk unsaturated zone using a combination of statistical analysis
and novel laboratory methods. The study was undertaken at three sites (North Heath Barn [NHB], Pyecombe East [PE], and Preston
Park [PP]) on the Chalk of the Brighton block, South East England. Daily and hourly time series data of groundwater level and
rainfall were correlated. The results show that a slower groundwater level response to rainfall occurs during dry seasons (summer
and autumn) when the amount of effective rainfall is less than 4 mm/day, with a thicker and drier unsaturated zone. A faster
response occurs during wet seasons (winter and spring) when the daily effective rainfall exceeds 4 mm/day with a thinner and
wetter unsaturated zone. Periods of very rapid response (within 15 h) were observed during wet seasons at NHB and PE sites, with
unsaturated hydraulic conductivity (Ku) inferred to reach 839 mm/day. A slower response was observed at an urbanized site (PP) as
a result of reduction in direct recharge due to reduced infiltration, due to presences of impermeable infrastructure covering the area
around PP borehole. Laboratory measurements of Ku of the Chalk matrix using a geotechnical centrifuge show variation from 4.27
to 0.07 mm/day, according to the level of saturation. Thus, the rapid responses cannot be linked to matrix flow only but indicate the
contribution of fracture and karstic flow processes in conducting water.
Original languageEnglish
Article number13055
Pages (from-to)1-15
Number of pages15
Publication statusPublished - 21 Oct 2020

Bibliographical note

This is the peer reviewed version of the following article: Al‐Jaf, P., Smith, M. and Gunzel, F. (2020), Unsaturated Zone Flow Processes and Aquifer Response Time in the Chalk Aquifer, Brighton, South East England. Groundwater., which has been published in final form at https://doi.org/10.1111/gwat.13055. This article may be used for non-commercial purposes in accordance with Wiley Terms and Conditions for Use of Self-Archived Versions.


  • Chalk
  • Aquifer
  • groundwater
  • Unsaturated
  • hydrogeology


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