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Groundwater variability across temporal and spatial scales in the central and northeastern U.S.


Depth-to-water measurements from 181 monitoring wells in unconfined or semi-confined aquifers in nine regions of the central and northeastern U.S. were analyzed. Groundwater storage exhibited strong seasonal variations in all regions, with peaks in spring and lows in autumn, and its interannual variability was nearly unbounded, such that the impacts of droughts, floods, and excessive pumping could persist for many years. We found that the spatial variability of groundwater storage anomalies (deviations from the long term mean) increases as a power function of extent scale (square root of area). That relationship, which is linear on a log-log graph, is common to other hydrological variables but had never before been shown with groundwater data. We describe how the derived power function can be used to determine the number of wells needed to estimate regional mean groundwater storage anomalies with a desired level of accuracy, or to assess uncertainty in regional mean estimates from a set number of observations. We found that the spatial variability of groundwater storage anomalies within a region often increases with the absolute value of the regional mean anomaly, the opposite of the relationship between soil moisture spatial variability and mean. Recharge (drainage from the lowest model soil layer) simulated by the Variable Infiltration Capacity (VIC) model was compatible with observed monthly groundwater storage anomalies and month-to-month changes in groundwater storage.

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